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Ask Charles Cherney - Question #34 - How does room orientation impact natural light?

How does room orientation impact natural light?

The short answer is that room orientation significantly impacts the kind and quality of natural light a room gets.
Pay attention when house hunting.

Natural light - or lack thereof - can play a large part in determining how much one likes a room or a home. Consciously or unconsciously, one is impacted by the level of light. As LA Realtor Matthew Gaskill says, "Light profoundly influences how a person perceives the surroundings and whether the environment affords relaxation, pleasantness, privacy, spaciousness, complexity, and/or visual clarity."

Gaskill has written an excellent blog post on natural light. There, he says the following:

North-facing rooms are the darkest in the home with diffuse, shadowless, and slightly grayish or neutral light most of the day and year. Most painters prefer to use this light because it is more constant than direct sunlight. Everything in the space will appear and feel cooler on a color spectrum, so it is important to add warm hues through paint and accents to make the room feel welcoming.

South-facing rooms are the brightest in the house, with the daylight being dominant from late morning to mid-afternoon. These spaces, like north-facing rooms, have consistent light all day, but with crisp strong shadows and beams of light. The warm bright light tends to render colors accurately, even to the point of intensifying any color placed within it. Softer tones are preferred here unless you love the energizing effect of intense hues.

East-facing rooms are brightest in the morning, with a light of low altitude and casting long soft shadows. The morning light can vary from a grey-yellow to bright and white, which tends to wash out color. It is important to determine what time of day east-facing rooms will be used and what importance natural light will play. If the function of the room lends itself to afternoon or evening use, a warm palette will help balance the lack of natural light. A saturated palette is usually preferred.

West-facing rooms have their strongest light in the late afternoon and early evening with a light of a a rich gold-orange hue. The light can penetrate deep into a structure and at times be overwhelming. If the space will be used toward the end of the day, you will definitely want cool tones here for balance. Morning use of a west-facing room means more warm tones can be used without the risk of being overwhelming.

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