Skylights are a good cure for the winter blahs

January 31, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Services

It is not surprising in wintertime to dream longingly about sunshine. Not everyone lives in Florida or Southern California, where residents can anticipate almost year-round sunshine.

Yet no matter where we live, medical experts say humans need regular sunlight for optimal mental health. They also say the best way to get the vitamin D we need to build and maintain strong bones can be done by regular, prudent exposure to sunlight. In some locations this is no easy task. But we can learn a great deal from people who live in northern climes where the winter sun hardly slips above the horizon for weeks at a time.

The creator of the skylights shown in the photo of this upper-level living room hails from Scandinavia, which can be a gray place for a good part of the year. Villum Kann Rasmussen was born in Denmark along a stretch of the North Sea called the Wadden Sea. He is the founder of a Scandinavian company obsessed with bringing daylight and fresh air to people.


Over the years, Rasmussen has taken out some 55 patents and developed nine patterns designed to do just that. The first Rasmussen "roof window" was installed in a Danish school more than 60 years ago.

Harnessing available sunlight in Denmark, Sweden and Norway is a challenge equal to any experienced in the United States. Just ask anyone living in Alaska, Minnesota or North Dakota.

In Europe, it is common to find people living in buildings that originated in medieval times, or were first built during the Renaissance. Life in these ancient structures demands that European and Scandinavian builders engineer products that adapt antiquated structures to meet the demands of modern life. That is why Rasmussen's roof windows, or skylights, work well in many older buildings.

Buildings do not date to the Renaissance in the U.S., but skylights can be the perfect answer for American attic rooms. Converted barns and other outbuildings on farms and ranches could be improved greatly by adding windows.

Urban lofts are another likely choice for these windows. There is nothing more effective than introducing natural light to transform an awkward space into an inviting room.

In the current housing crisis, we will see increased need to make room for extended families living under the same roof. Some envision a return to old family homesteads or aging family homes in small towns. Adding a window to a cramped upstairs space could go far toward turning a dark room into a livable space. It is possible that America is entering an era of conservative home ownership, a time when important lessons could be learned from those who have long participated in the voluntary simplicity movement.

Those devotees believe in repairing versus throwing things out, extending the life of appliances and furnishings and living with less consumption. Recycling building materials and furniture could become more popular. So might coaxing every inch of available space in our homes to function effectively and attractively.

In today's housing market, anything that can be done to add grace to a clumsy space should be considered. It might even help sell a home faster if it can claim more attractive and livable space.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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