We live in the sunny and spectacular Sierra. Who wouldn’t want big windows and open interior spaces, allowing streams of golden, dappled light to reach every nook and cranny? Yet we don’t always have a say in the infrastructure of our homes. Many of us mountain-dwellers in Tahoe/Truckee are renting in the context of a housing crisis, or don’t have the resources to expand opportunities for sunshine to brighten up cold winter days.
What it comes down to is not every home is perfectly designed with passive solar sun-capturing techniques to maximize natural lighting.
So what can you do as snow season looms on the horizon to maximize the light you do get, despite whether your homes passes the passive solar test? Turns out, there’s a bunch of creative “tricks of the light” you can use inside and outside to catch all the rays you can, even as you sit warm on the couch with your novel and hot chocolate. Here are six suggestions that caught my eye:
- Do you have a porch, a balcony, or any backyard space? Rig yourself a sun-catching garden bauble to reflect the light. Set it up near a window or glass door and enjoy the company of tiny rainbows dancing all over the room as you wash dishes or eat your breakfast. Eye-catching outdoor artwork has the added benefit of attracting helpful pollinators in the spring, while reflecting both sun and snow in winter. My personal favorites are also designed to be in constant motion, so they act as a sort of wind gauge as a bonus.
- Mirror, mirror, bring me light; I want my home nice and naturally bright. Mirrors placed strategically in common spaces can be a fun way to show off a beautiful painting or sculpture or favorite house plant in two places at once. They can also help improve the natural light in your home when placed directly across from a window by reflecting the sunlight. And we’re not just talking wall mirrors here; look for artwork and furniture that incorporate metallic, reflective surfaces.
- Sun feng shui: A roughly 6,000-year-old Chinese concept about how the placement of furniture and construction of a building can affect happiness, abundance, and harmony, feng shui can also be applied to maximizing natural light in the home. For example, my bedroom is blessed to have large sliding glass doors and no shortage of natural light. But my bed was situated so that I didn’t typically wake up with a view outside. Since then, I’ve shuffled around my desk, bookshelf, and bed so that now I can catch the sunrise as the first thing I open my eyes to each morning. I start the day on, ahem, the right side of the bed. Other ways to apply this concept include positioning couches and armchairs in the living room so that they can encourage conversation while also having a window in their sights. Or turning a dining room table sideways along the window so that more people have a view outside while eating. Remove obstacles in the way of windows, and situate furniture, especially that which you sit on, toward windows. Feng shui translates literally to “wind” and “water,” so perhaps it is fitting that the concept can help us through weather-induced issues that the Tahoe/Truckee winters can bring.
- To state the obvious, if you need or want curtains for privacy or aesthetics, choose those that can be fully retracted to maximize the window space available. Some window treatment types, like Venetian blinds, are designed specifically to keep out as much light as possible. Steer clear of those varieties to maximize sunlight intake into the room, and opt instead for a light, gauzy curtain that can provide privacy but still let sunlight in when closed.
- Show your true colors: By painting walls light, cool tones like blue gray or super light greens and yellows, you can allow sunlight to complement the colors; dark walls sometimes seem to do battle with natural light. Of course, color choices depend on your preference, and different colors will catch sunlight in different ways throughout the day (and depending on the orientation of the room). But, especially as the snow starts to stick to the ground and temperatures drop, it’s best to choose colors with the sun in mind. And when it comes to light, the paint’s finish is equally important. Houselogic.com cautions that “paint sheen also affects color. Glossy finishes will reflect light and change the way the color looks, whereas flat finishes are less reflective and allow colors to look truer under bright light.” So the sun will have an impact, and it’s up to you to pick a sheen that has the one you want.
- Innovate. Every space is unique, and maximizing natural light means working with what you’ve got. Try out different furniture and artwork placements, reflective surfaces, or even water features indoors (water reflects!), and see how best you can use resources you already have or can get easily and cheaply to maximize sunlight.
As magical as the winter is in our region, the winter blues (see story, p. 10) and a lack of sunlight during the deepest months of snow and cold can make those already prone to depression or anxiety struggle even more. Improving our daily access to sunlight can do a lot to improve our mood and outlook in addition to its physical benefits. If we can’t be outside quite as much during the winter, it is important to find ways to bring that sunlight inside. So be creative and crafty this winter, incorporate these ideas as well as your own, and you may find yourself glowing in the amplified natural light within your home.