Your home may be naturally dark, but there’s no need to convince yourself it’s more intimate that way. Bright rooms can transform a home and uplift your mood. And when it comes time to sell, light and airy rooms lend an inviting atmosphere for homebuyers.
Here are some simple and affordable design techniques to make the most of limited light.
Lighter neutrals such as warm white, dove gray or light taupe will make a space appear more open and airy, said Jennifer Jones, principal designer with Niche Interiors in San Francisco. But don’t simply paint the walls, Jones said. “If your ceilings are low, consider painting the molding the same color as the walls to elongate the room,” Jones said.
Always paint the ceiling a lighter color than the walls, preferably a bright white, said Tobi Fairley, interior designer with Interior Design in Little Rock, Arkansas. “That gives you the feeling of space and height, which really opens up the room,” she said. “It will also reflect any of the light that’s directed to the ceiling from lamps or fixtures.”
Use a paint with sheen. Painting in a flat, matte or satin finishes will soak up light, while semi-gloss, high-gloss and lacquer finishes tend to reflect light, which make a darker room feel brighter and lighter, said Edith Gregson, partner at DJ Ireland Interior Architecture & Design, an interior design firm in Washington, D.C.
If you choose a neutral gray, for example, make sure to stay away from brown or black undertones, said interior designer Meg Caswell of Chicago, a winner of HGTV Design Star. She said to choose a light shade with a bright undertone. One of her favorite colors is Benjamin Moore Shoreline.
Artwork with white matting creates contrast against darker walls, Gregson said. She suggested creating a gallery wall or a collection of artwork to make the wall feel brighter, watching out for darker artwork, which — like painting a room a darker color — can soak away the light that would otherwise bounce around the room.
“Large-scale artwork in lighter colors or even in black-and-white can make a space feel more spacious and brighter,” Gregson said.
Get rid of distracting personal objects. Less is more, said Brian Balduf, chief executive and co-founder of Illinois-based VHT Studios, which provides photography and image management services to real estate professionals. While the room technically won’t be darker if there are too many accessories, it will feel less open and airy, he said. Balduf recommends going with a few central statement pieces that are carefully curated.
Drapery shouldn’t be in front of the glass, it should be just off the glass, Caswell said. “It can cover the frame, but make sure it keeps the natural light in,” she said. “It’s a design crime.”
Adding live plants will give your room a brighter and livelier feel, said Cathi Lloyd of Decorating Den Interiors in northwest Indiana. Some plants, such as ferns, are a safe bet as they can thrive for days in limited sunlight, Lloyd said. “This is a perfect way to add a dramatic effect to the dingiest areas of your rooms,” she said.
If your windows are small, don’t cover them with heavy blinds or draperies. Instead, use sheer or lighter fabric to offer an illusion of more space and light in the room, Lloyd said.
Crystals and shiny finishes reflect the light and make the room feel more alive, Lloyd said. She suggested adding sparkly accents, a gold table or a metallic-finish wall hanging to brighten the room and to add style.
Substituting artificial light for natural light can make a room feel brighter, Jones said. “Instead of relying on one overhead light, place table and floor lamps throughout a room for balanced illumination,” she said, suggesting lamps with off-white shades and dimmer or three-way switches for adjustable ambient light.
When the corners and borders of a space aren’t well lit, the room can feel cave-like and dark, Gregson said. She suggested placing recessed fixtures 24 to 30 inches out from the walls on the ceiling to make those shadows disappear.
Place corner floor lamps or wall sconces in the room. These could be a good option for those who are renting and don’t want to incur the expense of hiring an electrician to install pricey recessed fixtures, Gregson said. “Stores like West Elm, Design Within Reach, Restoration Hardware and Crate and Barrel offer plug-in sconces so illuminated wall washing can be achieved without submitting to any permanent changes,” Gregson said.
Make sure you have an assortment of lighting types. Overhead lighting (recessed fixtures, pendants and chandeliers), task lighting (desk lamps, art lighting and table lamps) and accent lighting (sconces and under-cabinet lighting) should work in harmony so that a space feels layered in light without feeling alarmingly bright, Gregson said. “We strongly believe in the power of a dimmer switch whenever possible,” she said. “A room should feel well lit without being blinding or institutional in feel. Yes to the vibe of a beach house on a summer day, no to the feel of a caustically bright hospital waiting room.”
Choose decorative instead of full-length mirrors. “Try a vintage mirror or mosaic mirror to bounce around light, while avoiding the somewhat annoying side effect of seeing everything, including yourself before coffee consumption, perfectly reflected in the clear surface,” Gregson said. “A vintage mirror, mercury mirror or convex/concave mirror will assist with scattering light throughout your space while feeling a little less obvious than a wall of mirrors or an oversized floor mirror.”
Caswell renovated a dark row house, which only had two windows, so she took two huge floor mirrors and hung them as though they were mirrors. “I put the same drapes over them and they mimicked the mirrors,” she said.