So You Bought a Cave: 7 Ways to Open Your Home to Light
Make the most of the natural light your house does have — and learn to appreciate some shadows, too
Seeing trees as the enemy is what happens when you buy a cave, which my husband and I did, inadvertently. Of course it wasn’t only the trees that made our house dark. Deep eaves, too-few windows, faux beams, low ceilings and our valley setting surrounded by woods-covered hills all contributed to our home’s lack of light. From the day we took possession of our home until it burned down, we were steadily working to increase and maximize its natural light.
I don’t have pictures of my old dark house, but I’d like to tell you what we did, and what you can do, to improve the light.
1. Add Windows
Our family room had wonderful southern exposure, but the only light came from the sliding doors. Even after we added a large Solatube, the room was bright but didn’t feel right. We added a pair of double-hung windows on either side of the door, giving us a total of four. We planned to install two more square windows on either side of the fireplace, like the one shown in the first photo.
Find a Pro: Hire a specialist to install new windows
Shop: Add new pendant lights to your kitchen
The very first thing we did was have tubular daylighting devices installed. These are sort of like mini skylights. To quote Lindsey M. Roberts from her ideabook specifically on the subject, TDDs “are reflective cylinders or pipes installed between the roof and ceiling, with a clear plastic dome. The bottoms of the tubes are diffused or glazed to prevent glaring beams of light and to ensure a soft glow.”
We had three installed: one in the living room, another in the kitchen and a third in our hallway. They worked beautifully, and to say the difference was like night and day for those rooms isn’t just a figure of speech. We used Solatubes and were very pleased with the quality and performance.
Here two TDDs light up a windowless hall.
With skylights there can be a greater risk of leakage simply because of the larger hole cut in your roof. Another consideration is the heat they can generate.
Our original front door had sidelights with amber glass in that bottle-bottom pattern so popular in the ‘70s. Our house faced north, so our hallway was dim and dark. It led into our windowless dining room, which flowed into the kitchen. Standing at the island in our brand-new kitchen, that dark entry was my view. Ugh.
We installed a solid wood 15-pane glass door with matching five-pane sidelights.
Interior doors help provide soundproofing, something very important in the prevalent open plans today. However, French doors provide a way for rooms to share light and to avoid shutting rooms off.
If the door shown here were solid, it would have felt like a dead end when shut. The narrow French doors make the hall feel open and beautiful.
This is the London townhouse we saw above. The windowless kitchen doesn’t feel dark because of the wonderful skylight, as well as the complete openness to the dining room and beyond that, the living room with large windows. Imagine it with only a narrow doorway between — a different story entirely.
When we redid the kitchen, we tore down the wall between the kitchen and the living room, which opened things up tremendously. We also raised the large archway that led into the dining room.
On another wall in the dining room we knocked a hole in our mudroom and installed a single 15-pane glass door for better flow with the rest of the house and to take advantage of the western light.
Take a tour of this London family home
But what do you do if all of the above is outside your budget?
6. Paint Your Rooms Deep Colours
The inclination with dark rooms is to paint them light to try and brighten things up, but sometimes the best thing to do is to embrace the shadows and go for deeper, moody colours that make a dark room feel cosy.
Warm green is a perfect colour for this space. The black doors and brass hardware add to the feeling of richness and warmth. The double French doors open to the light and bright kitchen.
I fell back on my favourite greeny blues, but so many — off the paint chip and on my walls — looked like battleship grey. I settled on a lovely and pure robin’s egg blue, and it looked amazing on one wall, for about three weeks, every summer. Repainting it was on our list of things to do.
Our local paint store has a colour consultant available at very reasonable rates, and if I could turn back time I would have hired someone at the start. The money I would have saved on samples could have more than paid for it.
7. Hang a Well-Placed Mirror
In my living room I hung a large mirror to reflect light and the beautiful view of our woods. In the dining room I hung a wall of antique ones in various sizes to catch any light I could in that room.