Paint is a relatively inexpensive way to completely transform a room, and dark rooms are no exception.
This post delves into some considerations you need to take before choosing the perfect paint color as well as other considerations to to take into account to turn your room into a beautifully bright space.
How Do You Make a Dark Room Look Brighter?
- Determine why the room is dark (no windows, north facing or light is blocked by what's outside the windows).
- Add more artificial light if needed.
- Lighten the paint color on the walls.
- Bring in lighter fixtures and furnishings.
Why Is Your Room Dark?
Before we even tackle the subject of the perfect paint color for your space, it's important to consider why your room is dark to begin with:
- Is it a north facing room?
- Does it have little natural light because of minimal windows or because it's a basement room?
- Is the light blocked by hills or buildings outside the window
Understanding why your room is dark is an important first step in deciding the best paint color and whether other elements will have to first be modified in order to achieve an overall brighter look.
This is because paint colors don't give you light, they only reflect it.
The light they reflect is dependent upon the amount of light in the room, the type of lighting (natural or artificial) and finally, the color on the wall and the furniture/furnishings in the space.
Determine The Mood or Feeling You Want In The Room
Do you want your room to feel like and airy or with lots of personality and drama?
The mood or feeling that you want your room to convey should be your first consideration before you even think about paint colors, as it will dictate the color you end up choosing (this is true for any room, not just dark ones).
If you want a light and airy, casual yet cozy feeling to your space, you will want to stick to lighter colors.
If you want more drama, more personality, more pop to your walls, then a darker, more saturated color will be want you want.
Getting a Light and Airy Feel in a Low-Light Room
So many of us love the bright, fresh feeling that lighter colors bring to a space.
In recent months, I've slowly been adding lighter and lighter colors to the rooms in my home because they make so many of these spaces feel bigger and brighter.
However, lighter colors do not always mean white paint! In fact, contrary to what you may think, if you have a small dark room, white can actually make the situation worse!
Why Painting Your Walls White Is Not Always The Answer
Whether you have a north facing or just generally low-light room with minimal windows, the light plays an important role in how your wall color looks.
The reason rooms with white paint look so bright and fresh is that the light in those rooms reflects off the walls and bounces around the room. In contrast, a room with black walls will absorb the light so no light will bounce around.
If your room has little natural light - or colder light in the case of a northern exposure room - adding white to the walls will only make your room feel flat, since there's not enough light to bounce off it to begin with.
What Colors Work Best in a Low Light Room To Make it Brighter?
If you want to keep the wall color as light as possible, I prefer neutral paint colors to lighten a room particularly those with a yellow or beige undertone.
It doesn't have to be full-on yellow or cream but it does need to have that hint of warmth to stop it feeling flat or washed out.
If you lean towards blues and grays like I do, those can work well too. Just keep in mind that in a darker room, or one with cooler light, blue undertones will become very apparent.
This may make your room feel very cold. For this reason, I usually avoid blue undertones in north facing rooms.
Instead, if I want to achieve a light to medium fresh gray, I'll pick a gray (like SW Repose Gray) that has some beige to it. In a cool light room, that extra bit of warmth stops the gray from feeling cold.
If your room is basement or just doesn't have much natural light coming in because of too few windows, feel free to play around with bluer toned grays.
In my basement (which has two tiny little windows), we used Behr Reflecting Pool. In well lit spaces in comes across as a very light gray but down here it definitely leans a bit more blue.
But it's really soft, airy and very beautiful!
Don’t forget that furniture plays an important roll, too. Dark, drab furniture will make the space feel just as cold as the wrong paint color (see master bedroom photos below).
If you really want to achieve a light and airy feeling, then keep the furnishings light, too.
A good example of this is my master bedroom. Here you can see the before and after.
Before, the walls were painted a blueish/gray, Behr's Light French Gray. It's a beautiful color but I chose it before I understood the lighting in this space.
It's a Western Exposure room, so it's cold throughout most of the day save for a couple of hours of sunshine in the late afternoon. The cold light really brought out the blue in this paint color and the room always fell dull and cold as a result.
I repainted it one of my favorite light grays, Paper White, which has just enough warmth to stop it falling flat, while still giving that bright, crisp look that I wanted.
Now, notice how the furniture plays a huge roll in how this paint color appears.
Yes, initially, the new paint color made the room feel considerably brighter, but by switching out the dark wood furniture for lighter furniture, suddenly the room is transformed.
Another important aspect to consider is the paint sheen.
Flat sheen wall paint is becoming increasingly more popular for walls - primarily because it hides uneven textures the best, but it's not a good choice for a darker room where your intent is to brighten up the space, as there's no reflective particles to help reflect the light back into the room.
This doesn't mean you need to put semi-gloss paint on your walls!
Do, however, stick to an eggshell finish which has just enough sheen to reflect light while not highlighting imperfections in your walls.
Can You Paint a Dark Room a Dark Color?
Yes! If it's done right. Sometimes working with what you got is easier that fighting it.
Embrace the darker aspects of your space and complement its moodiness with rich, dramatic colors. This is a great way to inject personality into a darker room.
A room can always be made to feel brighter with other tricks such as good lighting (think lots of can lights, sconces and floor lamps) lighter drapes and mirrors that bounce light back into the room.
Keep shades on lamps white, wood trim white and add in metallics like silvers and mercury glass to instantly achieve the light reflecting properties that you need to visually brighten the space.
These tricks are especially important when dealing with spaces like basements that really have almost no natural light coming in.
My Favorite Paint Colors and Brands For Dark Rooms
Hopefully all the aforementioned info makes sense. With that being said, there are some paint colors that I go to time and time again when I'm dealing with small, low-light or just downright dark rooms.
Just remember - no matter what paint color you choose, you need to first identify why your room is dark and amp up the amount of lighting accordingly.
Paint colors should ALWAYS be tested before committing. So many different elements play into whether a color will work in your room (the color's undertones as well as colors reflecting from the furniture/fixings in your space). Learn more about this in my ebook.
I have written full paint reviews on many of the colors mentioned below. Where this applies, the paint color name is linked for you to click through to the full article.
White Paint Colors
When studying these photos, look to the darkest point of the photo (for example, the inner corner of a wall, or a portion in shadow) to see how the color looks at the darkest spot.
This will give you the best idea of how it will look in a darker room.
Sherwin Williams Alabaster
Alabaster is a beautiful creamy white that doesn't disappoint.
Benjamin Moore Simply White
Want a smidge more warmth? BM White Dove is another really popular choice.
Another beautiful light but warm paint color. Artificial light will bring out more of the yellow tones but that may be a good thing in a particularly dark and dull room.
Neutral Paint Colors
If white and off-white is not your cup of tea, a simple neutral paint color in a shade of gray or beige may just do the trick.
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
Sherwin Williams Collonade Gray
A wonderfully warm and versatile gray. I used Collonade Gray on our patio this past summer and instantly fell in love.
It's a wonderful color for a dark room, too and really pops against white trim.
Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray
Agreeable Gray, is a very agreeable color! It's really popular for a reason.
Similar in tone to Collonade Gray but a little less beige. If you're looking for a warm gray, this or Repose Gray would be great choices.
Benjamin Moore Paper White
I repainted several of the darker rooms in my home Paper White and absolutely adore how it looks in all of them.
It's bright, modern and a very light gray. It has just enough warmth to stop it feeling cold but not so much that it takes it out of the light gray territory.
Benjamin Moore Classic Gray
If you're looking for a slightly more saturated gray, then Classic Gray is a great choice.
Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray
Edgecomb Gray is much more a "greige" (a mixture of gray and beige) than a true gray.
In the picture below, you can barely see any of the gray tones at all. It is a beautifully warm color that works in dark and bright spaces alike.
Dramatic, Saturated Paint Colors
Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray
Hands down winner, pair it with bright white trim for stunning effect
Benjamin Moore Salamander
Another amazing moody green. It looks super elegant paired with rich mahogany and antique brass.
Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal
I adore Kendall Charcoal for a dramatic accent wall. Just don't be afraid to really amp up the artificial light!
Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue
Pair this navy blue paint with some crisp white trim to really make it pop and add serious wow factor.
Sherwin Williams Serious Gray
Another one of my all-time favorite colors. It's a bit of a chameleon - sometimes it looks like a really dark gray, other times a dark gray/blue and even sometimes just downright blue.
But this is the exact reason I love it! It never bores me!