How to brighten and warm up your home

The shorter days and cooler temperatures of winter can result in a serious case of seasonal affective disorder. We’ve rounded up some bright ideas to fake a friendlier season in your home, whether you’re embarking on a new build, renovating or simply redecorating.

Building from scratch

A new build or a large-scale renovation should always consider ways to maximise light and warmth, particularly on a tricky south-facing block or one that’s hemmed in by other buildings.

Pick the best orientation

Work out the best angle on the block to capture maximum natural light. “It’s generally desirable to orientate entertaining and living areas to the north,” says James Bawden, builder and consultant at The Reno Coach. “This allows for maximum sun penetration in winter when you want it most.”

Go sky high

A soaring ceiling is a good way to enhance a light, airy feel so aim for a ceiling height of 2550mm or more.

Aim for passive warmth

Use the power of the sun to heat your home for free. The science of passive heating means combining plenty of north-facing windows with materials that have a high thermal mass – like concrete or stone – on the floor and walls. They store the heat and feed it back into the home after the sun has gone.

Insulate!

Insulation is the other key element of passive heating. Although there are specifications for the level of insulation required in a new build, to make the most of passive heating it pays to insulate above these minimum levels.

Allow for maximum illumination

Where possible, use clever design and transparent materials to avoid blocking natural light levels. A well-designed staircase, for example, is a great way to play up available light. “To create a striking light well, use open treads, a glass balustrade and install a skylight above,” says James. “A trend I’m also seeing is internal steel-framed glass doors, which act as a divider and noise buffer while allowing light to penetrate deeper into hallways.” 

room with yellow window and purple bench seat

Retrofit solutions

If a major reno isn’t on the cards, there’s no need to live with a cold and dim interior. These simple solutions can make a big difference with minimal construction or disruption.

Upsize your windows

“It may be possible to enlarge an existing window or convert it to a glass door or bifold to access an outdoor area,” says James Bawden. “However, as most external walls are load bearing, consult a builder or engineer before bringing out the sledgehammer.”

Go open plan

Fewer internal walls mean fewer light barriers, so investigate where you might be able to knock down non-structural walls to create a sun-infused, free-flowing layout.

Consider a sun tunnel

If you have a dreary walk-in robe, dark powder room or pantry, an effective solution for compact spaces is a sun tunnel. “Quick and easy to install, a sun tunnel has a highly reflective tube that bounces and channels light where you need it,” explains Stephen Parry, from Velux. This is a great option for dark areas where a skylight isn’t practical.

Upgrade your heating

Addressing the inadequacies of your current heating solutions requires looking at the layout of your home and pinpointing cold spots. Getting that spring feeling doesn’t require tropical heat – always look to your power bill and environmental impact – but creating a comfortable warmth will impact hugely on your mood.

Plug draughts

Check your home for draughts and seal where needed. Adhesive seals are quick and easy to apply around doors and windows, which is where most breezes sneak in.

Update your front door

Swapping a solid timber front door for one with glass panels will allow light to flow through your home and brighten your entry.

 Install skylights

“Adding a bank of skylights boosts natural light and ventilation and can create a unique architectural feature that is truly transformative,” says Stephen. With products designed to suit either flat or pitched roofs, skylights are a great option in kitchens, bathrooms and living areas. “Experienced installers can easily retrofit skylights into most homes,” says Stephen. “Yet before work commences it’s advisable to check if legal approval is required.”

mirror with floating shelf below it

Decorative illusions

With a little creativity you can go a long way towards brightening a shadowy home and revealing a spring-fresh look throughout.

Add window coverings

Floaty sheer curtains speak to summery weather and tropical escapes. For effective warming, add thick drapes over the sheers or try cellular blinds underneath to combine a romantic visual effect with a practical and winter-appropriate material. 

Hang a mirror or two

With their ability to bounce sunlight around and extend views, mirrors are great at enhancing a dim room. Maximise their reflective qualities by placing them on a wall opposite a window or glass door. Also consider a mirrored kitchen splashback or a smoked mirror panel below the island bench to enhance the sense of depth and light.

Pick a pale floor

With the right palette of interior finishes, you can magically lift the light quota for a spring-like feel. Pale engineered floorboards make a great foundation, says interior designer Anoushka Allum of Anoushka Allum Design. “Rather than dark timbers or tiles, which absorb light, softer timber tones with a whitewash or natural finish will reflect light, creating the illusion of space,” she says.

Go with white…
A new coat of white paint can work wonders, but it’s important to pick a shade with the right undertone to help deal with the dullness of winter days. “Warm whites are good for spaces that suffer from less natural light as they don’t look yellow when light is limited and they provide warmth to the room,” says Anoushka. “I like Dulux Natural White and Snowy Mountains, and I always specify a satin finish for walls, as it has a slight sheen, is easy care and, unlike matt, doesn’t show every mark.”

… but in moderation

Avoid the temptation to go all white with your finishes and furnishings. “Instead work with a ratio of 70 per cent light and 30 per cent dark and use a muted colour palette, layered with texture,” says Anoushka. “Contrasting light and darker neutral shades, like soft sage greens and pastel pinks, will provide great contrast and, teamed with textural lighter timbers, flatweave rugs, indoor plants and interesting artwork, will make a space feel alive.”

Make way for metallics

Think brass fixtures, shiny chromes or a touch of gold in accessories, light fittings and furnishings. To boost their shimmery appeal, position them near windows and mirrors.

Warm up your winter

We've got plenty more inspiring ideas on how to warm up your home this winter.

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