Let There Be Light: How Architects Create Bright Homes
As humans are naturally programmed to crave daylight, architects have developed new tricks to ensure that our homes are illuminated in the best possible way
This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s lifestyle blog, Luxury Defined.
Pity the villagers of Rjukan in Norway and Viganella in Italy, who until recently lived half the year in the shade as tall mountainsides blocked out their sunlight. But technology has come to their rescue—enormous mirrors have now been installed on nearby peaks to track the sun and reflect its rays into the deep valleys below. Their homes are dark no longer.
It’s well known that a dearth of natural light brings with it a risk of developing seasonal affective disorder. Rjukan and Viganella may be in extreme locations, but natural light has health and well-being benefits wherever you are. For architects as well as residents, there is an aesthetic upside to natural light. “It reveals the volumes in architecture, and conditions our perception of textures, materials, and colors,” says architect Samuel Lamas of Equipe Lamas in Brazil.
There’s also a green argument, as Kai Salmela of Salmela Architects in Duluth, Minnesota, explains. “Increased daylighting—combined with passive heating from the sun and passive ventilation from operable windows—can greatly reduce the energy costs and hence the environmental impacts of our buildings.”
Traditionally, houses in many cooler parts of the world were built of solid stone or brick, both materials that historically make it hard to keep the heat in. To counter this, “People made the windows as small as possible,” says architect Jane Burnside, who designs in Scotland and Ireland. “It wasn’t about views.”
Modern construction techniques, however, mean it’s now possible to create big windows by spanning vast lengths across a lintel, with double- and triple-glazing keeping the heat in.
For architects with a love of light, there are a number of ways to draw it into homes, from ingenious apertures to clever layouts, thoughtful structure, and even kinetics. At the Cirqua Apartments complex in Melbourne, Australia, large, round windows work wonders. The development, by BKK Architects, stands on a steeply sloping site, and all the bedrooms and living areas of the 44 homes have direct access to natural light.
Seattle-based firm Olson Kundig takes this idea one step further in its three-story Treehouse on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. On the top and bottom floors, a double-layered teak screen, like slatted shutters, can be adjusted to create a solid or semi-open wall. When open, a play of light is allowed in. “It’s almost like two fences on either side of a structure; one is shifted to open where the other is closed,” says architect Tom Kundig.
The right light is, of course, dependent on orientation. At Equipe Lamas’s Casa 28 in Brasília, big windows are mostly positioned east–west and the walls north–south. “This allows a dramatic natural light effect during sunrise and sunset, and gives open views across the house,” says Lamas. Poor orientation or low light levels can be alleviated by skylights. These, according to the Danish Building Research Institute, provide twice as much light as vertical windows and three times as much as dormers.
Every room should have a minimum of two sources of natural light, preferably three, and ideally four or even five—Kai Samela
Burnside’s own Origami House in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, faces west, meaning it doesn’t get much light in winter. “We used long linear roof lights in the main living space to bring the south light in,” she explains. Meanwhile, in MSMR’s compact townhouse on London’s New Burlington Place, natural light is brought deep into the building by a top-lit sculptural stair.
Quantity and Quality
“Every room should have a minimum of two sources of natural light, preferably three, and ideally four or even five,” believes Salmela. His firm pulled this off in its hometown in Minnesota with the single-story Deloia House. Salmela describes it as one of the best examples the firm has of both quantity and quality of light. As well as narrow building widths and single-loaded corridors, the house has clerestory boxes (raised sections) in the ceiling that “act almost like natural light chandeliers,” according to the architect.
Skylights really come into their own with deep basements. Pilbrow & Partners top-lit a subterranean pool in a private house in Kensington, London, through five oculus portals. These support a shallow layer of water, which disperses natural light.
For a full-frontal blast of sunlight, the bigger the sliding door, the better. Modern technology means they can now be up to 33 feet (10 m) wide, and Polish firm KWK Promes put such doors to good use at Quadrant House. The client was after a home that would react to the sun’s movement, so architect Rob Konieczny’s solution was a static L-shaped building with a “wing” in between that pivots on tracks over the lawn. Meanwhile, Swiss window company Sky-Frame spent six months fashioning a bespoke motorized sliding system for the project, meaning the glazed living room can be completely open on two sides.
Clever consideration of layout and building structure can also increase natural light, as MSMR’s townhouse demonstrates. Occupying just 1,292 square feet (120 sq m), the home is squeezed onto a former garage site between London’s Regent Street and Savile Row. It’s landlocked on three sides, so the building’s street-facing façade needed to provide all the light and air to the habitable rooms, without compromising privacy. The architects’ solution was to put the main rooms at the front of the house, and push the ancillary accommodation to the back. And by stepping back the front elevation, the basement gets access to daylight.
Letting the light in is not entirely without its drawbacks. In northern Europe, Burnside warns about overheating. “It depends on the building system. Origami House has a heavy mass to absorb excess heat and lets it out slowly. In a timber-framed house, you don’t have a heavy mass inside, only the floor to absorb the heat.”
Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, to get better lighting throughout the year (with greater thermal comfort in winter) the openings should be oriented to the south, and the design should avoid problems of direct sunlight, explains Lamas. For extremely hot climates, with short winters, it’s better to have a combination of north and south openings.
Salmela says the goal isn’t necessarily to maximize light, “but to achieve the right quantity and quality of light for the space and function.” He cautions that “too much direct light can be a problem, causing excessive glare and heat gain, and UV damage to materials.” Deloia House counters this with a thin, cantilevered flat roof that gives some shade to the windows during the hottest parts of the day in high summer. Other features that can be used to keep out strong rays and prevent overheating are brise-soleil, pergolas, and balconies.
And as the inhabitants of any heavily glazed building know—including those of London’s Neo Bankside, which stands right next to Tate Modern—windows allow views in as well as out. As Salmela puts it: “The level of transparency or privacy is both an individual preference and a cultural consideration.”
Just Listed on Lake Simcoe: 968 Degrassi Cove Pl W, Innisfil
This custom home direct waterfront home was built in 2000 by the current owner and has served as a sanctuary for family and friends. Over their 22 years of ownership, they have enjoyed the property during every season.
Degrassi Cove is a small and exclusive waterfront community and share the private road. The forested lands on the opposite side of the street provide great privacy. There is no vehicle traffic other than the neighbours, so it is very safe for kids.
Built as a 4-season home and located on the west-side of Lake Simcoe. You will enjoy north-west facing views of the lake and sunsets. There are no stairs to the water’s edge. The water table is level to the lot, which offers a beautiful beach area along the shoreline. There is great swimming and boating. The portable dock is 65 ft long with a 12’ x 12’ patio area. Boating enthusiasts can store their boat in the dry boathouse. Entertaining on the lake is so easy!
The home offers 2,700 sf on the main and upper level. The principal rooms offer generous space including a large private family room, formal dining room, large great room combined with the eat-in kitchen. In addition, there is 1,535 sf of finished space on the walk-out level. There are four generous size bedrooms. The primary bedroom is situated on the main level and overlooks the lake, and includes a five-piece ensuite, a walk-in closet and a garden door to the lakeside patio area. The three other bedrooms are located on the second floor.
The lower level includes a large recreation room with wood-burning fireplace and a walk-out to the lake. A large office with a built-in desk and bookcases can serve as a large 5th bedroom. The 3-piece bathroom is also equipped with a partially finished cedar-lined sauna. There is plenty of storage space on this level too.
Photography by @ishutterphoto
Staging by @chateau_designandstaging
This professionally designed custom-built home embodies a comfortable, vintage cottage feel built with energy efficient maintenance-free materials. This home offers a private park-like setting, with in- town conveniences. It’s a nature lover’s lot…a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. This one in in a million home was showcased in a 16-page spread in Cottages & Bungalows Magazine.
Shiplap walls and wood slat ceilings throughout impart a cabin-like coziness. The primary bedroom is secluded on the main floor overlooking a wooded area that surrounds the property. The front office duals as an additional main floor bedroom adjacent to a 3-piece bathroom. The upper level includes two additional bedrooms that provide enhanced privacy for guests. One of the bedrooms functions as a seating area with a Murphy bed and small kitchenette. It has been designed as a secure space for future rental opportunity.
Located in the charming lakeside village of Bayfield, this property is a stone-throw away from Lake Huron, a short walk to town, the fishing pier and marina, Pioneer Park and the Community playground. This spectacular property backs on to a designated environmental area and surrounded by trees makes it an ideal retreat for entertaining family and friends.
It’s no secret that green has been trending in a major way lately. Not only does the leafy shade conjure the sensation of being outdoors after two years cooped up at home, it also is a versatile (and welcome) alternative to traditional colors like white and gray.
Sweet 3 bedroom home that has a light and airy feel to the interior. Vaulted ceiling with open concept design creates a welcoming feel with plenty of natural sunlight all afternoon. Hardwood floors in bedrooms. Updated interior ready to be moved in to. It is a special place to call home or cottage.
Large wrap-around deck features West-facing views of 2-acre park of which you would be a 1/10th owner. Private dock for all park owners. Deeded Lake Simcoe access is rare to find. Very private setting with mature trees.
Message us today for more information or to book private showing.
staging by @chateau_designandstaging
photography by @ishutterphoto
20 Quiet Heights Lane, Georgina provides views of the lake from all spaces on the west side of them home, including the great room, kitchen, dining area, and primary bedroom.
You will enjoy the morning sunrise from the front covered porch and of course, sunset views from the lakeside. The natural sunlight fills the home with warmth and light all day long. It’s tranquil, serene, and welcoming.
In the design stages, the current owner had some important “must-have’s” including a Muskoka like feel, spaciousness, sun-filled rooms, and an “understated elegance“ carried throughout the home.
Some of the interior features include:
– 3 bedrooms on main level and 2 additional bedrooms on the lower level
– 3 full bathrooms plus powder room
– 10.9 ft ceiling height on the main level and 9 ft ceiling height on the lower level
– Great room includes custom millwork and 13 ft vaulted coffered ceiling
– Gourmet kitchen with upgraded appliances
– Spectacular light fixtures including ceiling fans in each bedroom
– Custom drapery and blinds
– Radiant heated floors in kitchen, primary ensuite and the entire lower level
– Surround sound system both indoors and outdoors
A full list of room features, additional images, virtual tour, and more can be found on our website (link in bio).
This listing is also available on realtor.ca (MLS# N5657656)
When you combine the attention to detail of a quality builder with the owner’s vision to create a sanctuary home, the result is spectacular.
This home offers a “Zen” feel immediately upon your arrival.
The landscaping is wonderfully appointed with a collection of perennial gardens, shrubs, mature trees and privacy hedges on both sides, which is home to many birds. There are several seating areas promote great conversation with family and friends or a place to enjoy some quiet time when you want to be alone and enjoy nature all around you.
This is a wonderful home to entertain in both indoors and outdoors. The raised balcony includes a covered area where you can enjoy a summer rain shower. The open area provides lots of space for your chaise loungers to get some sun and watch an array of boats on the lake.
The lower deck is covered and a perfect location for the 7-seater plus lounger hot tub along with another separate seating area to enjoy the lake views.
Listing Price: $1,935,000
DM us to book a private viewing.
The full listing can be found on our site & on realtor.ca (MLS# N5657656)