Whenever I travel to other European cities, like Amsterdam or Paris, I inevitably find myself exclaiming repeatedly over the light in homes and cafés, and even Airbnb apartments. On coming home to Dublin, I'm on a perpetual hunt to create that light and airy feel in my own home, which always seems a little more dull and dark than its European counterparts.
If taking a sledgehammer to the outer wall in your semi-D to hack out holes for new windows is not an option, there is a plethora of little ways to make the most of what light does shine through Irish windows.
Most Irish homes just weren't built to capitalise on natural light, and can instead feel more like concrete bunkers. After years of trying to help maximise the natural light in my Irish home, I've come up with a bunch of creative ways to bring in a little extra light and bounce around what does make it through. From installing mirrors and opting for shiny, light-reflecting hardware to investing in skylights or sheer curtains, bringing more light into your home is something people on any budget can accomplish.
1 Window to your world
If your budget for maximising light in your home is on the larger side, creating new windows or installing skylights is an obvious option, depending on the layout of your home.
For five years, I lived with my husband in a tiny granny flat converted from a garage during the boom. It had two teensy-tiny bathrooms with showers that were barely big enough to turn around in. But what the apartment lacked in space, it made up for in light. Four skylights made us forget the apartment was built like the galley of a boat.
If you have the budget, installing more windows will be your best bet.
2 Lights on
I once read that a room should have no fewer than six sources of light. Crazy, right? That seems like a whole lot of lights for one small room, but consider this combination: an overhead light, one or two lamps on either side of the couch or bed, task lighting on a dresser or bookshelf for reading, and a standing lamp or two in a corner. Frankly, if you're looking to maximise light in your home, sometimes that means just bringing in more sources of it. A single room might benefit from a pendant light as well as dimmable recessed lighting. And if you're really looking to increase natural light in the daytime, choose a glass pendant that will allow light to stream through it when it's not in use.
Buy it: Lute pendant lamp, €379, Amara, amara.com
3 Wash up
Talk about an extremely unglamorous option, but washing your windows can have an enormous impact on how much light streams through them. And you'd be surprised how a little dirt can obscure light in a major way. Mix up equal parts water and white vinegar, and use a stack of newspapers to wipe the streaks away. Upstairs windows get even less love than downstairs ones, so you might want to hire a handyman with a ladder to get the job done.
If you have shrubs or trees blocking the light coming in, break out the clippers. Keep a close eye on the direction light could come into your home and trim trees sparingly to maximise light.
4 Add gloss
Another sneaky way to use paint to brighten up your home is to go for high-gloss paint for furniture or finishes. If you're choosing a finish, opt for something with a little shine that will bounce light around the room. If you have a DIY streak, you can repaint furniture with high-gloss or semi-gloss paint, but the key to a shiny surface is going over the whole piece with fine sandpaper between each coat. High-gloss paint is a great way to add in colours that would otherwise seem too dark.
Buy it: Alexia high-gloss drawer chest, €182, Littlewoods Ireland, littlewoodsireland.ie
5 Sheer chic
Curtains are an essential décor tool, but they can also be doing more damage than you realise if they're too heavy or dark. Curtains are great for highlighting windows and making your home feel warm but if the fabric you choose is thick, you might be blocking light from entering. Instead, choose sheer curtains that will let in more light. Sheer curtains leave you with few options for colours or patterns. If they don't suit your style, consider layering two sets of curtains. Choose sheer curtains for the actual window and, for providing privacy when necessary, and another set of curtains to layer over them. The second set can be darker or heavier, but make sure they don't obscure any of the window when open.
6 Raise 'em up
When you're choosing furniture, keep in mind that natural light will be able to bounce around a room that's filled with pieces which have light bases or glass tops. For coffee or side tables, or even dining tables, choose pieces that have glass or mirrored tops. With all furniture, keep in mind that the less blocky the base, the more light your room will seem. Choose a couch that has legs instead of a base that runs to the floor. Find tables and chairs with thin legs rather than heavy bases. And the downside of having to dust more often will be far outweighed by the extra light in your home.
Buy it: Conran Farley coffee table, €309, Marks & Spencer, marksandspencer.ie
7 Mirror, mirror
Mirrors are the single fastest and most effective way to bring light into your home. A mirror hung opposite a window will instantly reflect light around the room, while making the space feel larger. If you don't have a window to hang a mirror opposite, consider what the mirror will be reflecting: make sure it's something you'd like to see in double. There are a few spots in your home that can really benefit from mirrors. First, at the end of a hallway to make it seem longer and brighter. Second, in a small living room to brighten the space. And you almost can't go wrong with a very large mirror. They can get expensive, but keep an eye out at second-hand shops for frames that you can have reflective glass put into for a much cheaper option. Mirrors have their limitations, though, and large mirrors should be avoided in the bedroom. Mirrors in the kitchen need constant cleaning.
Buy it: Brookfield wall mirror, €95, Littlewoods Ireland, littlewoodsireland.ie
8 Whitewash it
One sure-fire, simple way to make your home seem brighter is to use light or white paint. That doesn't mean you have to stay away from colour altogether, but if your home feels cramped, examine the wall colour and get out your paintbrushes. We lived for years in a home that was painted with builder-standard magnolia paint and it felt dingy and dull, in part because of the warm tone of the paint. One weekend, I spent every waking hour repainting the walls a cool shade of white. The change was incredible. We broke up the white with colour in the areas that were already high on natural light, and even added interest by painting the lower half of a hallway charcoal to contrast with the white (see page 22).
9 Get brassy
As with the use of mirrors and high-gloss paint, changing standard fixtures and drawer pulls for brass or metal will lend a lot of shine to a dull room. In fact, swapping standard drawer pulls or knobs with metal can change the style of a room as well. You can find great options for different fixtures on eBay (ebay.ie) or at Ikea (ikea.com./ie) but make sure you measure the distance between existing holes so that you can choose new fixtures that fit. Metal can also be a good choice for light fixtures, allowing in natural light. Update tables to those with metal legs - you'll have even more sparkle in your room.
Buy it: Broste Copenhagen Freja nesting tables, €399, Amara, amara.com
10 Frosted delight
Most people don't have the budget or freedom to start poking holes in their roof or walls to maximise light, but don't fret. There are options that don't involve major construction. First up, swapping solid exterior or interior doors for doors with window panes. You'd be surprised at how much light can enter a home just by replacing a solid front door with a frosted glass door. Likewise, swapping out solid interior doors can make a house seem brighter.
Look for antique doors with glass panels that you can cover with pretty opaque paper.
Buy it: Primed glazed Warwick door, €279, from Carroll Door Depot, Dublin and Galway, doordepot.ie