Designing For Light

We believe the most beautiful homes have magnificent natural light, all day long. In Southern California, light is good theater — with drama in the bright spots along with the shadows. As the seasons change, so does this “cinematography” of light. This week, with the approach of daylight savings (remember, we “spring forward” an hour on March 14!), we reveal several of our light strategies: one of our most enjoyable challenges as residential architects.


Outdoors, determining a home’s orientation is often the first step to analyze opportunities for manipulating natural light. Deep porches that face South and West shield the harshest light while bouncing light from the porch floor deep into the interior. In this ground-up project, a Shingle Style residence in Beverly Hills, the porch floods the rear of the home with filtered light. Photos by Laura Hull.

Even small gestures, like a two-person alcove or a juliet balcony, allow for full-length french doors to bring light into our lives. Spanish Colonial Revival, Los Angeles, CA. Photos by Karyn Millet.

We look for opportunities to provide dappled shade in outdoor areas while keeping our interiors light and bright. This pergola in our Beverly Hills Classical Contemporary residence accomplishes this in grand style. Photo by Sam Frost. In collaboration with Kishani Perara.

We want it all! We often add skylights to covered porches to have partial shade and warmth in our cool summer evenings, protect the patio furniture and provide light to the adjacent rooms. Contemporary Lodge, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Joe Schmelzer. In collaboration with Coppee Design. 

Trees can do all this and more! In the summer, deciduous trees provide shade if planted on the south and west sides of your home. And during winter, they capture low slanting sunbeams to provide warmth indoors. Left: Southern Colonial, Atherton, CA. Photo by Laura Hull. Right: Shingle Style, Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by Laura Hull.


Stairs are the perfect tool to bring light into the home. The stair within our Urban Farmhouse project (left) is bathed in light, highlighting the mix of simple materials like steel, glass and reclaimed wood. Photo by Roger Davies. In our Classical Contemporary residence (right), the previously dark stair and foyer was transformed into a welcoming entryway with an elliptical lay light. Photo by Sam Frost.

Instead of skylights, we often design clerestory windows, dormers and cupolas, like in this study (left). These bring in even, diffused light, and avoid the heat build-up that is common with skylights. Notice the view of the cupola from the home’s exterior, too (right). Photos by Laura Hull.

Yet when we must, we design a translucent ceiling sash to soften the direct light and provide venting to reduce heat. Craftsman Chalet, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Laure Joliet.

Interior windows invite additional light and stray from the norm… two of our goals in design! Left: Traditional Penthouse, West Hollywood, CA. Photo by Laura Hull. Right: Coastal Cottage, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Tim Street Porter.

Transoms and high windows bathe us in light in private spaces. Contemporary Colonial Ranch, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Roger Davies. In collaboration with Joe Lucas. 

And these translucent doors and transoms bring light deep into a Los Angeles office. Photo by Jean Randazzo. In collaboration with Kristen Panitch Interiors. 

Optimizing natural light in a home brings opportunity for the unexpected: windows on the floor and ceiling! Within this extensive renovation/addition project in Pacific Palisades, CA, Tim placed windows on the floor of the second-floor stair, illuminating the breakfast area below. Photo by Jean Randazzo.

Thoughtful work spaces have light layers, including natural light, task light, decorative light and ambient light. When designing a home, we carefully select unique lighting for each room to be both beautiful and functional. Our kitchen spaces have strong, diffused light. Rustic Residence, Telluride, CO. Photo by Merrit Design Photo.

Restful spaces might have indirect light; and our sleeping spaces avoid overhead light. Classical Revival, Pacific Palisades, CA. Photo by Laura Hull. In collaboration with Peter Dunham Design.

Baths should have light strong enough to prepare us for life’s “close ups”! Windows in the shower or bath also provide magical light. Left: Classical Contemporary, Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by Sam FrostRight: Georgian Revival, Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Karyn Millet.

Finally, we love windows in closets. We want enough light to tell navy blue from black! Classical Contemporary, Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by Sam Frost. In collaboration with Kristen Panitch Interiors.

Natural light adds livability and endless interest to a home. It improves our mood, increases productivity, helps us sleep and much more. Light is just one of the very important elements we explore — in each of our projects.

Learn more about our design process.