Home Decor Tricks to Brighten a Dark Room

If you’re looking to brighten up a room that feels more like a cave (or even just a little on the dim side), try this mix of beginner tips and advanced ideas for bringing in more light and maximizing what you already have.

1. Start with white. When trying to brighten a dark space, many people look to mirrors to reflect light around a room. But that’s actually a bit of a design myth. The best way to scatter light is by using lots of white, because the non-hue doesn’t absorb any color.

2. Light the walls. To brighten up a ceiling in a dim room such as a laundry room or den, try replacing a flush-mount ceiling light or a pendant with a semi-flush light that hangs just a little below the ceiling. This will diffuse the light across the ceiling to almost simulate the glowing effect of a skylight. Table lamps work well on furniture to spread light across a wall, especially in classic drum shades with openings at the top and bottom.

3. Cool with blue. Natural light is cool compared with yellow-toned incandescent bulbs, so adding blue gives a pleasing crispness that reminds us of the sky. Plus, cool blue is neutral enough to work with nearly any accent color you want to toss in.

4. Counteract with black. It seems counterintuitive, but introducing some hits of stark black or charcoal adds touches of contrast that make the light areas surrounding them pop even more. Look especially to thin, linear elements, such as these chairs, or long floor lamps, sharp picture frames or patterned fabrics for the right dose of darkness.

5. Update lightbulbs. Besides adding actual blue, you can also choose to update your lightbulbs to a brighter output and a cooler “daylight” color tone. Warmer, yellow lights, such as the ones seen here, create a beautifully warm, intimate atmosphere, but if you’d prefer a brighter and fresher look, try a “true white” bulb.

6. Add area rugs. Dark hardwood or laminate floors are a beautiful and popular staple for contemporary homes, but they can drain a lot of light from some spaces, especially corridors without windows.

7. Embrace blond woods. Including some elements of pale woods can really lighten up a space. Throw in a plant and the room will feel more naturally sunny even without any new light sources.

8. Provide balance. Ultimately, it’s important for a room to have some natural interplay between light and shadow, as the highlights and lowlights are appealing to the eye. 

Classic Ways to Brighten a Dark Room

  1. Lighten & Brighten

    A dark room can feel drab and uninviting. Use a few simple techniques, and paint, fixtures, and accessories, to brighten a dim space and bring it fresh charm.

  2. Paint the Ceiling White

    A dark ceiling can loom above a room and make it feel small. To immediately brighten the space, give the ceiling a fresh coat of white paint. Heavy wooden beams can darken a room. Paint them as well, and they’ll all but disappear.

     

  3. Limit Dark Colors to Accents

    Color is a wonderful design tool. But too much of a dark hue can make a room feel closed in. If your room suffers from darkness, limit saturated colors to a single wall, or accents, and paint the other walls something light and bright.

  4. Lighten Your Window Treatments

    Make the most of the natural light that you have. Avoid heavy draperies and window treatments that block natural light. Instead, choose minimal options, like blinds and roman shades that don’t take up space on your wall. An opaque treatment will give you privacy while still letting light into the room.

  5. Minimize Furniture

    Heavy, cumbersome furniture overwhelms a room, making it feel dark. Swap overstuffed and clunky pieces for those with smooth, sleek lines and light legs. Solid, lighter colors instead of bold, dark prints, also keep the room feeling light.

  6. Lighten Dark Floors

    Lighten up what’s underfoot. If you can’t refinish or replace a dark floor, cover it with a light-toned area rug, and you’ll bring instant brightness to the area.

  7. Diffuse Lighting

    Use walls and ceilings as reflectors to help maximize your light. Place lamps and light fixtures so that they shine onto other surfaces, and up the ambient light in the room.

  8. Use Brighter Lightbulbs

    Lumens, not watts, is the unit of measure that counts. Swap your light bulbs for some with higher lumens, and you’ll up the intensity of light in the room. CFLs and LEDs give you a higher light output for the amount of energy they consume, so you can be more energy efficient at the same time.

  9. Add a Mirror

    Strategically place a mirror or two in a dark room, and it will reflect light, making it feel brighter—and bigger. Large mirrors with slimmer frames are best because they bring in light while feeling less clunky and intrusive.

  10. Lighten Up on Accessories and Art

    Take a look at all your “stuff.” Too much junk crowds a room and makes it feel dark and small. Reduce it all. Minimize books and tchotchkes, and keep art and accessories that are bright and light with clean lines.

  11. Swap In a Glass Door

    If you can make more permanent changes to your space, swap a solid door out for a glass one. If it’s an exterior door, it will increase the natural light in the room. If it’s an internal door, it will make the room feel more open and bright.