A well-lit apartment is hard to find, especially in New York and other big cities where any apartment is hard to find. So if you’re lucky enough to discover one that’s within your budget and commuting radius, take it.
Don’t let something like tiny windows, or how they offer a serene view of the neighboring wall, break the deal. As T. Swift said: “Welcome to New York.” Or Chicago. Or any major metro area for that matter.
OK so now that I have this tiny apartment with tiny windows that cost a huge fortune, what do I have to do to get some natural light around here?
If you own a Frank Lloyd Wright house with floor-to-ceiling windows, nothing. For everyone else, you have to employ some clever lighting tricks. Which should be easy because we already did all the homework and are about to break it down for you in 3 … 2 …
1. Clear the space around your windows.
Whether you have one window in your apartment or ten, you can easily maximize their natural light powers by opening them to the room. Now before you do anything else, make sure each room is structured in a way that allows light to enter as deep as possible. Ideally, your whole window should be visible from any standing or sitting point in the room.
Next, move any tall bulky furniture to the darker side of the room so that it doesn’t obstruct light from entering through your window. For that same reason, only put low or thin plants on your windowsill.
Floating shelves, like the ones pictured above, allow additional light to pass through them. Glass door cabinets and chairs with narrow legs also produce the same luminous effect.
When in doubt, remember this: the less shadows an item creates, the better.
2. Place mirrors strategically.
Mirrors and other reflective surfaces can double, or even triple, the reach of your natural light. And by hanging mirrors strategically, you’ll extend sunlight into (almost) any corner. Kind of like the Parisian who gave himself a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower.
For maximum effect, put mirrors, shiny metals, or reflective glass on west- and east-facing walls since the sun focuses on each of them for half the day. Also, track where beams of light move in your apartment, and add reflective surfaces in those pathways to catch and disperse light throughout the rest of your home.
3. When picking treatments, treat lightly.
Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of natural light but having too much of it, at least for half the day. If your windows face either east or west, you may have a blinding amount of light in the morning or evening, and then almost none the rest of the time. Use window treatments during the brightest hours, but nothing that obstructs ambient light the rest of the time.
When choosing treatments, pick white or soft colors, ideally of a material that allows some light to pass through. Windows flanked by floor-length curtains can also make a room look larger, which is especially helpful in darker apartments.
4. Think “light” with your colors too.
Similarly, choose lighter colors as often as you can when decorating and buying furniture. White and lighter shades reflect natural light, whereas black and darker browns absorb it.
Pay special attention to your rugs, since floors receive a lot of your apartment’s light. Some designers actually recommend painting a floor white to create the illusion of more space, but all white everything isn’t for everyone. A white shag rug or a light gray can still go a long way to brighten your apartment.
5. Clean your windows at least once a month.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. If you have a clear path for light from your windows, and colors and surfaces that reflect it, you still need to make sure your light source is clean.
Similar to headlights on a car, your windows will accumulate dust, dirt, and film that weaken their output (or, in this case, input) of light. If you want your apartment to have the most natural light possible, clean the inside of your windows at least once a month, and beg the super to clean the outside a couple times a year.
6. Invest in lamps and candles.
Your windows can’t be your apartment’s only light source. Thanks to candles, you can generate your own natural light, even at night. Since reflective surfaces will only take sunlight so far, add other sources throughout your apartment to maintain a flow of light.
Ceiling fixtures are common, but invest in some floor and table lamps too. And stagger pendant bulbs or sconces to add dimension to each room. If staged correctly, other lighting will complement natural light and appear to spread it to every crevice of your apartment.
7. Replace a few of your doors.
OK, this is less of a “trick” than a minor (or major) construction endeavor, but if you own or plan on staying in your apartment for a while, replacing or removing a few doors can have an illuminating effect. Doors on hinges will either totally obstruct a room’s light when closed, or create a triangular shadow when they’re open. Either way, it isn’t great for light flow.
If you never need to close off a certain room of your apartment, consider removing the door entirely. If you do close off rooms with an abundance of light, French interior doors can spread it through the apartment.
Similarly, sliding doors can limit the shadows and space other doors take up. Their installation is a much larger endeavor, but it’s better than installing a skylight, which can cause serious glare, fade your furniture, and overheat your home.
Whichever natural light strategy you choose, it should begin with decluttering your apartment. As you make more space, you’ll have more natural light, which everyone in every city could use more of. Especially now that it’s winter.
This article was written by David Michael McFarlane, a writer from Texas and Oregon who lives in New York and loves smart design and organization.