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Single Storey Extensions: Expert Guide

A circular opening in a ceiling from below, resembling an early skylight

Skylights are a popular and beautiful addition to any modern home, adding elegance and natural light to transform your existing space. However, behind its popularity lies a fascinating history – its design has evolved significantly over time, with influences from its past being seen in the skylight as we know it. Keep reading to find out where skylights came from, and their functions throughout history, before they became the designs we see today.

Ancient Rome – Where skylights were invented

What we know as a skylight originated in Ancient Rome, going by the name of “oculus”, which means “eye” in Latin. An oculus was an uncovered circular or oval-shaped opening placed at the top of domed structures, such as the one at the top of the pantheon. The pantheon was designed around 120 A.D. and was believed to have been the work of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. 

The goal when designing it was to play with the light and shadow within the structure, for a unique visual experience when coupled with the shape and design of the dome. It also allowed for ventilation within the structure, as well as preventing rainwater from gathering. Perhaps most interestingly, the oculus acted as a sundial, telling the time along the Pantheon’s interior using the sun. Due to the seasonally changing angle of the sun, as well as its changing intensity throughout the day, the design still continues to provide a unique experience for anyone who sees it to this day.

A circular rooflight in a modern kitchen with french doors

If you’re looking to capture the look and feel of the oculus, with increased energy efficiency and protection from the elements, circular rooflights like ours are a great option for your modern home.

The Evolution of the skylight through time

17th & 18th Century France

The first instance of windows becoming more of a key design element in architecture is thought to be in the French Baroque period. This is due to the emerging popularity of glass windows and creative lighting techniques, such as those used to distribute light in the Galeries des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). Around 150 years later, the Galerie des Batailles (Gallery of Battles) was built. This was thought to be one of the first instances of the modern skylight that closely resembles the one we know today. 

However, the earliest notable skylight was in 1784, at La Colonne Brisée (The Shattered Column) in the Désert de Retz, which is a few miles from Versaille. 

One of the most highly recorded examples of skylight usage was the Halle aux blés, a domed building used for grain trading. The structure even attracted the attention of Thomas Jefferson, who was inspired by their use of domes and skylights, using it as inspiration for the design of the House of Representatives. It is thought that a lot of his interest in natural light came from this structure.

An indoor shot of a roof lantern in a modern living room

Roof lanterns were also popularised in France from the 16th century onwards. This was due to the increased amount of natural light being beneficial for housing citrus trees in orangeries in winter. Today, a roof lantern such as ours is still the perfect way to bring an element of French architectural elegance to your home or orangery.

Victorian Era Skylights & The Industrial Revolution

Whilst glass was used in architecture as far back as the Ancient Roman times, glass in skylights was rare due to its expense and likelihood of leaking. This would all change in the 18th century, thanks to advances in glass manufacturing and the arrival of sheet metal in the Industrial Revolution. Higher quality materials meant that closed-off, glazed skylights were more accessible and better sealed from the elements. They were a popular choice for buildings like factories, railway stations and warehouses, as these spaces needed to be well-lit. 

A well-known example of this is Edinburgh Waverley Train Station, whose iconic glass dome was added in 1897.

20th Century

Inspired by “New Brutalism”, 20th century skylights were generally iron-framed, with a single glass panel. The main goal of skylights in this century was not necessarily aesthetic beauty. Designs in this era were generally driven by the need for energy efficiency, whilst still providing natural light to the space. Whilst they were more leakproof and efficient than previous designs, the durability and functionality of the skylight has vastly improved as we move into the 21st century.

21st Century Skylights

In the 21st century, the skylight has evolved to keep its beauty, whilst incorporating all of the key design elements from the previous eras. We have evolved the design to be just as timelessly elegant, with the perfect amount of natural light, all whilst being durable and energy efficient. Double glazing provides the opportunity to reduce noise, condensation and heat transfer. The skylights of today can be used as more functional and minimalistic home design elements, with walk-on glass styles, or opening styles to let air in in the summer. You can even get access hatch rooflights to provide extra ventilation for smoke and hot air. Alternatively, they can be used to add a touch of that Victorian elegance to your home, with styles such as roof lanterns

Walk on rooflights looking down from a living room into the floor below

What’s more, skylights are no longer just used to bring in sunlight from the roof – they are also used as unique design features within the home itself, as shown above. 

Here at Toughened Glass Systems, we offer a range of high-quality rooflights and skylights to help you open up your space and let in natural light. Our skylights effectively protect you from the elements and make your life easier with self-clean glass; you can even tailor the frame colour to your liking. Shop the range to find your home’s perfect finishing touch! Feel free to get in touch with our expert team – we can help you find the best option to make your space feel brand new.

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Testimonials
Excellent
Based on 210 reviews
Bob toploft
Bob toploft
2020-10-24
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I am the owner of Top loft company ltd, after reviewing reviews from various companies I ordered 2 juliet balconies from tgs arrived within 3 weeks, comunications and help was brilliant. Thanks for all your help.
Jim H
Jim H
2020-10-23
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Great service from the team. Easy to order, good buying guidance and clear install instructions for my builder. Rooflights look absolutely great! The team at TGS couldn't have been more helpful in organising a smaller delivery vehicle to help with restricted access. Highly recommend TGS.
Jack Smith
Jack Smith
2020-10-16
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Great service from a very knowledgeable company. Thanks team Toughened Glass Systems.
Paul Smith
Paul Smith
2020-10-16
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I was spending a lot of money on several rooflights so I wanted to make sure I got it right and I did. The professionalism, expertise and the quality of the roof lanterns really set Toughened Glass Systems apart.
Tyrone Eldridge
Tyrone Eldridge
2020-10-16
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There are no complaints about the experience with TGS. The entire process of ordering, supplying and delivering was flawless. I would really recommend you order your flat roof sky lanterns from these guys.
Robert Childers
Robert Childers
2020-10-16
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Best place for rooflights, they supply many different types and options. Thanks for all your support Toughened Glass Systems!
John Smith
John Smith
2020-10-16
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The glass balustrade gives us an amazing view onto the lake outside. So happy we ended up going for the frameless glass balcony from Toughened Glass Systems instead of one with posts
Louise Newsome
Louise Newsome
2020-10-15
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My job is to design the interiors for a lot of houses and a lot of times the hardest part was when the client wanted some really inexpensive rooflights that should look like some contemporary ones as well. That until I found Toughened Glass Systems and started working with them more and more. They have a lot of this kind of stuff at a very decent price, a price for anyone I can say. If you’re looking for cheap skylights for flat roofs or any types of roof lights, they probably have something for you.
Krystina Taylor
Krystina Taylor
2020-10-15
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Always kept us up to date with our order even when delayed by a few days. Great service from the start and good quality glass balcony delivered.