Genius Tricks for Lightening Up a Dark Room, According to Designers

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dining area with white round table at center with chairs sofa against wall and a large round pink and white piece of art on the wallpinterest
Ricardo Labougle
1

Create Contrast

brighten a dark room
Reid Rolls

Opposites might attract, but when used in the right proportions, they can also give a room a bright edge. When in doubt, opt for lots of white surfaces with hints of moody black—just as designer Dan Mazzarini did here. “White painted floors reflect light around the space,” he says. “I like Armorseal Rexthane by Sherwin-Williams.” Here, the designer juxtaposed snow-white floors with black furnishings and accents for an edgy, graphic look.

2

Choose a Bright Rug

juliana lima vasconcellos  elle decor
Ricardo Labougle
3

Opt for Light-as-Air Accessories

ward and gray transparent accessories
Read McKendree / JBSA

When it comes to making your home appear lighter and brighter, the devil lies in the details. In this dramatic bar, Staver Gray of Ward + Gray freshened things up with translucent accessories. “We used amber glassware and a delicate bud vase to provide visual interest without adding heaviness to this moody bar area,” she shares. “The mirrored back wall also helps immensely to bounce the light around.”

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4

Ditch the Heavy Curtains

jessie schuster soho apartment living room
Douglas Friedman

“I will opt out of using draperies and instead use a solar or Roman shade to give the appearance of less fabric while still finishing the windows,” designer Jessie Schuster says. To wit: Get rid of heavy, dark curtains that absorb light. Here in the designer’s own Manhattan apartment, the curtain-less look accentuates the natural light that floods in.

5

Work Your Windows

brynn olson windows
Werner Straub

Or, if treatment-free windows are non-negotiable, add curtains in a light, bright hue. “In this dark and moody study, we used tall, ivory draperies to help draw the eye to the window and brighten the room,” designer Brynn Olson shares. To play up the high-contrast palette, Olson rounded out the room with a white gallery wall and bookshelf, complete with tomes wrapped in ivory paper.

6

Spruce Up With Sheers

more house design
Moore House Design

As Blair Moore of Moore House Design points out, getting a little privacy doesn’t have to mean cutting off your room from any natural sunlight. “Adding sheers that are a slightly lighter hue than your walls can imbue a dark space with an ethereal light,” she shares. “This dining area faces north and lacks natural light, so we added sheer drapes that we hung a foot above the top of the window to really envelop the wall.” The result: A soft, sun-dappled glow all day long.

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7

Select Bright Art

a marble fireplace is flanked by dark wood bookshelves with a circular work of art above it, there is a chandelier with five spherical lights, a white circular sofa, and a cocktail table
Douglas Friedman

While dark rooms can be cozy, adding vibrant artwork will elevate the mood and look of the space. For added brightening properties, McBournie says: “Don’t forget to add some picture lights or spotlights.” In this cozy den in San Francisco, designer Nicole Hollis made a bright artwork by Doug Aitken the mesmerizing focal point of the largely dark room.

8

Hang a Mirror

dining room with two pendants descend over a dark wood table surrounded by two light green chairs and a dark blue banquette, there is a spice colored rug and one wall is mirrored
Stephen Kent Johnson

Double the amount of sunlight in your room by bouncing the light off reflective surfaces. “It helps to completely mirror a wall or to add a decorative mirror opposite the windows to bring in the light,” Schuster says—just as Gabriel Hendifar did in his sultry New York apartment, shown here.

9

Try a High-Gloss Ceiling

oliver m furth beverly hills
Roger Davies

One of the best ways to bring more light into a room is with a high-gloss paint color, and a ceiling is the perfect spot to experiment with this design choice. “High-gloss paint can add another reflective surface to a dark room,” McBournie says. Here in a Beverly Hills home, designer Oliver M. Furth painted the ceiling in Pratt & Lambert’s high-gloss lacquer in Gun Powder.

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10

Go For Glasscloth

jackson warren dining room
Claudia Casbarian for Julie Soefer Photography

High-gloss finishes might be the right, brightening choice for paint, but what about wallpaper? “You can utilize a wallcovering that reflects light, not absorbs, like grasscloth,” explains Aileen Warren and Kiley Jackson of Jackson Warren Interiors. Though this formal dining room sticks to an overall tonal color palette, the glasscloth wallcovering gives this room some extra sheen.

11

Take Your Room’s Temperature

lindsey adelman
Stephen Kent Johnson

When it comes to lighting, color temperature matters a lot! And according to Mazzarini, 2700K bulbs are recommended as you enter the world of LED lights. “If budget allows, use a warm-glow technology dimming bulb,” he adds.

Lighting designer Lindsey Adelman would know: Here in her Brooklyn townhouse, she selected her own Drop System chandelier to create just the right ambience.

12

Focus on Direction

roger higgins living room
Haris Kenjar

While you’re at it, you’ll also want to consider the direction of your light fixtures. “Use light fixtures that shine the light up at the ceiling rather than at the floor,” explains Roger Higgins of R. Higgins. “Torchieres will brighten a room more than a floor lamp or ceiling fixture that shines light downward.”

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13

Incorporate Metallics

the carpeted primary bedroom has flower pattern wallpaper, a bed with lilac coverlet, two nightstands with lamps, and a metal bench with a plum seat
Annie Schlechter

Using shimmery gold or silver accessories is an easy way to transform a dark and dreary space. “I have successfully used metallics on the walls, ceilings, light fixtures, and accents of furniture,” McBournie says. “Just be careful—too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing.” In a bedroom of a South Florida home, for example, designer Rodney Lawrence incorporated just the right amount of silvery accents in the lamps and de Gournay wallpaper.

14

Lean Into the Dark Side

jayne design foyer
Kirk Davis Swinehart

Speaking of metallics, a gilded touch can really pay off when working with a darker palette—just ask William Cullum of Jayne Design Studio.

“The entry hall of our apartment was a narrow, tight space with no windows. Versus trying to brighten a space that would never truly be that way, we leaned into the darkness and painted it an inky blue and collaged it with art,” he explains. “The dark color, also applied on the ceiling, allowed the architecture to disappear, and the many gilt frames bounced light around in a special way.”

15

Choose Light-Wood Floors

delia kenza brooklyn apartment
Nick Glimenakis

When a space is in need of additional light, it’s best to choose light-wood flooring to brighten up the room. “A lighter floor contrasted with a colorful wall can help to ‘push the walls out’ and make the space feel larger,” McBournie says. Designer Delia Kenza did precisely that in her recent renovation of a Brooklyn townhouse, shown here.

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16

Embrace a White Lampshade

olivier dwek  knokke
Philippe Garcia

White paper wraps rock…and everything else when it comes to lightening a room. “White paper is your friend,” Mazzarini says. He suggests not holding back from bringing white paper lampshades, lanterns, and pendant lights into your dark space. Take this bright bedroom in a Belgian retreat designed by Olivier Dwek, for example.

17

Opt for a White or Neutral Color Scheme

carly cushnie interior design
Silvia Foz

A dark room isn’t the place to try out a moody, dark color palette. “Light hues on the walls and ceiling can really help lighten a naturally dark space,” Schuster says. If your walls are neutral, paint the ceiling a shade lighter to help light bounce around the room. That strategy helped this New York apartment designed by fashion veteran Carly Cushnie feel extra airy.

18

Supplement Your Daylight

cochineal jane street apartment
Joshua McHugh

Indirect lighting aimed upward can make up for lack of light on the ceiling, especially toward the end of the day. “This is an opportunity to be creative,” McBournie says. “For the interior library of a New York apartment, I created and strategically placed a faux light shaft with an iron grate on a focal wall.”

Another excellent example? Here in a pint-sized kitchen designed by Cochineal, vintage sconces take the place of humdrum task lighting.

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19

Clean Your Windows Regularly

family room
Amy Neunsinger

Yes, we know. This one seems a tad obvious, but simply cleaning your windows will have a major effect on how much sunlight streams into the room. “It is amazing what clean windows can do for a room,” McBournie says. “I recommend doing this every spring and fall, or more often.” You can see how the strategy pays off in this light-filled living room designed by Nickey Kehoe.

20

Layer Your Lights

date interiors
Photo: Seth Caplan, Styling: Mariana Marcki-Matos

If you’re looking to amp up your home’s lighting, one bulb will not make the cut. Instead, Molly Torres Portnof of DATE Interiors recommends using “multiple light sources, like table lamps and sconces to supplement natural light.” A sconce here, a table lamp there, and your space will shine bright in no time.

Headshot of Kelsey Mulvey

Kelsey Mulvey is a freelance lifestyle journalist, who covers shopping and deals for Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, and ELLE Decor, among others. Her hobbies include themed spinning classes, Netflix, and nachos.

Headshot of Charles Curkin

Charles Curkin is ELLE Decor’s Articles Editor, covering everything related to luxury watches, design, and travel, and has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Paris Review.

 

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