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 take into account to turn your room into a beautifully bright space.

header image with text that reads the best paint colors for dark rooms

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.
repose gray entryway
SW Repose Gray

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:

  • Is it a north-facing room?
  • Or is it an east-facing room that only gets morning light?
  • 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).

Living room with light gray walls

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, and more pop to your walls, then a darker, more saturated color will be what 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 neutrals and lighter furniture and accessories to the rooms in my home because they make so many of these spaces feel bigger and brighter.

Blanket ladder with gray walls

However, lighter colors do not always mean white paint! In fact, contrary to what you may think, if you have a low-light room, a stark white can actually make the situation worse!

Why Painting Your Walls White Is Not Always The Answer

Contrary to popular belief, painting your walls white is not necessarily the best solution for brightening a dark room.

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.

Furthermore, northern light has a gray tint to it, so any cool shade of white will look cold and gray. So white paint colors that have a gray or blue undertone, will look flat and drab in these cold gray light.

If your room has little natural light – or this colder gray light in the case of a northern exposure room – adding white to the walls will only compound your problems.

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 light, neutral paint colors to lighten a room, and particularly paint colors with a warm yellow or beige undertone.

Consider the LRV (light reflectance value) of a color and keep it above 64 to ensure if you’re looking to brighten things up.

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. These warm undertones also help to counteract the gray tint that comes with a northern exposure.

Cream colored walls

If you lean towards blues and grays like I do, they can work well, you just need to pick ones with a warmer undertone.

Adding Light to Dark Rooms

If northern light is not your issue, and your room is a basement or one with small windows, adding artificial light is your best bet.

Behr reflecting pool basement walls - Paint color for basement with no natural light
Behr Reflecting Pool

In my basement (which has two tiny little windows), we used the color Behr Reflecting Pool. This is not a color I would use in my northern-exposure bedrooms as it would read too cold, but in our basement it reads light and fresh, thanks to all the pot lights and table lamps and the sconces next tot he TV.

These lights not only brighten the space but add warm light, too.

The Importance of Furniture

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.

Light French Gray looks very blue in this west facing bedroom
Behr Light French Gray

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. However, the room still felt a bit flat and drab.

Benjamin Moore Paper White on the walls - Paint colors for north facing rooms
BM Paper White

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.

West facing bedroom much brighter with Benjamin Moore Paper White on the walls and lighter furniture
BM Paper White

Paint Sheen

Another important aspect to consider is the paint sheen.

Flat sheen wall paint is becoming increasingly 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 are 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 have in an already dark room is easier than 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.

Dark and moody living room with cognac leather couch
Dark and moody living room via Craftberry Bush

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.

Don’t Neglect The Ceiling

Don’t underestimate the power of a bright white ceiling to really brighten a room. The difference between a muted white paint color and a ceiling bright white can be a game changer.

While you can certainly use a tinted paint color on your ceiling, using the standard ceiling bright white paint from either Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams will give you a beautifully bright, crisp white that reflects light back into the room.

The Best White Paint Colors For Dark Rooms

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.

I don’t suggest a TRUE white for a north-facing room, as it will continue to make that room feel unbalanced, flat and cold. Instead, you’re going to opt for warmer, creamier whites. Even if that room has a secondary exposure of eastern or western light, that gray northern light will always be dominant, meaning that any warm white will always be cooled down by the grayer, cooler light.

With that being said, here’s my picks for the best white paint colors for dark rooms:

Sherwin Williams Alabaster

Alabaster is a beautiful creamy white that doesn’t disappoint. It is a great option for north-facing rooms that need that touch of creaminess to add warmth to the walls.

light and bright foyer painted white with bleached wood handrails and floors
SW Alabaster via Addison’s Wonderland

Sherwin Williams Pure White

pure white trim with repose gray walls lightened by 50%
SW Pure White wainscoting with SW Repose Gray walls (lightened by 50%)

Pure White is a soft white that works in virtually any space. In warmer light, the warm tones are amplified and in cooler light, its slight gray base becomes more apparent. It’s a great choice for walls and trim, and works well with both warm and cool colors.

Benjamin Moore White Dove

White Dove is truly an almost perfect soft creamy white with a slightly gray base to stop that warmth becoming over powering, It’s an excellent choice for walls, trim and cabinets.

white dove kitchen cabinets
BM White Dove cabinets via Raykon Constructions

Benjamin Moore Simply White

Closer to a basic white, BM Simply White has just enough warmth to stop it feeling cold. This is also a great choice for white trim and kitchen cabinets. But be careful – unlike SW Alabaster, Simply White does not have a gray base to tone down the yellow, so it can quickly become too yellow if you have a lot of warm incandescent lights.

Bright white living room with white furniture
BM Simply White Living Room via Concept and Colorways. Photo by Joe Schemlzer.

Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee

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.

Bm Swiss Coffee Walls (lightened by 25%) via Studio McGee

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.

Benjamin Moore Repose Gray, lightened by 50%

Incredibly popular for good reason, Classic Gray works in almost any space. It’s a beautiful warm gray that still reads like a neutral gray.

repose gray walls and pure white trim
SW Repose Gray walls, lightened by 50%. Wainscoting is SW Pure White.

Sherwin Williams Colonnade Gray

A wonderfully warm and versatile gray. I used Colonnade Gray this past summer and instantly fell in love.

It’s a wonderful color for a dark room, too and really pops against white trim.

The very best grays and neutrals for a kitchen
SW Collonade Gray Kitchen via Maison de Pax

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.

Light gray paint for a dark room with north facing light
BM Paper White Bedroom Walls via Jenna Kate at Home

Benjamin Moore Classic Gray

If you’re looking for a slightly more saturated gray, then Classic Gray is a great choice. I would keep the furniture and accessories a lighter color to further brighten up a dark space, otherwise it can appear a bit on the dark side (like below).

BM Classic Gray living room
BM Classic Gray Living Room via Kylie M. Interiors

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.

BM Edgecomb Gray neutral paint in an entryway
BM Edgecomb Gray Entryway via Nina Hendrick

Benjamin Moore Pale Oak

Benjamin Moore Pale Oak is an incredibly popular creamy shade of greige. While it has the tendency to lean slightly pink in some lights, it’s a great neutral paint color to warm up darker spaces. It looks amazing paired with white trim, and makes other colors really pop (especially greens and blues).

bm pale oak dining room with tree in the corner and wood furniture
BM Pale Oak dining room via Havenly

Dramatic, Saturated Paint Colors

Sometimes all you need to bring life to a dark room is some personality via the right paint color. A good dose of contrast (and some good artificial lighting!) can totally transform a flat, dark room.

Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray

Hands down winner, pair it with bright white trim for stunning effect

BM Chelsea Gray bedroom adds drama to a dark bedroom
BM Chelsea Gray Bedroom via Chris Loves Julia

Behr Hostaleaf

This paint color paired with a warm white (like BM White Dove) is a match made in heaven! Green is a warm color, so it adds moodiness and drama without making the room feel cold.

Behr Hostaleaf board and batten in bedroom
Behr Hostaleaf Board and Batten via I Spy DIY

Benjamin Moore Salamander

Another amazing moody green. It looks super elegant paired with rich mahogany and antique brass.

Benjamin Moore Salamander in a bedroom
BM Salamander in San Francisco Apartment via Hunker

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!

BM Charcoal Gray accent wall in hallway
BM Kendall Charcoal shiplap accent wall via The Creativity Exchange

Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue

Pair this navy blue paint with some crisp white trim to really make it pop and add serious wow factor.

Bedroom painted dark blue
BM Newburyport Blue via The Decorologist

Sherwin Williams Serious Gray

Small bathroom with blue walls and white wainscoting

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!

Don’t Forget…

Don’t forget – no matter what you’ve read or photos you’ve seen online, it’s really important to sample paint colors in your home before committing!

Samplize provides real paint samples that are easy to move around your home, and cheaper than buying a gazillion paint pots! It’s the only way I buy paint samples.

Use code JENNAK10 at checkout and get 10% off your order

Coupon entitles all customers to 10% off the entire order with no minimum purchase requirement. This is a one-time use coupon and it cannot be combined with other discounts.

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  1. Such an informative article! I love all things paint related and this helps me to understand what will work best in my North facing home. I have tried many grays and blues that ended up looking purple. I ended up with a Copper Haze in the Living Room and Tea Leaves in the bedroom. They look great and warm. But that was years ago auld I’m ready for some warm white now!! Thanks so much!

  2. I love how you redid your master bedroom. Are you able to tell me where you purchased your sheers? I am looking to redo my front living room (which is west faced and minimal natural light) and I’m thinking the sheerness with a bit of texture would compliment my room.

    1. Thanks Debbie! I purchased the sheers at HomeGoods about 5 years ago but I’ve them and similar several times since!

  3. Stephanie says:

    I know this is an older article, but I just want you to know how helpful it is. Your explanation of light, or lack of, was like a light going on. See what I did there, lol. I have a north facing no window, only door, living room. I always picked colors I liked without thought of lighting, and it never was the one. Now I know what undertones look for and sheen. Your examples are very helpful too. I think this next go round will finally get the look I’ve been searching for. Thank you

  4. Can you tell me where to find the light colored upholstered bed you switched to in the master bedroom?

  5. so it is very helpful to be used as a reference in organizing

  6. Hello !

    What color is the blue door? Are the walls in that picture the repose gray?

    1. Yes, the walls are Repose Gray. The door is a factory finish color from Harvey Building Products, called “Wedgewood”

  7. What is the color of the ceiling and trims with your papier white walls?

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      BM Decorator’s White

      1. Hello Jenna,
        In the article, Best Paint Colors for dark rooms, there is a picture of a room with a light yellow/cream wall. The picture includes a green table, with a vase full of yellow tulips, a lamp and two orange coffee cups.

        Can you tell me the colour of the wall paint?

        Much appreciated!!

  8. Thank you for providing all of this information! I have been testing ALOT of paint colors for my living areas that are fairly dark. I chose BM paper white for the cabinets. I was going to paint the walls and trim
    The same color. I was thinking chantilly lace, but maybe that’s too white? I have a dove white sample, but it seems to creamy. White heron or Oxford white look like they might be good options. Any suggestions?

    1. Sammi Gavich says:

      I rent so I’m painting my walls white. I live in the northeast with minimal light in my apartment. I love color. Lots of color of which will be in my mid century/boho furnishings. Lots of jewel tones. After awhile all the whites look the same to me. Can you give me a suggestion for walls/trim? Thank you so much. My head is about to explode. Lol

  9. I’m renovating my master bedroom and have very low lighting in the room. We only have 2 small windows, but are hoping to add more lighting. I would love to paint the walls a gray color or gray with blue undertones. Any suggestions? My furniture is a dark wood with light hard floors.

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      Hi Maria! I like BM Paper White which is a really pale gray but Behr Reflecting Pool is beautiful too…it’s a light blue/gray that looks lovely with darker wood furniture

      1. Thank you for your prompt response! They are both beautiful options. Does paper white have a purple tone? I’d love to ask a few more designer tips/suggestions. Anyway I can connect with you directly?

        1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

          It can have a slight green or blue undertone, but no purple. If you have more specific questions, you’re welcome to submit via my Ask a Decorator Service! :-)

  10. Love your suggestions. My greatroom sits in between the foyer and sunroom, and stays dark even with 12’ cathedral ceilings. Have sw misty in dining room / kitchen combo and foyer which leads to greatroom Want to put a soft , warm color in greatroom, and another more colorful color in sunroom on other side of greatroom, and/or an accent color on sunroom wall with circle top window. Thought about using misty in sunroom/, and/or accent wall, and sw Downy in greatroom. My sofa is medium blue and tables are dark wood.. What do you think?

  11. Michelle Zichella says:

    Thanks for this great article. I live in a 1909 house with a wrap around porch which keep she house cool but fairly dark.. The living room is fairly dark bit other treas of the downstairs get more natural sunlight. I’d like to pain the entire downstairs one warm color to brighten things up. The house is painted BM Monroe Bisque which isn’t working. I just suffered a major loss and would like to cheer up and freshen up my home. The rooms are all open to each other.

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      Hi Michelle – this sounds like a question for my Ask a Decorator service. Please check it out and I’d be happy to help you!

  12. Great article! I sent it to a friend just starting to navigate the waters of how to paint a dark room. Thank you for all the pics and specific color recommendations – it really makes the article very usable :)

  13. Carol Hixon says:

    Hi, this is such a great article. Our master bedroom and bath both face north, neither have a lot of natural light. Only 2 regular sized windows in bedroom, high ceilings in both rooms. We just finished the master bath in Alabaster, walls, cabinets and trim. Looks really pretty. I am concerned how it would look in the master. Right now it is painted BM Decatur Buff on walls/tray and BM Mystic Gold inside the tray. For me, it’s too gold, too dark, but I understand why it works in that room, to create warmth. We wanted to do BM Manchester Tan or SW Wool Skein, I am afraid they look muddy on the sampilize swatch on the wall. I am at a loss, we don’t want blue and I really don’t want any more yellow/gold. Any Ideas?

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      Hi Carol, if the warmth of those colors is too much, how about a greige color? Enough warmth without being muddy but they also feel fresh and modern. Something like SW Agreeable Gray or Bm Edgecomb Gray would be good candidates.

  14. My family room is back of house facing west. We have 2 narrow windows with brick fire place in center. Lots of sun in afternoon but there is lots of shadows. Sliding glass doors lead out to pool patio. My issues are the room is very dark most of the time. With to much brown furniture, and nice oak floors and beige walls. I am looking for a quick fix with a much lighter paint to freshen it up, without changing furniture or window blinds that are golds and brown plaid. From this description can you suggest a paint that could help? Thinking of a creamy white. The ceilings are high. Want to take away from the brown that makes it even darker when there is no natural light. Help! Thank you!

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      I have BM Paper White in my west facing bedroom and I love it. It’s a very light gray but it doesn’t feel cold at all. Add some lighter touches to your furniture through throw pillows, new rugs etc and that will help too. If you want something a bit warmer,BM Navajo White or even Bm Edgecomb Gray could be good contenders!

  15. Stephaney Gordon-Cowab says:

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what color to paint my basement that is on the narrow side, dark with only 2 windows and has ceiling tiles in place.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      We have Behr Reflecting Pool in our basement and love it!

      1. Hope Williams says:

        What would be a similar color to this at Sherwin Williams?

        1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

          Can you specify which color exactly?

      2. What would be a color similar to Behr Reflecting Pool that is made by Sherwin-Williams? We are in the midst of a basement remodel as well.

        1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

          Hi Teri. If you go to Sherwin Williams and ask them to color match it they can look up the color code on the computer and mix for it in store.

  16. Tai Halfmann says:

    Moving to a new house. The kitchen cabinet color is creamy with chocolate glaze. The backsplash has some beige, browns and blue/gray tumble travertine stones. The kitchen is nicely done but currently color is softer tan and I want something that would contrast/compliment without feeling like i’m in a bowl of softer tan. Any recommendations?

  17. Trying to bring some light into our new spec home. The floors were already in place. They are very dark brown w Agreeable Gray on the walls. The House sits under tree canopy so even though it has 3 large windows facing East, in the great room, we get no light. I’d like to brighten room with white walls for I always crave light. Would Pure White (S Williams) for the wall with the 3 east facing windows give me the light i crave n mix well with agreeable gray ?
    TKS for your help,

    1. Jenna Shaughnessy says:

      Hi Ana, Pure White has a grayish undertone to it so it cool feel a bit drab in there with minimal light. I would opt for white with a hint of warmth to it, like Ben Moore Simply White which will work well with Agreeable Gray too

  18. For a white room with NO windows, would you paint the ceiling one of these creamier whites, too? We’re having someone paint our son’s small bedroom before we move into our new place, so we’re just going for it and guessing on paint colors without testing them in the space 😬😅 We’re planning on doing a two-tones room- a deep blue on the lower half (Tidal by Behr), and then white on the upper half of the walls + ceiling. What do you think? Should we just do the same creamy white for the whole upper half of the room, including the ceilings? Or do the ceilings a basic “contractor’s white”? Thank you in advance! This was an incredibly helpful post!

    1. Hi Laura! I would stick with the basic off-the-shelf white. I always find it bounces light around the room better, even when it’s a darker room!

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