ARTICLE - Designing with natural light

One of my first influences on the design of a project is natural light.  My inspiration comes from an early passion for photography, artists such as Dan Graham and Rachel Whiteread’s resin projects and Japanese architects like Tadao Ando.  How light enters your home has a huge impact on the sense of space, the atmosphere you can create and your mood.  Playing with light, how it changes throughout the day and seasons and plays with materials and shadows is central to creating beautiful homes.


2_Ewhurst surrey house Sophie Bates Architects.jpgTracking the path of the sun and framing views out are integral to developing the form and orientation, whether it is a new build, contemporary home or an extension. Our new build home near the Surrey Hills is designed around a splayed, u-shaped courtyard, capturing the sun as it moves through the day.  Shifts in the plan between spaces creates nooks and shadows. The openness and shallow depth of the plan allow light and sunlight from different directions through the day.

1_sophiebatesarchitects kingston extension.jpg

On a smaller scale, position of roof lights and doors are vital to control the lighting in your home.  In our Light Play west facing home, a narrow, slot roof light captures light while shading the interior, acting as a sundial as the sun moves across the wall below.  Concealed blinds to the main elevation allow solar gain to be controlled while the glass corner is slid open to provide natural ventilation. 


4_Light House Sophie Bates Architects views basement London.jpgFor north-facing sites, the aspect allows for larger areas of glazing without the risk of overheating.  In the Light House project above, not only does glazing and light give a sense of space and views, the variety in light, shade and colour of light brings a space and the contrasting materials in that space to life.


3_Light House Sophie Bates Architects glass.jpgIn urban sites, constraints on space can lead to creative solutions.  A guest room and gym off a top-lit basement borrow light through internal glass screens from the walk on roof light above.  The shower has an etched glass wall, with clear sections so you only see the feet and above head level creating a fun silhouette.  The structural glass balustrade to the basement allows light down from above to light the basement stairwell.4_Sophie Bates Architects basement courtyard.jpgInserting courtyards and terraces can also be effective to light a home and allow for natural ventilation.  The courtyard to this basement extension in Putney allows light into the three surrounding spaces.  The use of timber shading and concealed blinds allow control of privacy. The view of the steps and planting leading up to the garden are possible by the positioning of the glass and careful use of external lighting at night.


5_Sophie Bates Architects glass box loft glazing.jpgCreating a focal point makes a space. In the two projects above views out from the quieter spaces at the top of the house provides a wow factor, providing an element of surprise to the space.  Use of fixed glass provides crisp lines and saves on cost.


6_Sophie Bates Architects north london extension.jpgOne of my earlier projects in North London is still one of my favourites as we achieved a light, carefully designed space while utilising standard glazing systems.  Maximising fixed glazing and creating an external overhang to frame the glass makes this extension punch above its weight.

7_Sophie Bates Architects surrey light play extension.jpgGlass detailing is so important.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but it must be carefully considered.  In these two projects hiding away the structural supports to the roof light and glass balustrade allowed the view to be the focus of the design.


All the photos are projects by Sophie Bates Architects.  Please visit for more information.