by Paul Harrison (AIA)
Light is energy, giving life as it travels millions of miles from the Sun. Without it very few things on Earth-ourselves included-could thrive. No wonder light has such an important role to play in giving life to the spaces in our homes. It makes us feel vibrant and energized. Dark spaces are dreary, nullifying to our visual senses, and often they lead to “sick” spaces in our homes, offices, and apartments. To the contrary, we know on an instinctual level when we feel the vibrancy and energy of a properly lit space. We just feel good there.
It doesn’t take much to bring that natural feeling into a home, just recognition of two key aspects of a “healthy” space. One is light and the other is natural energy from nature along with the energy flow that is derived from it in the home. Without this simple connection we feel cut off from our source of energy, cut off from our Zen. But by controlling how natural light is admitted and used within a space, a concept known as “daylighting,” balance can be achieved and serenity enhanced. Each home or personal space is different, though, so each solution will be a bit different too, depending on your needs and budget. Light, like water and plants, is a component of nature, so a home filled with natural light is a healthy space that rejuvenates the mind and spirit.
Here are my top ten recommendations to help create a healthy vibrant space for you and your family to enjoy:
- Look at your windows and note their orientation. Northern windows need little covering, if any, while southern and western windows need to be looked at to balance heat gain and light. Blinds work better than drapes as you can reflect the light to the ceiling-dark blinds if the windows are exposed to full sun, lighter or white blinds if the sun is blocked by trees, buildings, or large overhangs.
- Check your screens. If screens are dirty or excessively thick, they reduce the amount of light entering your home significantly. When I changed my screens to a dog-proof variety the light was cut significantly (but since Kokoa my Boxer has issues with screens it’s a tradeoff I can live with, no longer replacing screens every month or so).
- Use paint to reflect more light into the space, depending on the orientation of the windows. The higher the reflectivity of the paint, the more light will dance around the room. One of my personal favorites is a Dunn-Edwards color called “Sunseeker;” it has no black in the mix ratio, which is different than most off-whites that contain black. Its reflectivity nearly equals white but has a pleasant yellow tint and literally changes hue depending on the lighting in the space. I have used it in many homes I designed and built. Also, always remember that white ceilings reflect the maximum amount of light into the space. Reflected ceiling light is how the light travels deeper into a space.
- Be mindful of how the light moves through the space from morning to evening and throughout the year. In winter you’ll receive less light as the Sun’s path is lower in the southern sky while in summer it is higher and has a longer path of travel. Trim trees outside your windows if needed so the light can at least partially make it through the trees. (But remember, don’t cut the trees; trim them so you can still see parts through the window. Maintaining a connection to nature is so important to creating a positive space.)
- If there is not much hope of channeling more daylight, then think of investing in some lighting. In an apartment years ago, I bought two very inexpensive 8 foot track lights with halogen bulbs and put them up myself, adjusted the spotlights to light the dark spaces and pointed some other spotlights at colorful decorative items. It was a significant difference and an extremely easy fix. Put dimmers in and you have full control of the mood of the room. As for fluorescents, only use full spectrum daylight bulbs.
- Indoor plants that can take direct sun-like Ficus Benjamina-can be used to screen southern windows and then in the winter they can be moved to allow more light in. The plants also add a feeling of nature to the space. Buy larger plants 5-6 feet tall for corners, especially to shield corners that “cut” a space in two. In Feng Shui, outside corners are considered “daggers” which split the energy and make the space less comfortable. No one wants to be facing an outside corner square in the face.
- Corners and edges from adjacent buildings can split the energy also and you should cover the windows that face these hard edges with a plant (hanging works well) if possible or partially drape a portion of each edge of the window to shield them from the indoor space. In Feng Shui, you should be careful with exposed book shelves near where you sleep, as books can act as blades slicing energy and creating negative places in the room. Point the book spines away from the bed. Also make sure toilets do not point towards a bedroom or workspace-if so keep the bathroom door closed with a spring-loaded hinge.
- Skylights, if used incorrectly, can overheat a space and cause bright wash-outs of light producing glare. Solartubes can be better in dark hallways or rooms as they have less heat gain and can diffuse the light in the space without harsh bright spots. If your walls are lifeless, you can throw up a colorful backdrop like a tapestry or curtain hanging behind a bed which gives the wall color and texture.
- If a window is closely adjacent to another wall, that is, close to a corner, then leave the adjacent wall lighter to reflect. Again this depends on the orientation of the window; south will be brighter than a north facing window.
- If the carpets are dark and you cannot change them, you can use a colorful throw carpet that should be brighter and colorful. Put it a little under the bed or couch, this adds a lot of charm to the space. Colorful bright runners serve the same purpose in long dark hallways and look great, especially if you have an old place with wood floors.
Paul Harrison is a Los Angeles-based architect (AIA) with projects on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade as well as a hotel at Houston’s Hobby Airport. He is also a Zen master and author of the books “Where’s My Zen?” and “The Ten Paradoxes: The Science of Where’s My Zen?”