How To Add Light To A Victorian Villa

Achitect Sophie Bates shares the story of how she redesigned her detached Victorian villa to let in the light:

Having worked as a residential architect for twenty years, it was definitely about time we extended and refurbished our own home. As a growing family squeezed for space, when a detached Victorian villa in Kingston came on the market in need of a lot of love, we snapped it up. The opportunity to refurbish and extend a beautiful old building with a lot of potential was just what we needed.

The previous owner was born and died in the house, squeezing eight children in and coping with an outdoor loo, coalhole, no fitted kitchen, a damp interior and poor electrics. The first step was to make the house our home. The original layout worked fairly well with an east facing, cosy reception room to the front, a through hall and a rear living space looking onto the garden. What didn’t work was the dark kitchen sandwiched into the middle of the plan. By removing the chimneybreast and building in open kitchen shelving up to the ceiling with a hatch to visually connect the kitchen to the front room, light flows into the centre of the house.


Open shelving provides vital storage and frames the opening to the front room bringing in light and views while making good use of the high ceilings. A downstairs utility and wc room was positioned off the kitchen, with sliding door to maximise space.

The main phase of works was to extend the back and open up the house to the garden. Working with natural and artificial light has always fascinated me with the ability to transform a space depending on the time of day and time of year. Playing with shadows and light on natural materials can create a sense of space and calm, both which are needed in our busy working and family life.


Design options were explored through sketches and models, above, allowing the form of the design to develop. At the back of the space is a cosy sitting area with the fireplace as a focus. A bright dining area embraces the garden. These two areas are split by a full width roof light which creates a beautiful changing light while brightening up the back of the room and disguises the change in ceiling level. The sloping upstand also protects the room from solar gain.


A glass corner slides back into the wall opening up the space to the full width of the garden. This allows light to enter the space from earlier in the day and provides great views out. Key to framing this view is the detailing of the glass. Slim frames to the full height sliding doors, along with detailing the head of the doors to allow a recess for the blinds gives a greater sense of space. The wall has also been detailed with a vertical recess to hide away the handle.

Sophie Bates Architects: How to Add Light to a Victorian Villa

Avoiding any down stands and nibs for structure was essential to create the crisp design. The columns are hidden within the walls to avoid any stepping.

The radiator and niche behind the dining table are recessed into the wall. Functionally, the flush wall avoids the dining chair catching the radiator or niche. Aesthetically, it provides a shelf for art and a hidden light source for cosiness when dining.

The glass pocket door slides into the wall with blinds tucked up out of sight. The design makes the most of the early afternoon summer sun as it washes through the rooflight and glass doors.


Controlling the light is possible not just through the volume of the space and openings but also in the detail. Using LED strips hidden in the alcoves and niches and using a mix of recessed plaster in down lights to light art and feature pendants, the feel of the space can be transformed.

Light washes down the alcoves behind the shelves, pendant lighting and lit niches add to the character of the space.

Sophie Bates Architects: How to Add Light to a Victorian Villa


Sophie Bates set up Sophie Bates Architects in 2010 to provide homeowners with exciting, inspiring and personal architecture, from concept to completion. This “Light House” was selected to feature in London’s Open House.

1 Step 1
FormCraft - WordPress form builder