7 Ideas To Help Your Home Out of the Darkness

Bring Health and Beauty Into Dreary Rooms

Lighting your home's exterior is an easy way to add curb appeal (read more curb appeal tips). But what about the interior? Here's how to pour light into dark rooms.

01
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Re-Think the Architecture

Unique dormer design and clerestory windows add light to this house
Dormer and clerestory windows add light. Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images

Add Clerestory Windows:

Clear a story of your house just for light. It's a healthy and cost-effective solution right from the design book of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Tucked just below the roof, clerestory windows invite light and ventilation inside. Or raise the roof and put in a dormer of windows.

Build a Greenhouse Addition:

A room made of glass will flood your world with light. Soaking in the sun, you may feel as though you are living in a modernist dwelling like the famous Farnsworth House or Philip Johnson's Glass House. Glass-walled rooms are not for everyone, however. Before you buy or build a greenhouse, think about the pros... and the cons.

Would a Cupola Add Light?

Homes in warmer climates sometimes have rooftop cupolas for ventilation. However, many cupolas are merely decorative and not useful for admitting light to a dark house. In fact, a cupola on a ranch house may end up making the residence look like a Kansas Post Office.

Yes, it's a good idea to hire an architect for any of these projects. Read on for some easier solutions.

02
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Install Daylight Systems

Skylighted ceiling
Skylighted ceiling. Skylight by Sampsonchen (Own work) ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Skylights were a staple in Frank Lloyd Wright interiors. Today, dome or barrel vault rooflights and residential skylights are popular solutions for bringing light into dark houses.

Designers often use the terms daylighting and daylight harvesting to describe the process of getting natural light into the interior spaces. While the terminology is modern, the ideas are not really new. Frank Lloyd Wright would probably roll his eyes at today's daylight systems and products—natural light was integral to his philosophy of organic design.

"We didn't invent the sun. We just improved it," claims Solatube, maker of Tubular Daylighting Devices (TDDs). When an attic is between the roof and the living space, tubular skylights or light tunnels can be used to channel the natural light into the desired interior space.

Daylighting research is conducted at many universities, including the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The LRC has invented a different kind of skylight called a Light Scoop (PDF Design Guide) that can better harvest the daylight in overcast climates.

03
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Check Your Landscape

Tall trees surrounding this house can create a naturally dark interior
Tall trees surrounding this house can create a naturally dark interior. Tall trees shading house by Mcheath, talk at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That tree you planted when you first bought the house may be decades old by now. Nothing like vegetation and kids to show how you've aged. You can't remove the kids, but maybe you could trim back some of that shading vegetation.

Follow the path of the sun during every season and every part of the day. Remove anything between the sun and your house. Replace tall trees with smaller trees suitable to your environment. Don't plant too close to the house, especially in fire-prone areas.

04
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Use High Reflectivity Paint

Illustration of indirect lighting, light source reflecting off panel into house
Illustration of indirect lighting. Indirect lighting illus. by KVDP (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) Unported

Use high reflectivity white paint anywhere you can to make the most of the light that does enter the interior spaces. Bright white ledges beneath windows can capture natural light. Some resourceful designers have even suggested constructing a wall outside the house. Sound crazy? This reflecting wall technique was used by Hungarian-born architect Marcel Breuer back around 1960. Breuer designed a freestanding Bell Banner to reflect sunlight into the north-facing Saint John's Abbey. Think about your own home. A bright white wall or privacy fence could reflect sunlight into the house—sort of like the sun's reflection off a full moon. Call it full moon lighting.

05
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Hang a Chandelier

Photo of small fish surrounding chandelier lighting
Fishy chandelier in Watatsumi, a Japanese restaurant near Trafalgar Square. Fish chandelier ©NatalieMaynor on flickr.com, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Modern recessed lights seem to be found anywhere and everywhere, but you don't have to hide your lighting. Be more ostentatious with chandeliers. They worked in the great palaces of Europe, didn't they?

Chandeliers today, like the fishy one shown here, can be works of art that speak to an owners' style. Other popular styles include:

06
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Go High Tech

Illustration of a lobby wall entirely made up of video screens.
Rendering of video wall in Frank Gehry's designed Headquarters for InterActiveCorp (IAC) in NYC. IAC video wall rendering by Albert Vecerka/ESTO Photographics, courtesy IACHQ Press Room iachq.com

You can't afford this video wall—yet. At the New York City headquarters of the internet company InterActiveCorp (IAC), architect Frank Gehry created a lobby with more than recessed lighting. The IAC Building, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was completed in March 2007, so maybe this technology has come down in price.

Well, we can always dream.

07
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Learn From the Pros

Chandelier and skylight in foyer, Hawaii State Library
Chandelier and skylight in foyer, Hawaii State Library. Hawaii State Library by Joel Bradshaw (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No one method of lighting a dark space is the best approach. Many public spaces, like the Hawaii State Library shown here, use a combination of methods, such as chandeliers and skylights.

Learn More:

Learn from observing your surroundings. Look at the lighting in airports, libraries, shopping malls, and schools. Ask a lighting expert for inspiration and how-to tips.