A love affair with light

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: House Styles

When I was a little girl, the attic was the place to be. The attic in our old house was huge, running the entire length of the structure, with deep eaves and a ceiling that was too short for an adult, but just right for a child. I begged my mother to haul my bed up the stairs, and with enough wheedling I soon had a room of my own up there -- one that was as big as the whole downstairs!

But for all the space, what I remember most is the dormer window.

The secret space of a dormer window

The window was so high up that no one could see in it, and so there was never any need for curtains. That meant that unfiltered sunlight streamed through, bounced from the pristine white walls and illuminated the room so fully that there was no need for a lamp. The space was tiny, tighter even than the eaves on either side of the attic. It was a spot big enough only for me and my cat. I placed a tiny bench there -- borrowed from my mother's garden -- covered it with an old quilt and suddenly, I had a perfect reading spot.

The dormer window was where I spent many lovely hours. Sometimes I read, sometimes I wrote in my journal, sometimes I simply sat and watched the clouds cross the sky. On a very clear night, I could see the stars through the window. Sometimes I even piled up pillows and slept there.

My mother was envious. She told me so, and of course this made me feel special, because I was the one who could fit into the attic and the dormer window. She was an adult, and by sheer virtue of her height, unable to make use of the beautiful little corner. But she remedied the situation when we renovated that old house, and the front windows were taken out to make way for her own little hideaway: The bay window.

Now who was jealous?

Bay window beauty

The three-sided bay window was complete with a long bench, covered in something that felt like silk. Because it faced the fenced-in backyard, it was away from the prying eyes of any neighbors or passersby -- but my mother put wispy white curtains at the top anyway. "Because a beautiful window deserves a beautiful dressing," she said.

She put bookshelves on either side of the window, making the magic complete. I would come home from school to find her sitting in the window, lost in yet another one of those thick books. During the summer she would put small pots on one side: Basil, cilantro, sage, thyme. The scent of their leaves would waft up to me as I sat on the bench and ran my hands over the silky fabric. The sun would beat down, sometimes getting far too hot, and I would finally retreat to my dormer window, where it was cooler.

We moved a few years later, to an old farmhouse that had its own set of charms. But those two windows began a love affair with light. Today, I live in a home that is so far back in a forest that curtains are not necessary -- and so the light streams through, dancing across the floorboards. The deep porch, an area that would be dark and shaded, is bright with the help of three skylights that let the sunshine in. The remedy for a dark staircase? Another skylight.

Eventually, everything comes full circle. This morning I strolled into my daughter's room. She had rearranged her furniture, and the head of her bed fit perfectly into the space created by the dormer window. The sunlight fell across the quilt, and there lay the cat, catching some rays.

I snapped a picture to send to my mother. She will appreciate how history repeats itself.

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