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Daylighting in a renovation: a design that shines

Without sunlit spaces we all wilt like house plants in February and March, so that was our biggest concern” said homeowner Emily Billington.
After renovation - modern and dark colored Cape Cod house
When a New Jersey couple set out to renovate their 1950s-era Cape Cod home, they had a few ideas in mind. For their family of five, they wanted a modern, simple space that differed from the cookie-cutter homes they’d been encountering, and they wanted way more light. “The winter blues are real around here. Without sunlit spaces we all wilt like house plants in February and March, so that was our biggest concern” said homeowner Emily Billington.

“The winter blues are real around here. Without sunlit spaces, we all wilt like house plants in February and March, so that was our biggest concern”

To help freshen up their historic home, they tapped local architect Peter Goodhue. Goodhue excels at bringing historic homes up to modern standards, while still respecting the original architecture. And he would deliver on Billington’s dreams of more light through a design that focused on daylighting — the art of bringing more natural light into a home.

Embracing a modern layout

The home featured “too many hallways, rooms and doorways,” according to Billington who said it felt dark and closed off. To fix this, Goodhue focused on simplifying the layout and finding creative places to add windows. One of the first ways he did that was by turning an upstairs gable 90 degrees, so it now sits perpendicular to the living room below. With this move, there was space for the two downstairs bedrooms to move upstairs and room to create a primary suite with a cathedral ceiling.
Before renovation - classic Cape Cod house with two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs
Before renovation, the house was a classic Cape Cod with two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs.

Harvesting southern light

With fewer uses on the first floor, there was freedom to take down walls, including the one between the kitchen and dining room. Since these rooms face south, they were natural starting places for letting in light and warmth from the sun, along with backyard views. “I never want a hallway to end with a wall. You want to create vistas throughout the house,” Goodhue said.

Another big way Goodhue did this was by renovating the back porch. He added two triangular 400 Series specialty windows high in the gable to help light reach deeper into the house. Then, he connected the porch to the dining room with a 200 Series Narroline® gliding patio door. With its narrow frame and large expanse of glass, this 8-foot-tall door lets light pour into the home.

Goodhue completed the new open space with a large picture window instead of cabinetry. This choice, Billington said, helps her family enjoy the “morning sun and have a better view of our garden.”

Side by side images of porch and oversized picture window in the kitchen-dining room
The porch lets light and backyard vistas into the kitchen-dining room, as does the oversized picture window.

Making the most of every room

Goodhue certainly didn’t ignore the opportunities on the northern, street-facing side of the house either. “Every room should feel good, otherwise you won’t use it,” he said. To this end, the architect added a picture window flanked by two casements in the living room. Stretching 10-feet across, these windows bring in steady light throughout the day while also giving the owners more privacy. Goodhue intentionally placed the windows higher on the wall to make it harder to see into the house and to avoid shadows from the trees outside.
Living room with 400 Series casement windows with colonial grilles that suits the Cape Cod’s style

The colonial grilles on these 400 Series casement windows add a touch of tradition that suits the Cape Cod’s style.

The entrance to the home is also on the north side. Like many Cape Cods, you’re confronted with the stairs immediately upon entering the house. Goodhue added a 400 Series specialty window next to the front door that “washes light onto the staircase” and brightens up the entire space, proving that even a small opening can create a big difference.

"Every room should feel good, otherwise you won't use it."

Side by side of interior of entry way
Viewed from any angle, the entry to this house is a bright and cheerful preview of the rooms to come.

Applying these lessons to your home

Goodhue’s renovation shows the power of daylighting, an architectural practice that focuses on maximizing natural light to reduce energy use. It can be achieved through building orientation, window placement and other approaches that will be familiar to an architect.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work through a renovation or new construction project:

  • Consider the orientation of your home. ln the Northern Hemisphere, direct light comes from the south, so windows on that side will provide the best light and most warmth. You’ll also want to think about where your house is positioned. Does adding a window open up views to your yard, or will you be looking directly into your neighbor’s house?
  • Think of each window as a unique opportunity and decide what the priority is for that opening. For example, the picture window in the kitchen was about letting in backyard views and southern light, so Goodhue skipped grilles to avoid obstruction. But he added grilles to the street-facing views to complement the Cape Cod’s traditional exterior.
  • Ask your architect to help you through the window selection process. Goodhue takes his clients to showrooms and walks them through the options, so they can get a better feel for window placement, styles and materials.
  • Consider your climate. Window glass can help trap or resist heat, helping you maintain a more comfortable indoor temperature while potentially lowering energy bills.

Before electricity, homes were carefully designed to capture as much natural light as possible. Now, this approach is resurging as an intentional design and home efficiency decision for new builds and renovations alike, as Goodhue’s project shows.

Goodhue’s design resulted in a home that beautifully combines classic New England style with a lighter, brighter Scandinavian aesthetic, and Billington said her family is thrilled with the result — “most notably the natural light.”

Natural light is a crucial aspect of creating a healthy, happy home. From sipping your coffee in the morning sunlight to not needing to turn on the lights to simply enjoying the evening glow, natural light can help improve your overall well-being. Interested in learning more?

Creating a healthy home with windows

A note about this project

This project was an Andersen 2021 Bright Ideas Awards finalist. If you’re developing an impressive residential project that uses windows and doors to create a healthier home, we’d love for you to submit your work! Learn more about submitting an entry and the chance to be featured in Dwell magazine.