Q: My home is dark and depressing, especially in the winter. What can I do?
A: Some people say they love Seattle’s “liquid sunshine,” but I find our drizzly winters downright depressing, especially after the cheer of the holidays fades. Luckily, there are practical steps you can take to make your home a warm, bright oasis in the gloomy Northwest.
Here are a few of the basics.
Wash your windows. We’re talking inside and out, at least twice a year. Most people only think of washing windows in the spring, but starting the winter with sparkling-clean windows will brighten your rooms. Be sure to remove and store window screens for the winter, as they also filter out precious sunlight.
Remove light-blocking drapery and furniture. You can also swap dark drapes for lighter ones. Or simply switch to shades or blinds that can be retracted when you want to let the light in. Be sure to move any objects that may be directly blocking your windows.
Paint your walls a warm white or neutral color. It will instantly brighten up your space. If you prefer more color, add it in small splashes in the form of furniture, throw pillows and other accessories. If your interior is already white, consider another coat of paint. It’s amazing how dingy white walls can get, and how dramatically brighter a space can become with fresh paint. When choosing a new color, be sure to test it in various levels of daylight before committing.
Use bright finishes. Flooring and furniture finishes can also affect the brightness of your home. A natural-stained white oak floor won’t absorb as much light as a dark-stained floor.
For more complex remodels:
Add skylights. You may be surprised how much natural light a skylight can bring in on even the most overcast day. They add lots of light but can also generate unwanted solar heat in the summer so be sure to consult with a professional to determine optimal positioning — in Seattle, skylights on steeper roofs tend to perform best.
Optimize window placement. It can make the difference between bright and inviting, and dark and dreary. Focus your attention on rooms that have always felt dark to you. Whenever possible, add windows to more than one wall of a room to create more diffuse light. If possible, position most windows on south-facing walls. North-facing windows tend to lose more heat in the winter, and east- and west-facing windows let in harsh direct sunlight. Placing windows 4 feet above the floor can reduce the glare of direct sunlight when you are seated.
To get the most out of artificial lighting:
Layer your lighting. With all the natural light in the world, you still need a good artificial lighting plan to make your home feel bright and welcoming. Instead of just upping the wattage of a central light fixture — which can lend a harsh, shadowy feel — try a layered-lighting approach. Start with a main light source such as a ceiling fixture or can lights for overall lighting. Add task lighting such as floor lamps, sconces or pendants directly over work areas. Finally, layer in accent lighting such as cabinet lights, cove lighting or small spotlights for artwork.
Design your lighting carefully. Be conscious of the types of lighting you will need for your darkest rooms. For example, a flush-mount light on a bedroom ceiling can more evenly illuminate the room than a recessed light in each corner. In dark corners, add both styles of lighting and put them on separate switches. For dark areas like stairways and hallways, add sconces. Pay special attention to task lighting in your kitchen. Often, bright under-cabinet lights do a better job of illuminating your work surfaces than overhead lights.
Find the right color temperature. Try out different temperatures to see which you prefer. Some smart LED lighting systems can be programmed to adjust throughout the day, starting the morning with an invigorating cool tone and fading to a warmer hue around bedtime. Try to put as many of your lights on dimmer switches as practical, and don’t put too many fixtures on one switch. If you have a large home with many banks of lights, consider computerized lighting controls, which can be programmed to adjust all your lights (and even motorized blinds) for various “scenes,” like “Entertain,” “Movie” and “Bedtime.”
Don’t forget to add a cozy glow. Brightly lit spaces can be the perfect antidote to our gray winters, but it’s equally important to lower the lights on occasion. The Danish concept of hygge invites us to embrace both light and shadow by creating warm pools of light. You can create this warm and cozy environment by simply lowering the overhead lights and lighting a few candles.
Morgan Bishop is a project designer at CRD Design Build and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’ nearly 2,800 members, write to email@example.com.