How Architects Use Shoji Screen Doors and Window Walls To Boost Natural Light

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When we first sit down with clients, one of their most frequent complaints is about lack of light. “I love the location and space, but it’s so dark!” It’s true that a dim home is not a happy one for most of us. Natural light, in all its abundance, is perhaps the most transformative building material we work with. Over the years, we’ve come up with some favorite solutions, particularly for lofts, where the clients often crave a little privacy, but don’t want to obstruct sunlight with a clunky wall or opaque partition.

SHOJI SCREEN DOORS FOR LIGHT AND PRIVACY

Originating from China and Japan, Shoji screen doors were traditionally made with rice paper and bamboo. Now they are available in a wider variety of materials to suit whatever location they are fabricated in. The translucent quality of rice paper allowed the sun to gently travel into an entire home without disturbing the privacy of its residents, or allowing cold drafts or blazing sun to sting. Here are some of the ways we’ve used shoji screen doors and partitions in our design work:

Photo composite, with one side showing a shower stall with dark tile and interior shelf, and the other showing a shoji screen door.

Image of a modern bathroom renovation with a free standing tub and glass walk-in shower.

CLOSET SHOJI SCREEN DOORS ADD ADDITIONAL LIGHT SOURCE AND ECHOES AESTHETIC
You know who always gets the bottom of the barrel when it comes to light? Closets. And that can be super frustrating since closets are often where the most stuff is crammed in highest density. We figured we could do one better by subbing out the typical opaque closet door (so 2008) for our Melrose House renovation. We opted to custom design walnut shoji screen sliding doors to turn a humdrum clothing closet into a valuable part of the overall aesthetic. It especially complements the spa-like bathroom update with free standing tub and luxurious glass walk-in shower (pictured above).

An image of a glass panel walkway in a loft renovation. On the right is a shoji screen door leading to a bedroom.

BEDROOM SHOJI SCREEN DOORS MAKE THE SUN YOUR ALARM CLOCK (BUT NOT TOO MUCH)
A reindustrialized, yet warmed up Erie Loft gave us ample opportunity to experiment with translucency and light. Filed under “Doors, Shoji Screen” was the master bedroom door, which slides quietly along a track to open fully, close, or close partially. Best of all its custom design includes the permissive screen to let the sun shine in without any of the cold.

A TOUCH OF GLASS

Shoji partitions lend an elegance, airiness and buoyancy to our designs, but we mostly rely on them for that privacy benefit, a little shell to hide away from the outside world in. But there comes a time in every design’s life when glass is not only permissible, it’s embraced.

Image from below of a glass walkway, meant to encourage sunlight to travel through a loft

WALKWAY TO HEAVEN
Speaking of Erie Loft, we cracked the space wide open in terms of creating a pleasing and welcoming home that was bouncing with sun rays. This loft had a second floor, and the more flooring and walls that come in of course, tend to dampen the sun’s rays. Luckily we had a trick up our sleeve: a glass walkway (above), which provided the ever important route from A to B, without blocking any Vitamin D.

WORRIED ABOUT NOSY NEIGHBORS? GET A SKYLIGHT
For Jordano photography studio, the concerns of light weren’t just for habitat’s sake, they were essential tools in the photographer’s toolbox. We outfitted the exterior with windows on windows of course, but one of our favorite touches was the minimalist skylight we popped in on roof level to ensure the ground level floor bathroom received a healthy dose of sunshine.

INTERIOR WINDOWS

Sometimes a room with a view…is just to another room. And that’s more than ok. While external windows are key to a successful and pleasant office or living space (although we do imagine you could get one for pretty cheap without windows), interior windows are demonstrably helpful, and so much fun.

OPERABLE WINDOW WALLS
Is it a window? Is it a wall? You can see through it, but cover it with drapes. You can get outdoor breeze in an indoor cocooned office, or you can shut it out and pull on your slippers. You can see your friends and family waving at you from your desk, or you can pretend you’re not home! Easy peasy.

Along with our passion for natural light, we are big advocates of optimizing air circulation throughout a space to make it more comfortable, fragrant and of course, to keep those energy bills in check. At a West Loop Loft project, a couple loved their loft space, but wanted to make some private rooms without losing flexibility. Our solution was operable window walls that could result in the rooms joining in the master space, joining with each other, or being totally seperate. Floor length drapes help muffle city noises, while being versatile enough to swing open for a pleasant breeze.

Our Vic Loft project had plenty of access to light—the trouble was not cutting it off when adding separation between living and sleeping quarters. We added glazed windows on top of the bathroom door and between the hallway and bedroom; little slices of translucency to keep up the quota of natural light.

So there you have it: some of our favorite ways to boost natural light in loft spaces and home renovations without sacrificing privacy, flexibility and other comfort factors in the home. We’ll continue to update every time a shoji screen, glass walkway or interior window wall is built!