Dealing with the dark side

Time to bring light to a northern exposure and ease to the east, says Kya de Longchamps

Chocolate brown walls, cool creamy furniture — this elegant bedroom plays to its north facing aspect by using dark, enclosing colours to create a sooting retreat.

FEW of us can escape the challenge of rooms with a dimmer aspect: rooms that progress to shadow on the east side or wake to gloom on the west. If you have house on the sunny side of the street, half of your floor plan will be north facing. Upstairs, someone in the family will be dealt the darker room. Still, there’s plenty you can do on a blousy or bitter budget to throw some light on these unexpected, shy space.

Structural Shine

If you’re lucky enough to have bought into an architect’s determined forward planning, downstairs at least, north-facing rooms will carry occasional spaces such as utility rooms, bathroom, transition areas and places inhabited more by evening than by day. Open plan areas will grab south light at one end and pour it generously to the north end. Passive certified homes slough off the expectation of great natural light on the north side to preserve as much energy as possible on the shadowed side of the property deliberately, including small window openings.

Rising in the east with the sun in bedrooms and following the light through the day with full south, south west-facing living areas, is not always possible. The quantity of light coming from the north is a teaspoon compared to the deluge from a south-facing aspect, and it will be soft and largely shadow-less. If you have a mean amount of glazing, the situation becomes even gloomier. If you’re building or improving consider design features that will pump up the brightness.

Think outside the existing floorplan

You could move entire task areas such as the kitchen from one shadier side of the house into the light at the other. Introduce a skylight, a light well (high glazing in the walls) or cunning telescopic light tunnels that poke through the roof envelope. High glazing like this steals searing overhead illumination, pooling it in the centre of the room where it can be diluted over a much wider area with a pale floor and wall colour. In the case of a larger opening, such as a Velux window, the window will draw the eye upward to a spectacle of open blue.

Consider sharing light from adjoining rooms with a happier aspect by using glazed panels in the walls, or tempered glass doors in clear or opaque glass. You can even bounce light around corners and into the room using mirrors placed outside the space.

Light Work with Colour

North-facing light softened and returned by the surrounding landscape has a gentle, calm, consistent quality that’s diffused and without overt glare. It’s the choice for most artists’ studios that rely on natural illumination. It makes sense to go for pale flooring, but the main colour applied to the walls will be crucial. Work with the nature of the light, starting on the warm side of a colour wheel and tend towards colours with red, yellow and pink undertones that will instantly massage some heat into cool northern radiance.

There are hundreds of varieties of any one colour. Blue doesn’t have to add chill, but it’s important to get the shade right. Look for blues with pink undertones, violets and optimistic sky blues running into delicately blue tinted off-whites. Avoid putty-like grey which can simply be too stark and clinical in league with the blue tinge of natural light entering the room from the North. Warm, fuzzy yellows and Tea Rose pinks are popular solutions where other colours would send a shiver down the spine. Try Crown ‘Easy Wind’ and Dulux ‘Ruby Fountain’ from their 2012 ready mixed collections.

Rules are made to be broken, so be brave when testing and examine the results over the course of a full day. Large sheets of lining paper pinned to two adjacent walls will give you a much better idea than a casual splodge on the wall. If you have small windows that don’t give much light at all, and you can’t invest in, say, introducing a skylight, it’s less important to make natural light a first priority. Try anything and everything in terms of colour in artificial illumination.

Running in the face of most paint makers’ advice, Farrow & Ball recommend dark, dramatic colours to induce drama and intimacy rather than trying to bully a pokey north-facing area into a forced optimism, Try out their passionate purple, Farrow Brinjal No 222 (budget alternatives include B&Qs Forest Fruits) and melting chocolates in Farrow London Clay No 244 (try Johnstone’s Brown Sugar from Woodies DIY). Keep in mind that medium and even some light tones will appear a lot darker in a dark room, so treat them as richly tinted contenders. In Sweden and Norway using a soft grey is highly popular, so if you can find something warm even in this colour family (Crown’s Gravel Garden or Dulux Almost Mocha) give it a test. Walls and woodwork can be left pure unadulterated white to freshen up a deeper signature colour and throw light out of potentially light sapping corners.

Illuminative Play.

Invite in as much light as you do have with semi-transparent window treatments in voile sheers or even better, Roman blinds that will pull up and away from any windows rather than framing and restricting the spill of light coming from the edges, as any curtain will do. Don’t cut across the window with heavy blocking furniture and cut back any vegetation and branches cowering over the glass outside.

Once all the light on offer is penetrating the room, increase its presence with a voluptuous mirror or even two (not facing each other). Legged furniture allows the passage of light to bounce back off pale receptive walls and flooring rather than blocking its path.

Consider reflective surfaces and even metallic wallpapers and accessories, the airiness of glass collectables, floating furniture design, anything and everything that allows light to travel, sing and flourish.


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