A slightly wordy title but one of the commonest questions I have been asked recently so I thought I would tackle it here. Since – as someone said to me the other day – many of us are seeing our homes in daylight for the first time and realising, now that we’re all in them all the time, all the shortcomings that we hadn’t had time to notice or weren’t in long enough to care about.
And now that we are home Le Corbusier’s notion that a house is a machine for living in is perhaps proving that for many of us that machine is a little bit run down, not quite firing on all cylinders as it were. So let’s tackle some of these issues over the next few weeks and do raise your own questions in the comments below too.
The number 1 issue is that rooms, which you previously saw only at night under electric light, are proving sadly lacking when it comes to using them to work rest and play (as it were). Now this is a question I have dealt with in the book but I thought that for this post at least I would try and divide the solutions into immediate (low or no cost) reasonably easy (some cost) and what to do when it’s all over that might involve a builder.
So let’s take the first. What’s on your windows? If you don’t have privacy issues do you need those curtains? The weather is getting warmer so it’s not about draught exclusion. Unless you have curtains on a long pole they can often block the light at the sides and now is not the time for that. Consider taking them down. And then, if possible replacing with window film if you need privacy ,or roller blinds if you have standard measurements and can order online. Most of us don’t have standard measurements but you can always fix them to the wall rather than the window frame if they are too wide. My blinds were fixed to a block of wood above the window too which might be worth considering. And if you want and like curtains then you can think about positioning the pole as high as it will go above the window (length permitting) to make the room look taller and buying a pole that is long enough for them to pull right back from the window at the sides if they’re on a flat wall. Bay windows come with their own particular issues and usually involve more expensive bendy curtain poles.
Having looked at your windows the next question is the paint colour. I’ve said it before, but there are always new readers so it’s worth saying again; painting a small dark room white is going to give you a small dark room that is painted white. White paint needs natural light to reflect off it and to bounce it around to make a space feel lighter and larger. A dark room doesn’t have enough of that already – that’s why it’s dark – and your white paint will just look dingy and dull. Choose instead a pale colour. This can be pink, grey, blue, green or a chalky off white – whatever you like. Then paint the walls, the woodwork and the ceiling all the same colour. Don’t draw attention to the edges and exits by highlighting them in white. Keep it pale, keep it simple. Create the illusion that it’s bigger and brighter.
If your floors are dark can you paint them lighter? If that’s not possible can you buy a pale rug or even carpet? I’m not saying you can’t have any colour at all but in this case we are trying to make a dark space feel bigger and brighter so focus on lightening the walls and floors and add colour in the furniture.
Make sure that you have enough electric lights. You can buy so-called daylight bulbs. This one from John Lewis is 6500 kelvins which is the same as a cloudy day – anything over 4500 falls into daylight category. That said, this high can have a slightly bluish tinge which may feel cold and a bit industrial. Most of the time you want something between 2-3000K which will be warmer. Less than 2000k is like a candle. Do please note that a kelvin measures the colour temperature of an LED light – not the amount of light it gives out, which is Lumens and before you lose the will to live I’m going to send you here for further, clearer explanation.
Right, so by now you have a clear window through which light can flood in and a brighter, calmer space that is well lit. I’m going to assume you have decluttered as far as possible here and that may be pretty much as far as you can go for now.
One other job that you might be able to do now is removing any internal doors that are just getting in the way. Unless you have sliding doors (something to add to the list) then the door is often in the way of the room it is opening into and maybe blocking valuable light. Can you remove it – just for now – you can always rehang it later. That said, this is one to think about because if you are living in an open plan space with lots of people then a closed door might be your friend. We’ll come to open plan spaces later, this is just about encouraging as much light in as possible.
And on that note, mirrors are brilliant at this. Try and hang one so that it reflects all or part of the window and it will then bounce it back out into the room.
But, later, can you bring in more light by adding any windows? These can be high internal windows – just a pane of glass, it doesn’t need to open. These windows are called Borrowed Lights, for obvious reasons and they can work really well. The common place to put them is over a door. If it’s a stud wall this is much easier than on a supporting wall where you may need to install a lintel to keep everything up.
Or you can create a long narrow window along the top of a wall where it doesn’t have any impact on privacy but will allow light from the room next door – perhaps from the hall to the sitting room. The bedroom to the en suite. Borrowed lights were common in 1930s houses over doors and, I suspect, were often blocked off as landing lights etc prevented small children from sleeping, but now may be the time to bring them back in other rooms of the house.
Obviously this is a job for later but add it to that list of things that might be a good idea. After all, it might make all the difference to how you use and enjoy the space.