Photo by Morgan Howarth

Center of Attention

Photos by Anice Hoachlander

“I’ve heard it called a light chimney,” lawyer Ben Lippard says. “We call it a light monitor,” says architect Maria Casarella. 

Whatever the name of this glass “chimney” with a roof, the main skylight in the Bethesda home of Lippard and his wife, Janet Reynolds, reflects a design that goes back to ancient times, says Casarella, a senior associate with Georgetown’s Cunningham | Quill Architects. 

When the couple talked about building their house, which was completed in 2014, they knew they wanted natural light throughout. Casarella designed around a central and open staircase so light would carry as far as three floors below. As a central design element, Casarella says, the light monitor “organizes the house…we wanted something to pull everything together.” Major living spaces, plus a library and an office, all open off of this lighted “house hinge.” The light monitor’s glass is energy efficient, reducing the transfers of heat and cold. 

Beneath the monitor, the decorative chandelier “felt interesting when not lit and interesting at night as well,” Lippard says. Its LED bulbs cast little light but “make it a point of visual interest 24/7,” especially with the constant changes in natural light on the walls around it.

Less of an aesthetic statement, more of a practical addition is the skylight that adds brightness with privacy to their sons’ bathroom. At ceiling level, the opening is 9 feet by 3 feet. “It makes that bathroom the best one in the house; everyone takes a side trip there,” Lippard says. “If we’d known how well it worked, we would have found a way to put a skylight in all of them.”

Especially in a bathroom, where there may be one small window or none, a skylight opens many possibilities, Casarella says. Against the wall, over the mirrors, such a feature brings ambient light to shaving and makeup application. “During the day, we don’t use artificial light in any of these areas,” Lippard says. 


Lippard and Reynolds are delighted with the many ways skylights have added to their house: less electricity use, more natural light, a new perspective to the outside, a bit of an artistic element, all with the privacy and insulation skylights are known for. 

“What you get is the lighting of space that’s sensitive to the time of day and dramatic changes. It gives you a good feeling,” Lippard says. “You feel connected to the day.”