The Importance of Natural Lighting

By: Merilee Elliott

After location, nothing is more important in planning your home than LIGHT. It’s the essence of everything. The caveman’s first miracle after finding the cave was creating Fire! Rubbing those two sticks together not only provided warmth; it was the first artificial light source. Before the invention of Oil lamps there were no evenings. Light is in the fabric of our vocabulary. We refer to a grim period in history as the “dark ages” followed by the years of “enlightenment”. Holidays are always about lights. Think about Christmas. Centuries ago, Europeans decorated their indoor trees ablaze with candles. Here and now, colored lights of the season decorate the inside and outside of homes, stores, offices, and landscapes - getting more elaborate every year. Cities like Hong Kong light up entire faces of high-rise buildings. The holiday of lights, Hanukkah, is the story of one day’s supply of oil for the eternal lamp in the temple miraculously lasting eight days. We always celebrate with light. Birthday cakes always have candles. The Fourth of July is always about lighting up the sky with fireworks.

Light is associated with cheerfulness. Real Estate listings note sunny kitchens, sunrooms, skylights, and picture windows. There is good reason.

Light deprivation, caused by short winter days and long winter nights, can actually produce a medical syndrome appropriately named “SAD “ (seasonal affected depression). When choosing or designing your home, think about the natural light first and the artificial light second before you finalize ANY other decisions. A great designer will “site” your home and create a floor plan that follows the cycle of your daily activities.

Here is how that would work. If you are an early morning riser, and start your day having coffee and reading the newspaper, that space such as the sitting area near the kitchen should face East. Perhaps with a large window and unobstructed view, you can greet the sunrise every morning. Maybe the yoga area has an East window. What do you do in the morning? Sleep late? If so, forget that east window because you will always have to sleep with the blackout drapes closed. I always choose a space with north light for my design studio because I am matching paint colors, fabric colors, palettes of every variety and I want even light throughout the day. What do you do in the late afternoon? If you are sitting and working in your home office, don’t have your window and desk facing West. It might get so hot, you will "cook", and you will be forced to work in some very glaring light. About that West window, perfect placement is perhaps in the living room, if that is where you like to end your day, with the great sunset view you could have for the cocktail hour.

The Importance of Great Lighting

Famous architect Louis Sullivan said, “form follows function”. Simply applied to you, work with your designer on planning your spaces based on the time of day you are most likely to occupy them. Let the light follow you throughout your day and you will love your home so much more you will be amazed.

There are four walls for letting in light through windows and doors, but don’t forget the fifth surface – the ceiling. If you are in a single family home, or have a roof top area, consider skylights. Especially in a master bath, it’s so luxurious to have natural light and perhaps a source of fresh air. Now they have light “pipes” that are smaller and you can have a series of them reinvigorating a dark hallway corridor. My dear friend in Florida has her round bed under of large dome that opens at night for stargazing. Now that’s living large!

The best lighting designer I know gave me some sage advice. It’s not about the amount of light that you have (watts or lumens) but about the perception of lightness. The best lighting comes from multiple sources and in a variety of fixture styles and bulb types. Much more on this huge subject later. Until then, light up your Christmas trees and Hanukkah Menorahs and have a happy holiday season. 

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MERILEE ELLIOTT - Interior Design

Merilee Elliott is a luxury living expert who has spent her career designing award-winning interiors for vacation homes and resorts in beach, ski, desert, and sky-scraper locations. As a vocation, and avid trend spotter, she travels the world on sourcing trips and shares her knowledge and “finds” on the art of DOWN SIZE UP SCALE.