South by south-west: the rulebook on aspect

North, south, east or west, what's the aspect we like best? The outlook remains sunny if your garden faces south but help is …

North, south, east or west, what's the aspect we like best? The outlook remains sunny if your garden faces south but help is at hand for dwellers whose sunny side isn't up, writes Alanna Gallagher

"We take our cue from the plants. We need sunshine," says Simon Healy, director of interior design at Burke, Kennedy Doyle.

"Aspect is hugely important to the siting of a home. South-west facing gardens suit us best because, at the end of a working day, they still offer us light and heat," adds Hugh Wallace of architect firm Douglas Wallace.

The aspect of the back garden remains a significant selling point for Irish buyers. North-facing sites, if small in size, may get no sun at all. East-facing gardens get sun in the morning, which isn't much use if you're out all day working, while south and westerly angles offer the prospect of evening sun and added value to a property.


"Most people prefer to have afternoon and evening sun," says Ken McDonald, managing director of Hooke & McDonald.

"We are sunlight-deficient in this country so it is important to maximise aspect and light," continues Hugh Wallace, who professes that the purchasing public needs to understand a property's aspect and any potential shortcomings it may have if they are to enjoy living there.

"For me the worst aspect a garden can have is to face east," says Hugh Wallace. "Eastern light is fine in the mornings but the problem is that when we want to use the space, it is usually after midday. A north-facing garden may get some sun from the west. If of a certain size, it will also get some sunlight again after four in the afternoon."

Without studying orienteering, how does Joe and Joanna public find out which way a property is facing? "Landmarks are a good way to tell the orientation," says Paul Murgatroyd of DNG. "Faded fabrics, furniture and floorboards will indicate a sunny disposition."

First-time buyers in the market for an apartment need to be very aware of the orientation of their property, advises Hugh Wallace, adding that a lot of modern apartments have little or no sunlight.

For Healy, a single aspect apartment that is north-facing is probably the worst place to live. "People should stop buying them and then developers would have to design their complexes differently."

And they are. The new buzzword in apartment sale circles is dual aspect, an apartment that offers not one, but two sources of daylight. An attractive proposition currently on sale is Hooke & McDonald's block of 40 apartments in Alexandra Walk at Adelaide Square. All units have a balcony that faces south. This premium side of the compass point is reflected in the asking price, which starts from €515,000 for one-bedroom units.

An apartment that ticks all the aspect boxes is DNG's number 21, the Anchorage in Dún Laoghaire. The front of the fourth floor property faces north-east but boasts a sea view while the rear has a classic south-west orientation. This best-of-both-worlds living space comes with a price tag of €675,000.

But what can those of us already established in north-facing apartments do to warm up our environments?

"Dark spaces benefit from being made feel cosy and warm," says Gregory Curran, interior designer with Burke Kennedy Doyle. His advice is to liven up northerly aspects with a colour palette of pinks, creams, beiges, taupes and corals.

"Avoid blue and greens like the plague," instructs Healy. "Soften the surfaces with textured fabrics, such as velvets, and say no to fluorescent lighting. Tungsten lighting with lots of lamps featuring shades will help create warm pools of light within the space. Make use of mirrors to bounce any western light that might make an appearance into the space during the day."

While you can't change the aspect of a second-hand house, you can play with its layout to take advantage of its sunnier sides. Hugh Wallace recommends converting dark reception rooms into bedrooms and relocating the living space to take advantage of the property's better aspects.

"In a house with a north-facing back garden it is recommended that you paint the back wall of the property a brilliant white. This helps bounce light into the rear of the house," counsels Curran.

More extreme measures involve rethinking the footprint of the property. If you only get sun to the front of the house, then consider building your living space around this fact. Put the heart of the home where it can enjoy the sun.

And instead of building an extension onto the back of a north or east-facing property, maximise the sense of light and space by creating an internal courtyard instead, suggests Wallace. "This style of design lets light into the rooms that would have become the dark middle rooms in a traditional extension. By moving the extension as little as six metres from the main house and creating a finished level outside that is on a par with the finished flooring inside, you knit the two areas together to give the sense of one big and open space."

You also get the comfort of a southern aspect from the front of your courtyard "extension".

As well as being important aesthetically, aspect is also an important selling point. "There are people who will only buy a home with a south-westerly facing garden while other buyers are willing to look further," says Lisney director John O'Sullivan. "Valuers do take aspect, along with a whole host of other criteria, into consideration when putting a price on a property," continues Murgatroyd.

Finally, don't take the orientation on the brochure for granted. When viewing houses it pays to always be prepared. "I carry a compass with me to show buyers the property's orientation," admits O'Sullivan, confessing that a lot of people don't know how to read the device. "The red arrow faces north."