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Period homes: let the light in

Bright spaces aren’t confined to modern houses, says Alan Tierney, but you have to work carefully with older dwellings to let the sunshine flood in
Inserting windows without damaging the look of a building can be problematic. This barn conversion by David Nossiter

Older homes don’t have to be dark and dingy; they can be spacious and bright if they are renovated carefully. How much light your property lets in will depend on whether it was designed with natural brightness in mind, when it was built, the construction materials used, its original function and if it has had alterations over the years.

Medieval buildings are usually thought of as quite dark, with small windows. But higher status houses had open halls, which would have had very large, double-height windows; plus medium-sized openings in the parlour and much meaner apertures in service or storage rooms. As twostorey homes became the norm, these double-height windows disappeared and glazing in general became more common. However, the high cost of glass actually caused windows to become smaller for a while.

Improvements in glass making during the 17th century led to the development of larger sash windows. This made it easier to get daylight into homes but was quickly limited by the imposition of the window tax, which caused many openings to be bricked up to avoid the levy. There were various architectural responses to the tax over the 150 years in which it was implemented: many houses were built with blind windows, which looked like bricked up openings but were never actually functional. In contrast, the rich would incorporate extra windows to demonstrate their affluence.

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About Build It

Get your self-build or renovation project started with advice & inspiration from Build It magazine. Here's what to expect in the January issue: • How the Rogers built an Arts & Crafts-style modern home • The latest on smart home technology • Are woodburning stoves eco friendly? • Heating options for renovations • Avoiding grand designs disasters • Plot Watch: Did they get planning consent? ...and much more!