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Not Much Natural Light - Tips to Make Your Place Look Brighter

January 4, 2012

Market Ready

Q. My apartment doesn’t get much natural light. What can I do to improve the way it looks to buyers?

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A. “You can’t create exposures or more natural light, but you can enhance the natural light you get,” said Leonard Steinberg, a managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman. The objective, he said, is to “show how you can live in that space comfortably, without it feeling dark.”

Fortunately, Mr. Steinberg said, “Dark spaces aren’t dark only because they don’t get natural light.” In fact, most of the time, he said, “It’s because they’re painted a dark color, or have bad lighting or heavy curtains.” And all of those problems can be fixed fairly easily.

Matthew Tanteri, principal of the daylighting consulting firm Tanteri & Associates and an assistant professor of lighting design at Parsons the New School for Design, said that there are two key ways to enhance natural light: improving interior reflectivity and reducing obstructions from furniture.

With reflectivity, “You want to maximize the amount of times that daylight bounces inside the room,” Mr. Tanteri said. To do so, he suggested using light colors that are “close to white” on ceilings, walls and floors, and avoiding glossy finishes. “Glossy surfaces can actually be a detriment because they can create glare,” he said. “The safest finishes are matte finishes, because they reflect light in all directions.”

Mr. Steinberg also recommends using light hues, and offered specific paints. “Linen White by Benjamin Moore is a very reliable, sell-your-house coat of paint,” he said. He suggested another Benjamin Moore color, Decorators White, for the ceiling and trim.

On a related note, Mr. Tanteri said: “You don’t want to cover the wall with dark hangings. Paintings and posters will absorb light.”

As for reducing light obstructions, “Orient objects in the room to promote the flow of daylight,” he said. “So, things like bookshelves and partitions should be perpendicular to the window wall.”

Mr. Tanteri also says that light from the top of a window will reach the farthest into the apartment, so it is important not to block that part of the window with heavy blinds or drapery.

He favors Venetian blinds because they provide solar control and can also redirect sunlight to the ceiling. “That’s when you get deeper daylight penetration,” he said. Another option: shades that travel from the bottom of the window upward, rather than top down. “That’s something that works for daylight as well as privacy,” he said.

And you can supplement the sunlight with strategically placed light fixtures. “Use indirect lighting, aimed at the ceiling,” Mr. Tanteri said. A torchier floor lamp near the back of the room could “take over where the daylight on the ceiling starts to fade away.”

If some areas of the apartment still appear dark, it may not be as big a problem as you think. “I’ve actually had buyers specifically ask for dark areas of an apartment, because of fine art and photography” that could fade, Mr. Steinberg said. “There’s a silver lining in every cloud.”