How Do We Think About North-Facing vs. South-Facing Light?

When you hear people talk about rooms, you’ll often hear them referring to whether there’s north-facing vs. south-facing light. Certain paint colors are better in south-facing rooms, while others suit north-facing. But worrying about directions goes beyond picking out a color palette, and it’s something I’ve been mulling over a lot lately, particularly as I watch the light evolve in our house throughout the day.

Is a North-Facing or South-Facing Rowhouse Better?

Whether a north facing or south facing rowhouse is better isn’t something I thought much about before buying our condo. Yet, as soon as we moved in, I understood the appeal of south facing. In my previous apartments, I’d always dealt with spaces that felt dark no matter the time of day. Windows didn’t matter. They just didn’t have a glow. But, when we moved into the condo, with its floor-to-ceiling south-facing bay window, it made sense. Sun streamed into the living room with gorgeous light throughout the day.

A south-facing rowhouse gives you that beautiful, all-day light that people lust after — and that you can’t recreate with lamps, regardless of how many you have.

But doesn’t every house have a north and south side, so does it really matter? Sure, but, particularly in rowhouses, the back of your house often backs up to another row of houses or your fence, which can obstruct the sun. And, if you’re in the suburbs, trees in your backyard will block the sun.

On the other hand, our cottage is similar to a rowhouse in terms of its light because it doesn’t have windows on the sides — a clever move which I assume was done to make it so you don’t even realize neighbors exist. It is south-facing but it’s the actual front of the house that’s south facing. The back — with the view — is north facing. I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I hate that the side of our house that has fewer and smaller windows is the side that would actually get the sun (although, with all our trees, I’m not sure the sun would ever get excessive). But, on the other hand, we’re able to have an entire room of windows without worrying about faded furniture or running up an extreme AC bill. So perhaps it’s not a one size fits all situation.

Our North Facing Rooms

So the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s not necessarily the direction that your house is facing, but rather which rooms you want to face which direction.

We’re lucky in our rowhouse that we’re only two rooms deep (I can talk all about the beauty of this particular type of floor plan for those of you who plan on buying on the Hill at some point, but that’s a post for another day). Our front rooms get northern exposure and our back rooms get southern exposure. No one is lost in the middle.

The dining room being north-facing is perfect. It gets light in the early evening in the summer that’s absolutely beautiful. But, because it’s north-facing, it gets cool light. It’s painted Benjamin Moore Stratton Blue, and a friend, who also has Stratton Blue in her home, asked me what the color is — she had no idea it was the same because it reads so much bluer in our space.

While I wish the living room had more direct light during the day, it’s wonderful to get that late afternoon light when I’m cranking out work in the latter half of the day (my desk is in the living room).

I do, however, wish our bedroom got more direct light streaming in during the day but we’re fortunate the third floor skylight keeps things bright. In my ideal world, the main bedroom would absolutely be south-facing (and east-facing to get the sunrise!). But the blue wallpaper plays beautifully with the cool light in there, and it feels like such a serene retreat despite all the print.

Our South Facing Rooms

Meanwhile, our kitchen getting south-facing light is perfection. It’s bright in the morning and throughout the day. I’ve realized this is a non-negotiable in any house I have in the future.

The back upstairs bedroom is also south-facing, which gives it absolutely stunning light and, because of the skylight, also heats it up like a greenhouse. Adam is a trooper and uses that as his office but, whew, it was huge the day we finally got the ceiling fan installed in there. Ts & Ps that it stays up — that room still has its 1895 plaster ceiling. A neighbor told us that her now-adult son called her one day after he got home from school and said, “hey, so you know how my ceiling used to be on the ceiling? Now it’s on the floor.”

The parlor is a big TBD. We’re going to go dark and high gloss in there, and I hope that it’ll read as dark. yet inviting, thanks to the natural light. Stay tuned there.

But what I’ve realized about these south facing rooms is that you do get a warm cast from south-facing light. The light muslin cabinets and walls take on an almost pink cast throughout the day. I actually love it — it feels like it’s of a certain 1980s era when grandmothers loved to do everything in blush, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.

How I Think About North-Facing vs. South-Facing Light

All this is to say, as I’ve been thinking about north-facing vs. south-facing light and its implications on decor and room choices, I think the verdict is not that one is better than the other, but that where you place your rooms and spaces should be driven by the light when possible.

It’s obviously not always possible to choose where your rooms are, of course. For example, but our bedroom isn’t going to change because we’re not willing to give up our balcony. But our living spaces are somewhat flexible, and those should be situated in a way that makes the most of the light. And, if that isn’t possible, think about where you put your desk or a small bistro table — make the most of your light you have, even if it isn’t the expected use of a space.

north facing vs. south facing light, north facing light in a primary bedroom

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