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A World Without Windows

Solving the Design Challenge of Interior Rooms

Interior rooms without doors or windows to the outside pose a design challenge for some homeowners. Yet it is possible to bring an illusion of space and natural light to interior rooms, dispelling feelings of claustrophobia.

Interior designers often borrow solutions from commercial architects who have applied the latest technology to office buildings or institutions without views. Environmental psychologists say scenes of nature elevate mood. Interior designers faced with the blank canvas of walls with no windows often compensate with artwork and murals.

Virtual Windows
Imagine a virtual window that depicts a waterfall scene with moving lights inside that gives the effect of flowing water. Ernesto Machado, who had a hospitalized father, came up with the idea for a virtual window after noticing the drab nature of hospital rooms with no windows. His windows, which are actually backlit nature scenes accented by panes and sills, are installed on walls or ceilings in windowless offices, cancer centers and intensive care units.

Paul Grazda, vice president of sales for Machado's company, Therapeutic Environmental Solutions in Kingwood, Texas, says he sees the likelihood of virtual windows hitting the residential market in the future. In recent years Machado came out with a smaller, mobile product similar to lighted pictures sold in import stores. "It's designed to relieve stress and create a positive experience," Grazda says.

Makeover With Murals
One of the more traditional ways to bring life to an interior room is by painting murals on the walls. Glennis McClellan, owner and artist of Big Mural Design Studio in Manhattan, N.Y., says subject matter depends on what the homeowners are trying to achieve with the overall d├ęcor.

"Rooms without windows, particularly basements, are perfect candidates for murals and tromp l'oeil," McClellan says. "While these rooms might present a challenge to a homeowner, they are an artist's dream. A wall without windows is like a big blank canvas, and rooms without windows are even better."

Vast, panoramic views can be uninterrupted by windows. They completely surround and involve the viewer, transporting them to another place or time.

Jayne M. Pelosi, principal interior designer and owner of Renaissance Interior Design in Duxbury, Mass., says she worked on a basement bedroom with no windows in which the homeowner wanted a faux window painted that opened up to a "view" of mountains, water and a golf course. She gave the other walls a sponged soft blue color and put down a green rug for an outdoor feel. "Without windows you have to make a statement with other things," Pelosi says. "Color on walls, really striking art, beautiful fabric can make a room gorgeous. You won't even notice there are no windows."

When working on a music room with no windows, Jay Tenuta, owner of LaBella Interiors in Odessa, Fla., decided to depict a Tuscany vineyard mural. He placed a grand piano in the music room along with a small love seat, a cigarette-style coffee table and a few simple candles. "On the back wall there was a faux mural," he says. "It looked like you were looking out over a Tuscan vineyard with rolling hills. The mural was stunning. You did not even notice the room did not have windows because you were taken back by the mural."

Tenuta also suggests using brighter colors in rooms without windows. "What I always like to do is do the baseboard a different color than the walls and not wrap the whole room in one color," he says.

Rooms With No Light
In the absence of natural light, the method for employing artificial light becomes of paramount importance. "The downside to creating art for these rooms is lighting or lack thereof," McClellan says. "The lighting in these rooms is critical. The walls should be lit up from the top down, preferably with cans or track lighting, as they will reflect light back into the room, adding the illusion of space and natural light."

Eleanor Donnelly, a designer with Stelle Architects in Bridgehampton, N.Y., says the use of lighting, glass and translucent panels can transform an interior room. Her firm focuses on modern architecture with clean lines, simple finishes and responsive designs. "There is a lot of lighting available now that simulates natural daylight, which is actually quite good," Donnelly says. "We usually try to use a combination of incandescent and fluorescent lighting to give a more natural lighting effect on the inside."

While working on an orchestra practice room, Donnelly dealt with the challenge of having very little natural light. She displayed objects in backlit niches to give a different depth of lighting, a trick homeowners can use in their own interior rooms. "We used a lot of different colors to keep the eye going around the room," she says.

Mirrors, Mirrors on the Walls Give the Fairest View of All
Strategically placing mirrors in a room without windows visibly doubles not only the space but also the light value in a room.

Jay Tenuta, owner of LaBella Interiors in Odessa, Fla., used a large mirror with an ornate frame in a loft area to create an expansive space. He leaned the mirror against the wall. "The room became very airy and flowing," Tenuta says. "When people move through the room you see things move because shadows and people are going past the mirror."

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