Steel Beam Industrial Atrium
Cities with reclaimed manufacturing sites occasionally feature converted loft living with the bonus of an enclosed atrium. The space preserves the steel beams of the original construction, pared down to a skeleton and roofed in glass. An "L"- or "U"-shaped home could borrow the idea with a paved patio and wood or steel beams holding up a greenhouse-style glass roof. Enclose the patio with more glass walls and doors for a minimalist invitation to the sheltered outdoors and a blast of light for the rest of the house.
Enclosed Patio Atrium
An open-air atrium for a one-story home functions like a patio, surrounded by glass-walled rooms on all sides. The atrium may be integrated with the home by a liberal use of the same wood for trim and the same flooring--limestone tiles, for example--inside and out. Because the atrium is so visible, keep furniture simple and use a limited color palette in the adjoining rooms. Tall container plants just inside and outside sliding glass doors erase the boundaries between the atrium and indoor spaces.
Arched Atrium Access
A home atrium has a graceful relationship with the rest of the house when the architecture relies on elegant forms. Instead of a typical glass wall, let the atrium be viewed and reached through floor-to-ceiling arches. French doors in one or more of the arches allow access. The style accommodates period architecture as well as an eclectic design sensibility. The atrium might contain a single green vertical wall, carefully tended topiary or a jungle riot of ferns and blooms. It evokes the Victorian craze for Wardian cases, glass terrariums containing plants. If the budget permits, echo the arch shape with a curving glass barrel roof over the atrium.
Glass House Atrium
For a dark house or apartment, create a two-story glass atrium surrounding a glass staircase. Sheets of glass form treads and risers, and the stairs and glass wall act like a giant window, a magnet for light by day and an opportunity for some dramatic lighting at night.