Make the most of natural light

From glass structures to skylights and exposed beams – these readers show us how they made the most of natural light in their own spaces.

Photographs Francois Oberholster, Henrique Wilding and Elza Cooper • Styling Marian van Wyk and Suretha Jansen van Rensburg

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A steel-framed glass structure that looks much like a greenhouse but is, in fact, the kitchen in pianist Rocco de Villiers and artist Clive van den Berg’s Parktown home, allows for maximum natural light. It also makes the most of the view of the pool and garden beyond.

1 From the inside out

Rocco de Villiers’ imposing heritage home in Parktown, Johannesburg is more than 100 years old. It’s a classic stone house designed by British architect Robert Howden. The original kitchen was a small, narrow ‘corridor’ that got no sun. Rocco wanted a sociable space with seating for reading, chatting, drinking wine and enjoying the garden while cooking up a storm, so he decided on this steelframe structure that resembles a greenhouse from the outside five years ago.

“The space we chose for the new kitchen was part of a courtyard surrounded by walls originally built in 1913. Since the house is included in the South African Heritage Council’s register of protected properties, the new kitchen had to be separate from the house as we were not allowed to make any alterations to the façade,” explains Rocco.

The kitchen cupboards are teak, the window frames are aluminium and the floor is a UVresistant white epoxy. >> Windows installed by Isizwe Glass & Aluminium; flooring by Maroda Flooring

We wanted a kitchen that doesn’t look like a kitchen. – Rocco de Villiers

Rocco enlisted the help of Nabeel Essa of Office 24/7 Architects to design the new kitchen. Nabeel designed the contemporary steel-and-stone structure to perfectly complement the rest of the house.

The steel frame was built elsewhere and then assembled on-site. For the cladding, stones from the surrounding property were meticulously chiselled and shaped by stonemasons. “Proper stonemasons are rare; it’s a skill that’s dying out,” says Rocco.

The structure has a pitched roof and the huge window that follows the line of the roof and actually forms one of the kitchen walls has double glazing for heat insulation. These windows cannot open or close, but sliding doors in the wall just to the left open up completely, creating an invigorating indoor/outdoor feel.

A cosy courtyard between the house and the new kitchen serves as a protected outdoor space for entertaining.

A scullery with storage space is located behind the structure; a corridor links the kitchen with the original house. The painting is one of Clive’s artworks.

Rules and regulations

If you plan to alter a heritage building or install large glass windows, keep the following in mind, says architect Nabeel Essa of Office 24/7:

All structures older than 60 years – such as this one – are protected by law and owners have to file an application with the relevant provincial body; in this case it was the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng. We also had to file an application with the neighbourhood association and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation – without these approvals, any alterations would be illegal.

Regarding the window, one of the reasons for the addition was to take advantage of the views, light and winter sun. The original heritage house with its small apertures is cold in winter.

When calculating the required amount of glazing for regulation purposes, note that the entire house is measured into a ratio between glazed areas over floor area. Careful and creative window placement that responds and relates to orientation, canopy, views and ventilation can result in a dynamic project.

CONTACT 011 268 2297,

2 A lofty solution

Architect Louis Boshoff of The Design Studio was tasked with converting Nelri Botha’s single-storey Potchefstroom home into a double storey. “I needed to use our home for my new design studio; we had to go up a level so we had somewhere to live,” Nelri says.

Louis and his team had to work within the existing footprint of the ground floor. “To allow enough light into Nelri’s bedroom, we opted for a large 4 x 2m window that followed the shape of the roofline. The height also allowed for enough wall surface area against which Nelri could place her bed,” he says.

When adding a large window such as this one, bear in mind that window treatments and coverings can present a challenge. “You can’t just pull a curtain closed if you want to control the light,” Louis explains. “Cleaning the glass can also be difficult and as this specific type of window doesn’t open, it won’t help with ventilation.”

In the right direction

“The placement and size of windows plays a vital role in providing natural light in a room,” says Architect Louis Boshoff of The Design Studio.

“North-facing windows make the most of direct sunlight, while south-facing windows are used mainly for natural light. West-facing windows aren’t ideal as the low angle of the afternoon sun in summer can easily cause a room to overheat; if you have no choice, this problem can be addressed with insulating window glazing, low emissivity (low-e) coatings on window glass and sun-control mechanisms such as awnings, blinds and even trees planted just outside.

“The use of large glass surfaces plays a vital role in the climate control of a space and homeowners must take into account that this will increase the cost of keeping the room warm in winter and cool in summer.”

In an existing home, the simplest solution to introducing more natural light is to enlarge the windows. “Not just horizontally but also vertically. It’s vital that the existing structure can accommodate such a renovation and it is necessary to consult with an architect or engineer,” says Louis. “In some cases, especially in older homes, dark passageways with very little or no natural light present problems. In this case, it’s best to consider a skylight; some require minimal changes to the ceiling.”

The glass panels have been broken up into ‘frames’ to make maintenance more manageable. If a single glass panel is damaged, it is easier and cheaper to replace.

3 Exposed!

In Nelri’s living room, exposed beams painted white as well as a white ceiling make the most of natural light.

“To create a sense of space in a room, a traditional low ceiling can be raised – this immediately adds height and character,” says Louis. “If the design doesn’t allow for higher ceilings, the use of exposed trusses can create the same effect.

Just remember that with exposed trusses, elements such as electricity and plumbing will have to be redirected so as not to be visible.”

Tips for trusses

If you’re keen to remove an existing ceiling and expose the roof trusses, consider the following, says Louis:

• Exposed trusses work best in a rectangular room. Make sure the beams all look the same – the success of this aesthetic relies on the simplicity and repetition of similar trusses.

• In many homes, the walls are plastered to just above the ceiling boards. This means that above the ceiling line there will be raw, unfinished bricks that you’ll have to plaster first.

• Existing light fittings will have to be moved to match the layout of the exposed trusses.

• The process of removing a ceiling is extremely dusty, since everything that has accumulated over the years will come away with the ceiling boards.

• The condition of the existing trusses should also be checked; they might not have been manufactured neatly and it could take some work and effort if they are to be exposed. On exposed trusses, the wood is usually planed; ordinary trusses that have been concealed may well be unfinished.

CONTACT 018 290 9755,

Old peach-coloured tiles were replaced with Spanish patterned tiles in complementary light grey and white. Tiles from Italcotto

4 Window to the world

After Belinda and Campbell Barnes bought their Somerset West home in 2018, the first thing they renovated was the patio. The original space was far from the airy, inviting stoep they wanted – it had a low ceiling as well as a large, dated facebrick fireplace obstructing views of the garden and mountains just beyond that, both of which contributed to making it a difficult space that was dark and too small for entertaining.

To maximise light in this area, the couple brought in contractors to raise the ceiling, had the braai structure removed (they prefer the mobility of a Weber anyway!) and added a large window to the wall in its place.

They painted the new ceiling boards white, while the contrasting rich charcoal (Fired Earth Modo in Charcoal) on the walls accentuates the surrounding greenery.

From light to dark:

Belinda runs her own interior design company, Belinda Barnes Interiors. Here’s her advice on transforming a dark space into a light one:

• Use neutral tones and add pops of colour that complement your garden to connect the two spaces.

• If you’re painting walls in a dark colour, also paint any unsightly elements such as wiring and light switches to streamline the look – a ‘busy’ space tends to feel more cramped.

• Make windows and doors as large and as high as the structure will allow. And when adding a window, ensure that the builders have taken into consideration the weight of the roof structure.

• A light-filled space can still be cosy; add décor elements in various textures to make it feel homely.

• Ensure that there’s a lovely view from the window as this will also enhance the indoor space

5 Share your resources

In the guesthouse on their Wilderness property, Jill and Craig Marion added an internal window to the wall between the light-filled bedroom and smaller, dark bathroom.

“I wanted to maintain privacy in the two spaces, but I also wanted all the beautiful light from the bedroom to be shared with the bathroom,” Jill explains. She had wooden shutters added to the window which can be closed for privacy and placed mirrors directly opposite the window in the bathroom to reflect light in the space.

6 Steel appeal

To transform the dated home they’d bought in Vredehoek into a light-filled, contemporary space, Waldimar Pelser and Wilhelm van der Hoven replaced all the windows with oversized steelframe doors, such as this one adjacent to the dining room. The 2.8 x 3m door turns the once dark and poky space into a light and airy oasis. Steel-frame doors by Jambmax

Go for gloss

High-gloss surfaces, such as Waldimar and Wilhelm’s newly sealed cement floor (which replaced rotting wooden floorboards), can contribute to increased light in a space because of their reflective properties, says Joanne Sykes of Cemcrete.

“To achieve a high-gloss look, opt for a solvent-based or polyurethane sealant such as Cemcrete’s CreteSeal Solvent-Based sealer. A water-based sealer will give your floor a matte or satin sheen finish,” explains Joanne.

“A high-gloss polyurethane sealer will enhance the colour of the floor finish. It’s also extremely durable and will protect your floors against sunlight and moisture damage.”

CONTACT 011 474 2415,

On trend

Steel-frame doors are becoming increasingly popular, says Wynand Smit of Jambmax.

“Strong outer steel frames allow for thinner inner frames, which results in less obstruction for natural light and better views of the outdoors,” he explains. “If you’re considering steel-frame doors or windows and you live close to the coast, the steel should be galvanised rather than primed to ward off rust. The frames are relatively low-maintenance and you can keep costs to a minimum by buying frames in standard sizes instead of having them custom made.”

CONTACT 021 982 0660

7 An eye on the sky

The existing skylights throughout their new home in Observatory were a major drawcard for Warren and Emma Rasmussen, especially in the living area where the black slate floors absorb a lot of the natural light.

The living room skylight is clear glass, it doesn’t open and it has no window treatment. “It’s perfect for us; it works brilliantly for allowing lots of light into this space,” says Emma.

Sensible skylights

“When employed strategically, such as in a ‘landlocked’ space, a skylight can completely transform a room,” says Thorsten Deckler of 26’10 South Architects.

Not all skylights can open and close but if they do, homeowners will enjoy the added benefit of improved ventilation as well as the pleasure of more natural light. Some installations are easier than others: “For example, a flat concrete roof will present a challenge as the structural integrity of the slab will be affected if you want to add a skylight, whereas a pitched roof supported by trusses or beams and covered with metal sheeting or tiles makes it much simpler to install.”

Special care also needs to be taken when it comes to the waterproofing around a skylight. Ideally, a skylight should have an aluminium or metal frame and safety glazing.

“It definitely makes sense to spend a bit more on a quality system and to work with a specialist contractor. These days, there are really good products on the market that even have built-in blinds that can be operated by a remote control. If properly installed, a skylight will last for decades,” says Thorsten. 

CONTACT 011 830 0220,

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April 2023

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