A couple of weeks ago I spent the day filming with Velux whose team flew over from Denmark to interview me for their new campaign Living Outside-In. This sprang out of a conversation I had with them earlier this year about about the importance of natural light and the current trend for plants and their cleansing properties.
Next thing I know there are 15 Danes on the doorstep with a film crew and a 12-year-old (not really but he was definitely one of those young people) with a drone. It was enormous fun making the film but it was also interesting to think more deeply about the role that natural light plays in our lives.
When we first moved into this house – nearly nine years ago – I remember constantly shouting at the boys to “turn the bloody lights off”. Gradually I realised that we lived in a really light house. Our previous home was on a narrow street at the bottom of a slope with tall trees at the back, and we had the kitchen lights on from the moment we got up in the morning until we went to bed at night. We accepted that as how things were and it was only when we moved here that I realised we had apparently been living like troglodytes for the previous six years.
Musing on this, I realised that I spend my working day chasing the light around my house. After I wrote about doing up my new office on here a few weeks ago, someone commented that I didn’t have a desk lamp and that the light on the mantelpiece behind me was going to shine in the wrong place. And I realised that while I work every day – including Sunday afternoons – I do it in daylight. I don’t need a desk light because my default mode is that once it’s too dark to see by natural light I’m pretty much done for the day.
In winter there is a patch of sun that hits the sofa in the early afternoon and that’s where you’ll find me most days. But I might have started out in the kitchen as it has a roof light and large bifold doors at the back so it’s the lightest room in the house. Apart from the loft. Which has been taken over by The Mad Husband. And we’ve already had that conversation about him working to music and me needing the silence of a convent in order to get a word typed.
After living here for a year or so, we realised that there was one dark spot in the house. Just at the top of the stairs outside my son’s room. We spent another couple of years wandering past it and then, when we were doing up his room – and it turned out the roof was about to cave in – we decided to add a window in the sloping roof.
It doesn’t open – it’s literally a pane of glass – but, you can see from the image above how the light now floods through and hits the top of the stairs. It’s particularly lovely at that so-called golden hour when the sun is setting over the back of the house.
We also added a large pane of glass to the kitchen flat roof as well. This happened by default as we didn’t want a glass roof on the extension because I didn’t want it to feel like a conservatory. There’s something inherently miserable about a conservatory in November I feel. So we stuck tin tiles on that part to bounce the light in from the bifold doors and put a roof light over the worktop at the back of the room – which, in a terrace, is traditionally another dark spot.
Adding these features to the house also got me thinking (all together now: Cue Sex & The City voice) “Why is it that we are so comfortable with the idea of moving and re-moving walls in our homes but it never occurs to us to add a window unless we are doing a loft conversion?”
And it’s true isn’t it? Who hasn’t moved into a new house and thought about making the kitchen bigger by taking down a wall, or adding a wall to create an en suite bathroom? But when it comes to making our spaces lighter we get out a tin of white paint and leave it at that.
And it doesn’t have to be an outside window either. Adding an internal window between a light room and a dark one means the dark one can borrow a little from the space next door. I would just add that if you have a dark room it’s worth looking again to see if you can add light from inside or high on a wall. The window in the room below was original to the house, but several of our neighbours don’t have them any more and it’s a shame as it makes a huge difference to that space, which might be a bit cave-like without it.
Windows aside, I was shocked to discover when filming that, according to the World Health Organisation, we spend 70 per cent of our lives in our homes and 90 per cent of our time indoors (office, home, school and car etc). Do you want me to pause while you read that again? It’s incredible isn’t it? And not in a good way. It does explain why we spend so much time doing up our houses though as we’re in them so much. And yet, scrolling through instagram and all anyone talks about at weekends is getting outside and reconnecting with nature. At least we know what we’re missing even if we haven’t got time to go out and find it.
So if it’s not possible to add more windows, what other ways can we connect with the outside? It mostly has to be about plants I think. It’s probably not a coincidence that as our working hours get longer and our lives more stressful plants have made a comeback. We know know (thanks to studies by NASA) that plants actively clean the toxins from our air and given that we now all sleep with our phones and have to have offices in our bedrooms as our houses get smaller (not you Danes; you build the biggest new houses in Europe at 137 sqm compared with our paltry 76sqm) we need all the help we can get to clean our air.
But if you don’t have green fingers (and I have spoken before about my 50 per cent kill rate) then just think about all the tropical, jungle, botanical fabric there is about at the moment. Not forgetting that green paint is also hugely on trend at the moment. Studies have found that plants can remove 87 per cent of toxins from the air in 24 hours. Green is also good for relaxing and represents tranquility and good luck. As the colour of nature it also means that water is nearby – allowing plants to grow – which means there is little danger of famine which is why it’s regarded as a calming and reassuring colour. You may not have been worrying about the imminent possibilities of famine when you bought that jungle leaf print cushion but, perhaps your unconscious mind was.
If you would like to see the video it is here and, on another note, I also think it’s interesting that Velux is a Danish company because we all know the Danes are consistently voting themselves the happiest people on earth. I mean yes, good on equality, maternity leave, workers’ rights etc and all that (!) but they also famously have those kindergartens where the kids spend all day outside. And, given the length of their cold winters, perhaps it took a Danish company to think about how to really bring more light into our homes and why it was so important.
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Really interesting point regarding adding extra windows – it just doesn’t seem to be very high on the to-do list. Loved the Velux ad too – beautifully produced and actually rather thought-provoking!
Efua & Jason
I have a typical fairly small victorian house. When doing it up I refrained from extending the kitchen into the side return because I didn’t want the middle room to be windowless. I put instead huge French doors out onto the patio as well as a huge window in the kitchen. So I have a galley kitchen (very practical layout) and those 2 rooms are full of light and happy plants (when I am not killing them).
I think that most kitchen extensions where you have to go through the middle room to access the kitchen turn that nice big room into a useless corridor.
If you have a corridor going into the kitchen, it’s different because the middle room can become a tv den or as you have done a library, which is cool and a good use of space.
If readers combine the content of your great blog with reading Remodalista online, they will find that so many ideas are shared.
The house once owned by the Editor of the Washington Post in NY has been transformed and made much lighter by the thoughtful placement of new windows.
We were introduced to Velux in the late 1970’s and are pleased the company is still at the forefront when it comes to windows in the roof.
We know that many people suffer depression as a result of insufficient light in winter but sadly house builders remain unimaginative as do the planners.
In retirement, we chose to live in a top floor flat with 7 windows facing south, which has proved to be hugely beneficial.
Where ever you live to obtain the maximum amount of light at little cost, I would suggest that you consider blinds and shutters rather than curtains.
Great video and blog, I love that your cat got her cameo moment.
Love that large zebra rug. Where is it from?
Great video (and article!) – well done!
I’m standing up to wave a banner in support of the much-maligned conservatory. Mine’s off the kitchen and north facing but opens into a sunny walled garden and the light in there is fantastic, especially in winter, So much so that when it was covered over with scaffolding (necessitated by a big exterior paint job) we felt like moles and vowed never to have a closed roof on it again. During a recent remodel our refusal to allow our architect to replace it with a ‘better’ version, ie. with a solid roof and roof lights have left him totally bemused. If it ain’t broke…