7 Surprisingly Genius Lighting Tricks to Brighten a Dark Home

By  | Nov 7, 2016


Do you live in a dark, sad home where light goes to die? Are you filled with dread as the days suddenly get shorter (thanks loads, Daylight Savings Time!) knowing full well you’ll return home to a gloomy abode? Are you convinced that your house was modeled after the dark corridors of Castle Black?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, we’ve got some good news: You. Don’t. Have. To. Live. This. Way.

Turning a dreary space into a cheerful oasis isn’t an impossible task—even if the room doesn’t get much sunlight. Here are seven brilliant ways to brighten up your space (without turning to the Lord of Light.)

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1. Reflect yourself

living room

Photo by Elad Gonen

Take advantage of every scintilla of light available to turn your dark, dreary space into a sunny wonderland.

“Reflective surfaces are going to be your best friend in a dark space,” says Erica Lugbill, an interior designer in Chicago.

While you certainly should hang wall mirrors anywhere you can—like over the fireplace, behind the dining table, or beside the buffet—plain ol’ rectangular mirrors aren’t the only way to check out your reflection. Choose mirrored accessories, such as a side table or dresser, to amplify the light.

2. Up the lumens

One (shockingly obvious) common cause of gloomy rooms: too little artificial light. This is an easily fixable problem—and you don’t necessarily need more lamps. NYC designer Jack Menashe says swapping lightbulbs for ones with higher lumens will “up the intensity of light in the room.”

Does that make the room too bright, especially at night? Consider installing dimmers, which moderate the intensity and mood of the room.

3. Install fake LED windows

Basement finish

Photo by AGM Renovations

If your interior room has absolutely no windows (or only an itty-bitty box near the ceiling), don’t be afraid to fake it. Building a realistic fake windowisn’t terribly difficult, even for struggling DIY wannabes. All you need are LED grow lights, muslin cloth, corn starch (really!), and basic carpentry skills. The result: a beautiful, diffused windowlike box that feels like summer year-round.

Don’t feel like going it alone? Install a prebuilt window. Some even come with high-definition photos, to make every day feel like a Tuscan vacation. Sort of.

4. Don’t go all white

Homeowners who’ve spent more than a few minutes on Pinterest might assume that white is the only color solution for an under-lit space. It’s not true!

“The biggest misconception about painting small, dark rooms is to always just use white paint,” Menashe says. “Without the right lighting, these rooms become very flat.”

He suggests using “more saturated, neutral tones” for your dark rooms. Benjamin Moore’s November Rain (a creamy beige) or Gray Owl (a warm gray) make excellent alternatives to white.

“Look for colors that have some movement in them to help create and bounce the light around,” Menashe says.

Just make sure to keep that color light. Royal blue paint in a poorly lit room can be disastrous. The same rule applies for the trim—save those bold, dark colors for your bigger, sunny spaces.

5. Add contrast and texture

21 Widmer St

Photo by Decor8 Home Staging and Redesign

On the flip side, when it comes to furniture, dark colors can actually make your room seem brighter.

“Use high-contrast pieces, like a charcoal dresser or a dark bedspread, to emphasize the lightness you’re trying to create,” Lugbill says.

Dark furniture not your style? If you don’t want your neutral space to seem boring, take advantage of texture—an easy way to add interest.

“Add a fur throw or a heavy woven knit in light colors” that match your wall and furniture, Lugbill says. “Keep it monochromatic but interesting, and not at all flat.”

6. Hang lightweight shades

If your dreary room is lucky enough to have a window or two, skip the heavy drapery for lightweight sheers and shades. Look for panels that provide just enough privacy to keep you comfortable—without blocking the light you have.

“Stay away from heavy, dark prints,” Menashe says. Select soft neutrals or bright sheers. Ideally, the combination of sun and shades will create a subtle, glowing effect that makes the entire room feel otherworldly.

7. Choose rope or tape lighting


Photo by WAC Lighting

Tiny rooms can feel cluttered with a bevy of table or floor lamps. Installing can lights might be prohibitively expensive. But if you need more illumination, you’ve got options.

LED rope or tape lighting tucked along the ceiling or baseboards brings brightness to a dreary room without the mess or expense. Combined with neutral walls and reflective surfaces, this unobtrusive addition makes even the darkest rooms feel bright and cheerful.

“Newer LED lights are actually really bright, clean, and give a lot of light. It’s such a great option,” Lugbill says. “It eliminates clutter while still adding light, and gives a layer of interest to the brightness of your room.”