Row House Holidays

Help! My Row House Living Room Is Dark and Gloomy!

It’s not unusual for row house living rooms to have one window which makes for a pretty dark room, especially if there are trees that shade the front of the house. Although gloomy is very seasonable this time of year, it might not be the aesthetic you are looking for year-round.

A quick Google search will provide you with a generous offering of advice and recommendations, most of which offer photos of light-filled rooms. Take this article, for example. It doesn’t do anyone a service to present rooms that are bright, thanks to either professional lighting or an abundance of windows. I’d rather see rooms that are impossibly dark and cave-like before, and perhaps, slightly improved after.

Home office in a 1832 row house.
Our home office circa 2010.

My own row house is old, attached on both sides, and two rooms deep. It meets every criterion for poor lighting. For example, right is a photo of my office which is located next to a sliding glass door. Unfortunately, there used to be an enormous tree that blocked most of the sunlight. You can see that it’s dark and requires flash to remotely make out anything. Since, things have gotten brighter but only because the tree was removed after a large branch fell on our skylight which is no way to get more natural light.

Our living room is reasonably lit, having one normal-sized window that provides semi-adequate light to a small room. My kitchen/dining room is, for all intents and purposes, in a basement with only a very small, deep-set, north-facing window that is more suggestive than useful in terms of providing light.

Sound familiar? This is how we cope.

White walls, mirrors, reflective do-dads, and bright colors are all good and dandy but what if you don’t like any of those things and the rooms are so small that it’s not going to make much of an impact even if you do? Focus on lighting.

Sonder - The Queen - Re-purposed Beams
For the hotel, formerly a row house, project, the developer installed lighting behind beams and rails. This is easy to replicate in your own row house.

String or cord lighting is a life-saver if you don’t have ample outlets. You can run it along the ceiling, hiding behind a rail if you don’t want to look at it, and provide light to the entire room if need be. If the strings bother you, small spotlights are easy to install and you can string them together using one outlet if needed. We’ve used both types of lighting, along with recessed overheads, in our living room.

Another pain point is our stairwells which are centrally located in the house away from any windows. We used LED tape lights from IKEA to keep things well-lit and, hopefully, us from falling down the stairs.

Once you start looking around your house for places to stick lighting other areas stand out. Strip lighting, also available at IKEA, works under kitchen cabinets or inside shelving units. Most options plug into normal outlets and aren’t complicated to install. And, you can even get lighting that’s battery operated in case you don’t have outlets to spare.

The nice thing about using lighting to brighten your space is that when you are in the mood for cozy, you can control how much light you want. When it comes to watching movies or snuggling by the fire, a dark and cozy living room is actually preferable.

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