Easy and foolproof designer tricks that will add light to dark rooms in a house through decorative details. From adding the right type of lighting to layering in accents and accessories that will reflect light. Here are 12 room brightening tips to help you maximize the light in every room in your home.
I receive a lot of emails and comments asking me all sorts of decorating and DIY questions. One that has popped up more than a few times in the past few weeks is this question… How can I brighten a dark room?
Designer Tips on How to Brighten a Dark Room
I think the reason the question has been coming up more recently is because we are entering the time of year when it’s dark when we wake up and dark before dinner. It can feel depressing. When my husband worked in an office building, he called this time of year… like living in a tunnel with no light at either end of his work day.
If a room in your home is feeling gloomy, these changes will immediately brighten it.
A few of my room brightening methods may require a bit of DIY effort. This was the case with my living room shown above that had a dark brick wall that made the room look dark and drab. Most however, can be done in an afternoon with no remodeling or contractor needed.
1. Using the Right Shade of White Paint
First and foremost, do you have features in your home that you cannot change? Perhaps a room with north facing exposure or a room where the windows or doors are obstructed by a covered porch that blocks natural light from entering the room? In rooms like these you need to experiment with different shades of paint to lighten dark rooms in a home.
True white paint may not be the answer, but a warm white like Sherwin Williams-Creamy will work as it will warm up the cool grey that northern light casts onto a room’s walls. If you add white with a blue tone, you are only going to add to the grey-ness of the light.
You may be thinking you just want brighter light in a room. Just remember that light, especially artificial light, or the direction a room faces can add either warm (more yellow) or bright (more blue) light to the room.
Finding the right balance in-between these two is what I strive for – a true white light throughout my house. In my house the color of the white walls that works is Sherwin Williams – Pure White.
Both warm and cool light can brighten up any room; picking the right one is more about what makes you feel good in the room. I prefer pure white, but I have a friend who has a bright, open home, but she uses more warm whites in paint and the light bulbs she uses in her home.
With lamp shades, she uses ecru-colored shades, where I prefer a pure white lamp shade. Her rooms never look dark, but they are not white white. So making a room appear brighter is not just about using pure white for everything.
2. Add More Lights – Literally
This is the easiest way to brighten up a dark room. Add more lamps. When I worked in interior design doing decor consults, I often found that homeowners didn’t really understand the power of lighting, the amount of lamps needed and the cast of color a lightbulb emits. They are almost an afterthought in their decorating scheme.
Instead, make room light a decorating priority and give it as much thought as you give when choosing a new piece of furniture and how it will fit into the room as a whole.
To easily brighten up a room, have at least 3 sources of light. This can be a mix of floor lamps, table lamps, overhead lighting fixtures, pendants, accent lights, or a wall sconce in every room. They should be placed around the room in a triangular pattern You can read more about how to do this in Decorative Lighting Tips.
This approach will spread the light around the room in a pleasing way. You can have more than 3 if you have a large room, or if there is a dark corner, an extra small lamp will help.
If you like warm light, use incandescent soft white 100 watt light bulbs, if you can find them. If you prefer the look of a cooler brighter room, use white LED’s.
Do some lightbulb testing trial and error. Lightbulbs have become overly expensive in the past few years, so save the receipts while you do some experimenting.
Buy a few different types of bulbs and wattages and try them out in your lamps and fixtures to see how the light affects the room and how you feel in it. Some bulbs will make the room appear too yellow or blue. Experiment and edit.
Trust me, it is worth the time and effort to find what lightbulbs and wattage works for your room. Return the the lightbulbs that you didn’t like and then buy a few more that you do like so you always have the type you like on hand.
3. Use White Lamp Shades
When adding more lamps to the room, make sure that the shades are not totally opaque and that when turned on, the color of light that shines through the shades is the same. You don’t want one to have a yellow cast and another to be bright white.
I have a lamp in my living room with a shade that looks awful at night. It looks white during the day, but when turned on at night it looks orange. It is because the inside is more ecru and over the years it has aged and yellowed more.
4. Don’t Block the Windows
If you have window treatments that block a part of a window, remove them or hang them higher on the wall so natural sunlight can enter the room.
If the window draperies block the sides of the window when open, remove or learn tricks on how to hang drapes and curtains on the rods so that the stack-back of the drape on each side is not covering the window at all. Doing this will not only add more light into the room, but will make the room appear larger.
Another way to brighten dark rooms is to use light-colored curtains or blinds. If you have blinds on your windows, pull them all the way up during the day.
If you have any landscaping outside your home that blocks a portion or all of a window, trim it back so that the full amount of light can enter.
5. Paint the Ceiling White
Regardless of whether you like warm or cool light, paint your ceilings white. I use Sherwin Williams Pure White in a flat finish. I once made the mistake of painting a ceiling using high gloss thinking it would brighten the room more, which it did, but it looked horrible since it showed every imperfection in the ceiling.
If your ceiling is very high and perfect then paint it high gloss, but a flat white finish on a ceiling will provide light reflecting qualities to a room, too.
6. Add Glossy Wainscoting to Walls
If you have read my blog for a while, then you know about the space in my home I dubbed “the hallway of darkness”. This hallway was a dark space all day long.
I tried a few room lightening methods like painting the walls white and the trim a glossy white. I even painted the door a bright fun color, but the hallway still looked drab.
It wasn’t until I decided that what the space needed was more glossy or shiny surfaces. When I added bead board to the walls and painted them in semi-gloss Sherwin Williams – Pure White and went with a deep dark Navy with no yellow undertones for the top portion of the walls, the hallway came to life.
I even added a fake transom made with mirror tiles above the door to reflect the light from the single ceiling light.
So the moral of this room brightening tip is that you can still use dark colors, you just need to pair them with crisp pure white glossy paint and a white ceiling,
7. Place Mirrors Near Light Sources
Placing mirrors and shiny items near light sources allow you to reflect light into a room. Shiny items could be a shiny floor finish or decorative objects.
When I made over this thrift store table, I had mirrored glass cut at my local glass store to fit into the top. When placed by a window or door, the natural light coming in bounces off the mirror reflection and into the room.
Where should you place a mirror on a wall when you want to brighten a dark room?
To maximize reflected light to brighten up a room, hang large a wall mirror on a wall in a room on the opposite wall from a window or door. This doubles the reflection of light coming from the door or window.
Even if that is not possible, hang a mirror on an adjacent wall so that it can still catch a reflection and will double the amount of light entering the room.
I have sliding glass doors in every room on the lake side of my house. I place large mirrors on the walls opposite these doors. When out on the lake, you can see the mirrors through the sliding glass doors, but the mirrors look like windows that appear to be on the street side of the house.
This makes it feel as though you can see through the rooms to the front of the house, making my house feel more open and expansive.
8. Paint Doors and Trim in Glossy White
Shiny white doors and trim always make a room look brighter. In my previous house, I used either Sherwin Williams – Alabaster or Valspar – Bistro White on all the trim in my house. It looked like pure white in the natural light that came into that house.
When I used the colors on the trim in the lake house, the colors took on a warmer cast that I didn’t like. I had to try out a few paint colors until I found that Sherwin Williams-Pure White looked like the truest white in the natural light.
It is for this reason that I hesitate to give out advice on using certain colors of paint. Every home has different light.
No two are the same so the only way to find the right color is to do some experimenting and paint sampling of paint shades until you find one that rings true white for the trim in a room.
Have your chosen color made up in gloss or semi-gloss and paint all your trim and doors with it.
9. Paint Dark Furniture in a Fun Color
If your room is still feeling dark because of a large piece of dark furniture after making a few room brightening suggestions, consider painting the piece in a light or fun color. Large pieces of furniture that have a dark finish can make a room appear darker.
In the case of the dining room in my previous house, there was a dark corner with a dark stained corner cabinet in the room.
Placing a lamp in the corner would have looked odd, so instead I painted the piece a bright fun color making it pop out of the darkness.
If you have never painted furniture before, it is not hard. You just have to schedule time to get it done. If you need some guidance, I have many how to paint furniture tutorials that will help you to achieve painting success on a piece of furniture.
10. Wash the Windows
No one wants the chore of having to clean, but it is amazing what squeaky clean windows can do for a room. Grab a bottle of window cleaner and lint free paper towels and get to work. You will be rewarded with a much lighter feeling room.
To wash unreachable outdoor windows with ease, learn how to tackle the chore in this post, Inside & Out Window Cleaning Tips
11. Aim Light at Walls and Ceilings
If you have ceiling lights where the bulbs can be directed, then take advantage of this. Instead of having the light shining down into the room, change the direction of a few of the fixtures to light the walls. Try to keep a balance of light throughout the room, though.
When choosing lamp shades, don’t use shades with top covers that don’t allow the light to hit the ceiling.
12. Remove Clutter
Lastly is a trick that will not only brighten a room but make it look larger at the same time. Remove clutter. Clutter makes a room feel visually heavy and can lessen all your room brightening efforts. Tidy up and reap the room brightening rewards of having less stuff in the room.
I hope this answers the question, how to brighten a dark room. As you just read, learning how to brighten a dark room is not limited to just adding mirrors and white paint to the walls.