Best House Orientation For Natural Light

When buying (or building) a house or an apartment, what very often plays a great role in choosing a particular one, is the view. Obviously, people follow other criteria as well to make the best choice. What most of them forget about, though, is the disposition of the rooms according to the sides of the world, i.e. the house orientation. Since an average person probably doesn’t even know they should think about such a thing, this is where we, interior designers and architects, can help.

Clearly, we don’t always have a chance to assist our clients from the moment the house is being built but we can suggest a re-layout if the existing space is not ideally planned out.

There are no particular norms that one should follow as the decision of where to position which room might be a very individual thing, but in this article, I will give you some pointers that you can share with your clients to help them maximize the potential of the position of their house and make the most of natural light.


Depending on where you are in the world, the climate, the temperatures, etc., those pointers might be more or less accurate. You should take them with a pinch of salt, and focus on why I suggest placing a particular room in a particular place, rather than blindly following what you read.

To give you a point of reference, I will write about the conditions in the Northern Hemisphere, a place with an average climate - not too hot, not too cold. 

To start, let’s establish the basics. There are 4 main directions - North, East, South, and West. East is where the sun rises and West is where it sets. Since our theoretical spot is not on the Equator, the sun moves from East to West mostly on the Southern side. That’s why the South is considered the warmest and the North - the coldest side. 


Now that we have covered the basics of Geography, let’s move on to a more interesting issue. Have you ever heard about Circadian Rhythms?

Circadian Rhythms, in this particular case, the 24-hour cycle, is what controls us in terms of when we sleep and when we’re awake. It got kind of disturbed with the use of artificial lighting but the rule is that the morning sunlight, warm, fresh, and gentle is supposed to wake us up. During the day and especially at noon, when the sun is at its peak, the sunlight gets crisp, bright, and whiteish. That’s to keep us awake, alert, and productive. Towards the evening, however, the light becomes more soft and reddish/orange in tone when the sun gets lower. This helps us relax and get ready to sleep. And then, of course, comes the night, with no light, to keep us asleep to regain our energy.

This is a great base for deciding on the perfect layout for our rooms.



EAST

Since the East is where the sun rises, this is the perfect direction to face from a bedroom. Imagine waking up naturally (yes, I know it’s probably possible only during the weekend for most of us…) with a warm and gentle light falling on your pillow. Not too sharp, increasing in brightness as you slowly open your eyes.

Now that’s a great picture to paint for your clients, don’t you think? They should be willing to locate their bedroom facing East right away!

Unless they are night owls and hate waking up in the morning, then perhaps West would serve them better. Or North if they live in a very warm climate. 

Other rooms that would be perfect for this direction are a kitchen (especially the breakfast area), a study, a walk-in closet (if you’re planning on having a window there), a bathroom... Basically, every room you use mainly in the morning and which could benefit from the warm morning light. Remember that rooms on this side are the first ones to cool down during the day.



NORTH

I’ve mentioned North above, so let’s focus on this one now. We know that it’s the coldest part and gets the least sun during the day. This makes it ideal for rooms that don’t require much natural illumination or the ones that are visited or used least frequently. It could be a garage, a storage space, a laundry room (although for air drying the washing, West could be better), a toilet, a hallway, or a staircase. In a very warm climate, North might be good for bedrooms as it’s the coolest (well, at least in terms of temperatures 😉 ) and keeps an even temperature during the day. Watch out though, as it also gets the coldest winter winds.

Let’s take a little break as I’d like to tell you about an ebook I wrote recently. Even though we’re talking about natural light here, at some point during the day we need to use artificial light, right? If designing a lighting scheme is a puzzle for you, don’t hesitate and get your copy of the Everything An Interior Designer Needs To Know About Light ebook!

And if you'd like to read about light layers and how to use them in interior design - go read this article.

WEST

Going back to the 24-hour Circadian Rhythm, let me paint you another picture that you can use for your clients. You come back from work after a long day. You take your shoes off, put the groceries in the fridge, tidy up a bit, help the kids do their homework… you can’t wait to be able to finally relax and unwind. What is the best place to unwind? A couch. A soft, comfortable couch that sits right in front of the TV, which in turn has Netflix with your favorite show on. So you lay there. You feel the still a bit intense but warm sunlight on you. It’s like a warm bath. And as it slowly sets, you feel all the tension go away, being replaced by the feeling of peace and calmness (although that might also depend on the show you’re watching and on the age of your kids, I guess. But let’s say it’s an ideal situation, for the sake of this article 😉 ). That’s because, according to the Circadian Rhythm, the setting sun helps us unwind and prepares us for the night. It also serves as a great background for a good, deep conversation (that usually happens on a couch). Am I the only one that got dreamy and sleepy here?

You probably guessed that West (or better yet - South-West) is the best position to locate a living room. It might also be good for a dining room, to give your clients some sunlight still, for when they sit down for dinner. Or a bathroom that gets some light when they take their evening bath.

Keep in mind that it gets lots of warm sun in the afternoon which might cause overheating and since the sun sets here, it can cause a glare.



SOUTH

Keeping the best for last - the South. That’s the ‘best side’ of the house as it gets the most light, both in summer and in winter. It’s ideal for the rooms that are used most often and can really benefit from the natural light. I’ve mentioned that the living room is great for West or South-West location, even though most people say it’s best for the South. I can agree with that but with lots of people working late hours nowadays, most of the southern sunlight is gone before they come back. But yes, generally speaking, a living room would also be great facing South. As well as a playroom, a terrace/garden, a library or a music room. It might get too hot or too much sun in a warm climate, so pay attention to that.

No worries though, as there are also 4 sides in between (North-East, North-West, South-East, and South-West) that can combine the benefits of two ideas at once and be a good compromise.

Remember that those are only suggestions that you can but don’t have to follow. It’s always beneficial to get to know your clients and their habits before deciding on the layout. And as much as the Circadian Rhythm can help in determining the position of certain rooms, it’s all very personal and your project should always (if possible of course) reflect your clients’ routines, desires, and requirements. Those suggestions will help you guide them if they don’t have any preference and they would definitely benefit from at least some of this advice.

Hi there!

I'm Aleksandra, an interior architect with multinational experience, on a mission to help beginning or self-taught designers gain confidence and create systems that will help them bring their businesses to the next level.

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