I was recently published in the June 2013 issue of STIR Magazine by Sherwin Williams talking about how to choose color for small, dark spaces in the home. Since the article has already been published with limited spacing, I would like to show the article in its entirety. Great questions by Kelly Porter who is the “Living Style” contributor for STIR Magazine. Maybe you have some of the same questions? Come read my answers.
What is the biggest color mistake homeowners make when painting dark spaces?
There is the common myth that painting a small, dark space white will make it look larger. That may work to a certain extent but is clearly the less interesting choice to make.
One of my favorite rooms to choose color for is the very small guest bathroom that is usually on the first floor somewhere fairly close to the kitchen. This room is no more than a sink and a commode and may not have windows if it’s in the interior space of the home.
In this small bathroom, I chose Armagnac SW 6354. I would have loved to use it as an overall color but the client was more comfortable with just having it on one wall. The orange undertone would have given this small bathroom a monochromatic look which can make a small room appear larger.
Why is this my favorite room to choose color for? Because this is the room where I have the opportunity to choose an off beat, amazing color.
Many homeowners say, “It’s a small space, let’s just make it beige.” Oh no! Let’s not.
“No matter what color you choose for these or any small spaces, white will not physically make the room any bigger so you might as well choose an amazing color.”
What is that “they” say? Accentuate the positive eliminate the negative? Well in the case of choosing color for small spaces, I say introduce a beautiful, strong accent color and make the fact that it is small be it’s main feature. No negatives in this space just beautiful color.
To give the guest bath a little more wow factor, I usually take the color right up over the ceiling, eliminating the white and creating a really dramatic room. Is it still a dark room? Not necessarily. You’ll have to dress this room with correct lighting (up lighting works best and bounces off the ceiling) and of course the right decor to add contrast and interest to the room. I find that when these small, dark spaces are complete, they are so beautifully finished with the perfect color and accessories that suddenly the fact that it is a small space, somehow doesn’t matter anymore.
Overall, what types of paint colors work best for lightening up a dark room?
Of course the saturated hues work best in any dark area. The cleaner the color (meaning the less black it contains) the lighter and brighter the paint color is.
Keeping in mind that blue and gray are neck in neck as far as popularity in the home. I’ll present a gray-blue to the client and again, keeping it as “clean” as possible should do the trick.
Reflection SW7661 is an excellent choice and combined with a bright white trim and ceiling, any dark room will magically brighten up.
Another (saturated) hue that will also brighten a dark room is gold but you have to be super careful with your choice here.
Many people will flock towards Blonde SW6128 because that seems to be one of the “go to colors” at the local paint stores. I’m not saying you can’t use gold in fact I highly recommend it. You just have to choose a “clean” gold such as Jonquil SW6674.
In this photo you see I chose a clean, saturated gold. I bet you’re scratching your head right now because we’re talking about dark rooms and here you see a room with ample windows.
This photograph was my living room when I lived in Pittsburgh years ago. The trick to this scenario was again lighting. Pittsburgh is notorious for the very gray days and sunny days such as the one you see here, were far and few between which is one reasons I took this picture. Getting back to color, to compensate for the lack of sunlight, I chose a “sunny” color. This is another trick to use when you’re working with dark areas of the home.
Which colors do you think work best in window-less powder rooms and bathrooms?
This really depends on the bathroom. Normally I like to choose a dark or “out of the box” color, which you’d think would be the last thing to do but it sure makes a hum drum room very stunning.
However, like I said it depends on the bathroom. Here is a very small, very dark and window-less bathroom. I would normally choose an exciting color but in this case, my client had very specific art and decor in the room which she wanted to feature. I felt that in this case, a dark color would distract from what was important to her.
So the fact that a bathroom is window-less is not really a factor for choosing color to lighten a dark room. For the most part, an overall distinctive color is typically what I’d choose.
What would I suggest? Here are some of the colors I’ve used lately and are just crazy beautiful. I love the “I would have never thought of that” response when I present my color choices to them which I love hearing from my clients:
- Dutch Cocoa (my favorite)
- Robust Orange
- Anjou Pear
- Lucent Yellow
* keep in mind that bathrooms that have white fixtures will add a nice contrast to any dramatic color.
What colors do you recommend for dark hallways?
Now this is completely opposite of what I just said. Hallways are really not exciting by ANY means but super important in how the home completes.
If you have an open concept home like 90% of the homes I design for here in South Charlotte, North Carolina, you’ll see the upper hallway the second you walk in to the home.
This is where lighting plays a ginormous role in what color that hallway needs to be.
Most home owners will just paint the hallway the same color as the foyer. Common colors are usually Ivoire, Believable Buff, Netsuke, again the very popular “go to colors” but not very exciting and a tad dated at this point.
Mistake. Why? Because of lighting. The lighting is usually very bright in the foyers because of the light coming in from the front door, front door side panels, upper foyer window and the windows that are in the rooms to the left and right of the foyer. However, as you look up to the hallway, there are no windows or natural light sources so why would you paint the same color up there when the lighting is so different? You shouldn’t. Here’s what I do.
Let’s say your foyer is a gorgeous warm gray (greige) such as Natural Tan, which is what I recently chose for my client. If you take Natural Tan and put it into a dark hallway, it suddenly appears to become five shades darker and would look similar to let’s say, Bittersweet Stem.
I almost always choose a light neutral for the hallway for two reasons. One, because hallways are so very dark and in this case, adding a dark color to this small space won’t work.
Secondly and most importantly, I like to choose a light neutral for the hallways because the hall is the main area of the home were all the other rooms (usually bedrooms) connect. There will be colors in all those bedroom and if you choose a “color” for the hallway, there is just no separation and your home will take on the dreaded “Quilt” look as I say or start looking like a bag of Skittles®. You need neutrals or resting colors and I prefer to call them in order for the colors in your home to stand out. My go to hallway color is Westhighland White.
Gray is such popular neutral right now. What are the pros and cons of using gray in a north facing room?
I grew up on Long Island in a North facing room and it was horrible! I eventually painted my room peach don’t judge it was the 80’s – which helped out a lot.
As far as gray goes, which is almost viral here in South Charlotte, North Carolina, the warm grays are probably the best choices but I’m starting to see a trend towards light blue-grays. Everyone wants to jump on the gray trend but it has to be a good fit for both you and your home.
I personally don’t know if I’d use gray in a North facing room because of my memory as a child but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Of course no matter what gray you choose adding a crisp bright white ceiling and trim is a must. Keep your flooring options light and bright as well and of course the right decor to complete is vital.
The biggest disadvantage of using gray in an already light challenged room or North facing room is the persona that the color gray has. It’s not known to be bright and cheery and to me, battleships and sharks come to mind. It’s different for every person of course but some colors are just associated with certain images. You won’t know till you try it!
Closet design is a big trend these days. Other than a neutral, what colors would you suggest for a dark closet?
You wouldn’t think that picking a color for a closet is a big deal but it is! I designed these two graphics to better explain why you should have a neutral in your closet.
Honestly, I would’t and haven’t suggested a color other than a neutral for a closet. For the most part, the closets my clients have are the typical, small dark closets that really don’t require a fantastic color.
For my clients who have the custom-built, walk in closets with proper lighting, perhaps a window and ample space where a “color” can be featured, I would still choose something fairly neutral without going crazy. Look at the graphics I have to show you why.
This graphic represents a neutral closet. The background is an off white or beige and the rectangles represent your clothes. We all have just about every color from lights to darks in our closets so having a neutral background will visually make the closet more appealing and the clothes easier to see. It’s really a small detail that will make a large impact in your closet.
Now this closet was painted the same coastal blue that’s been trending for quite some time. So many people have this color in their bedroom and have taken it into their closet but look what happens. It’s very unsettling to see all this color in a closet. The color of your clothes fight with the blue and it just becomes a mess. It’s like painting every room in your home a different and unrelated color. It doesn’t make sense and it’s just ugly! By the way – the color of the “clothes” are the same in both these graphics but see how different they look?
I would address a dark closet the say way I would for a hallway. Keep it light and neutral.
What’s the most important element about designing for dark spaces? LIGHTING, LIGHTING AND LIGHTING. If I had to put $1,000 on just one tip for you, it would be this.
“You can have the best color in the world but if your lighting is wrong, you’re doomed.”
I had a client that told me she already had 8 Designers help her with her color palette and not one was able to help her. That was a red flag for me but I wanted to help her and try to solve the mystery.
I went through my bag of tricks from using pure saturated color right down to suggesting what light bulbs and new lighting fixtures would be best for her home. Even I was not able to help her because she didn’t change out any of her lighting, not one bulb. Her color palette was gorgeous but it never had a chance to shine. It would have been magazine perfect if she followed my advice but she didn’t. You can lead a horse right?
So after all the money she spent on 9 Designers, painting her home, time off from work and endless months of aggravation, all she had to do was invest just a little in proper lighting and pennies for some light bulbs.
Have a dark space you need to brighten up? Invest in the best paint you can afford, hire the advice of a Color Expert and together, choose a color palette that will brighten your home.