How To Make A Dark Room Feel Lighter And Brighter

Dated: 03/15/2020

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It’s a rite of passage to have a dark (maybe even windowless) room at some point in your life – You aren’t alone and I can solemnly say that a small room with little natural light is one American’s biggest design agonies. If natural light is our design best friend, then the lack of light is indeed the enemy. So today we are declaring war, and we are going to win.

The goal here is to not just add physical LIGHT but also create a sense of BRIGHTNESS, of LIFE. But first, if you are currently renovating or about to, stop and ask yourself “could I put in a window or skylight in here?” So aside from you lucky renovators, most of us just have to use what we are handed and to resort to tricking the eye into perceiving the room as bigger and brighter than it is. MAGICIANS WE ARE. Let the magic begin…


photo by zeke ruelas | from: moody midcentury home office

Don’t be afraid to embrace a darker color, including the ceiling. Oddly if you have a dark room with a white ceiling it almost stops your eye and makes the ceiling feel lower. But if you paint it the same color or a slightly lighter version it feels more like it extends with no stopping point. If you are afraid of it looking like a cave, go for a medium tone (like the 2nd or 3rd on the paint strip you are eyeing) to give it “a feeling”. Despite all of your common sense, if you paint a small dark room white, it will look like a small dark flat boring room. Sure it might feel bigger, but without light bouncing around it’s also going to feel like a boring jail cell.


photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: makeover takeover: julie’s huge (and diy packed) bedroom upgrade

This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken about the power of mirrors. They are any room’s secret weapon (or magic trick). Mirrors not only make your room feel bigger but they will bounce around any light that comes its way. Ok, that one was obvious but that’s how important it is.


Don't be afraid of using more than one mirror in the same room. Just make sure to vary the sizes and functions (for example: one could be a large leaning mirror and the other a smaller wall mirror).


photo by tessa neustadt | from: eclectic traditional bedroom reveal

This hack is in the same vein as the mirrors. Shiny objects will always reflect light and make a space feel a little happier. That can be a light fixture, picture frame, small tray decorative object, accents of your furniture pieces, etc. Just don’t go overboard unless you want to go full speed into the glam world.


photo by max kim bee| from: a simple, eclectic guest bedroom

When you don’t have natural light you gotta create it.  So first thing’s first, ambient lighting is a MUST in a dark room. Those are lights that give off diffused light in all directions (think lamps with a shade). Then consider a sconce and even a small directional light task lamp for a side table. Having a couple types of light sources will make your space feel much happier.


photo by ryan liebe | from: cup of jo makeover | the master bedroom

If you have a dark room and only decorate with muted solid neutrals, you are asking for a space that will feel flat and probably a little depressing. You don’t have to decorate with all the colors of the rainbow (actually, don’t do that). Just choose a color palette that makes you happy and throw in some patterns (with varied pattern scales) for visual interest.


photo by tessa neustadt | from: sara updates her childhood bedroom – the reveal

This one is a bit more involved but a great tip nonetheless Installing french doors or interiors doors that let in light is an easy hack to increase the brightness of your room (there are great modern options too). You can put a shade, curtain or film over the glass for more privacy. Obviously these types of doors don’t give the most privacy no matter how good your shade is. So they might be better suited for an office, playroom or even guest room.


photo by bethany nauert | from: fdr chic – a dude’s mix of antique, mid-century and bohemian style

Does it seem counterintuitive to block your likely one window with even something as small as a bud vase? Sure. I mean in a dark room you want to capture every bit of natural light that you can. Well, I am here to tell you that you silence your intuition and should try putting a plant near your window. It will simultaneously bounce light around and create pretty shadows that give your room texture. Ultimately a plant will bring life and sculpture to your room which is ALWAYS a good thing in my book.

Ok, the war is now officially over because as I confidently predicted, WE WON. Dark, sad rooms be gone and only happy, brighter spaces shall be created henceforth. I hope that if you are one of the natural light lacking room dwellers that you feel hopeful those days are indeed numbered.

Henderson, Emily. "How to Make a Dark Room Feel Lighter and "Brighter". Style By Emily Henderson, 5 Mar. 2020,

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