Of all the design elements to consider for your establishment, natural light is arguably the most important
There’s a reason we tend to associate the sun with all things positive: hope, happiness, fun and new beginnings. It’s because, scientifically speaking, the presence of daylight can indeed make us feel more positive. There are endless benefits to exposure to natural light, both in terms of how we feel and what actions we take. Understanding just how powerful a tool natural light is can open our eyes to a whole world of design possibilities.
As a contract furniture manufacturer, we must consider how our own products interact with natural light – whether it’s the reflection of light off a sideboard or the height of a window seat. Harnessing natural light is something of a challenge here in the UK, given that solar rays often spend their time hidden behind clouds. Yet, making the most of natural light is a battle worth fighting. Get this challenge right and you can certainly make any environment more pleasant for your customers or residents.
We’re going to take a look at the power of natural light as a design element, and show you how simple design amendments and additions can make your establishment brighter, lighter and more attractive to prospective users.
The benefits of natural light
Exposure to natural light boosts the body’s vitamin D storage, providing a series of health benefits. Vitamin D is important for promoting bone growth and absorbing calcium, and it has also been shown to help prevent certain kinds of cancer, depression, heart disease and weight gain. Of course, these benefits are typically associated with direct light enjoyed outdoors under the sun. But the psychological benefits of natural light can just as easily be enjoyed in internal spaces with large windows.
There is a significant body of research to suggest that natural light improves mood. This is because our eyes’ exposure to natural light is directly associated with the body’s release of serotonin, otherwise known as our ‘happy hormone’. This is evident in the presence of conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder, in which sufferers experience increased negative feelings during the winter months when there is less natural light.
Natural light also has sensory benefits, such as benefitting vision. Smartphone screens, computer screens and fluorescent lighting all cause eye strain with frequent exposure, and this can lead to sometimes permanent eye damage. Natural light has been shown to lower the risk of near-sightedness in young people by helping the eye produce dopamine, which promotes healthy eye development.
Natural light can also help regulate your sleep schedule, encouraging rest and even increasing productivity. Research shows that the amount of sunlight you receive during the day can have a direct impact on the quality of sleep you experience during the night. Direct sunlight in the morning helps you feel more rested and energetic through the release of serotonin, while exposure to artificial lighting before bed (when your eyes should be experiencing darkness and releasing melatonin) has been shown to negatively impact on sleep quality.
One study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that employees working in natural light recorded significantly higher energy levels than those working under artificial light.
Hotel ambience and sustainability
These benefits translate to the hotel industry mainly through ambience. The ability to control natural light levels to create a relaxing atmosphere in the evenings and a bright, energizing atmosphere in the morning can help guests feel they have rested well. There is also a green reason for making the most of natural light in hotel settings. Energy consumption accounts for around 60% of the average hotel’s carbon footprint, and lighting is one of the most notable uses of this energy. When used as a replacement for artificial lighting, natural light can contribute to an overall lowering of energy consumption in your hotel.
As well as being a good moral practice, lowering your hotel’s energy consumption can attract more interest and, crucially, more bookings. Sustainability is a growing hotel trend. A study by Deloitte found that 95% of business travellers asked said they believe the hotel industry should be taking significant steps to increase their sustainability.
Care home motivation
In a care home setting, natural light can be used to promote energy and positivity. Sleep scientists have long advocated the importance of the body’s circadian rhythm (also known as body clock) in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. From reducing stress to managing weight, retaining energy levels to fighting mental diseases, conforming to our natural 24 hour cycle can have significant benefits.
Getting out of bed in the morning is also crucial in a care home setting to encourage socialisation. The simple act of opening curtains in the mornings and closing them at night helps residents maintain a normal schedule, encouraging them to get out of bed, get dressed and interact with others throughout the day.
This is undeniably important, as loneliness remains a key issue within many UK care home environments. In fact, Age UK have reported that more than one million elderly people regularly go a whole month without speaking to anyone, and more complaints of loneliness were recorded by older adults in March 2018 than at any time since November 2013.
Natural light can help tackle what’s called ‘pyjama paralysis’ — a term originated by Professor Jane Cummings of the Department of Health. This refers to the ongoing problem for the 60% of care residents and hospital patients who spend more time in bed than is necessary. This leads to increased isolation, lethargy and even prolonged feelings of illness.
For students, the main benefit of natural light lies in its ability to promote focus. The UK has one of the highest student retention rates globally, as 71% of students remain at university throughout their degree. But ensuring the welfare of these students can be closely linked to light.
With mental health concerns and work-related stress on the rise at university in 2018, helping students to manage their serotonin and melatonin levels can play a significant role in keeping them happy and focused during the semester.
Students are notoriously nocturnal thanks to the social aspects of university life. Yet the very best student accommodation providers help to support the maintenance of a good routine with great exposure to natural light during the day – for instance, in designated study spaces and communal areas, while black-out blinds in the bedroom can support a better sleep environment at night.
Boosting natural light through design
For all its importance, it is surprisingly simple to make the most of the natural light available in your establishment. All it takes are a few key design decisions.
Of course, elements like windows, glass doors and skylights can all help increase the amount of light entering a space. But there are plenty of other ways to maximise the impact of natural light, using colour, materials, finishes and furniture.
Unlike dark colours, which absorb light, light colours like white, pastel shades and beige reflect light. This will help make rooms look and feel bigger and brighter. Polished wood floors as opposed to carpets, and gloss finishes as opposed to matt, can further add to this effect.
Mirrors are another great way of reflecting natural light, as is the use of metallic detailing in your furniture — like wardrobe and drawer handles. Sheer, lightweight fabrics for window dressings will bring warmth and texture while allowing as much light as possible into the room, while lightweight upholstery and soft furnishings such as linen will also make a space feel more breathable. By introducing a few simple changes factors into your venue, you can make the most of the power of natural light.