This Is the Simplest (and Cheapest) Way to Open Up a Small Space

Updated 04/21/18
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Picking up a paintbrush to slather the walls in a new hue is daring enough on its own, let alone dipping it in a tub of vivid color. Of course, when you have a large room, the idea of creating an accent wall isn't so daunting since there's so much space for it to breathe, but it's an entirely different story when you're approaching bright paint colors for a studio. But don't let the fear stop. Bright paint colors can completely transform a small space, and UK interior decorator and designer Abigail Ahern agrees, saying they can really open up a small space, add depth, and bring "instant excitement."

"This works wonders somewhere small because it takes the emphasis away from the area being bijou," she explained. "I don't worry about the size of the space or the orientation when choosing colors (which completely goes against what many other people say), but I guess that's why I'm known for breaking rules. The more rules and regs you give yourself, the more boring the space." If going vivid with color frightens you a little, set those worries aside. We asked top designers to share their favorite bright paints to get you started.

And Emily Henderson's top tone can be found in the paint aisle at Target!

Go Vivid (If You Can Handle It)

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While Tali Roth, interior designer for Homepolish, generally prefers more tonal or muted tones, if she were to opt for a bright one, she'd choose vivid all the way. "I love vivid color in small spaces," she tells MyDomaine. "I think it gives small spaces so much life and personality, but it also plays on the size, making it feel more significant in impact even if it is small." But of course when we asked her to choose her favorite brights, they had a softer filter.

Farrow and Ball Oval Room Blue $99
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"I love this color, and it suits so many styles of spaces—both contemporary and traditional. I love how it works with tans, pinks, navy, yellows. This is a color that works for everyone."

Farrow & Ball Pink Ground $99
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"Another amazing color that acts neutral enough and can be pared with richer and deeper colors for a more striking look or with grays, whites, and naturals for a neutral look," said Roth.

Benjamin Moore Beau Green Sample $7
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"A rich blue-green looks amazing with woods and brass and mustard tones. It looks super dramatic in small spaces—very luxe," she said.

Use "Sharp" Brights

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When it comes to color, Abigail Ahern certainly knows her stuff. While she has proclaimed her love for dark and moody hues (she even wrote a book about them), Ahern's also a big fan of what she calls "sharp bright colors." She explains: "They actually expand a space. Think hot reds, deep pinks, saffron-y yellows; they all help enhance the space and open it up. Not just that, they also distract the eye, so rather than focusing on how small the space is, you'll actually be thinking how cool the space is!"

Farrow & Ball Rectory Red $99
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"Theatrical and at the very same time warm and relaxing, this beautiful hue looks perfect in any room, especially bedrooms and living rooms," said Abigail. "I would go all out and paint every wall in it."

Sherwin Williams Goldfinch Yellow
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

"This golden hue is super soft, and although many people are scared of using it, I am a little obsessed," she said. "When it's paired with chocolate, magic happens as you get that contrast thing going on with inky and warmth. Nice!"

Valspar Raspberry Wine
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

"More grown-up than hot pink, raspberry pink is bright but deeply saturated, lending it a sophisticated air," she explained. "And the reason I love it so much is it looks gorgeous paired with so many colors across the spectrum, from grays to reds to greens."

Start Small

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If you're nervous (and color-averse), interior designer and author of The New York Times and L.A. Times best seller Change Your Home, Change Your Life With Color Moll Anderson says start small. "Painting a wall, doorway, or part of a hallway is a small yet impactful way to discover if you can live with a color," she said. "I suggest that readers lacquer their accent walls so that the colors are more than just paint—the intensity and vibrancy are amplified to create a more emotional visceral response.

Even those with a minimalistic design approach can play with accent walls by balancing the impact of a color with the sleek vibe of the room."

Dunn Edwards Exuberant Orange
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

"Orange is a result of yellow's calming effects on red's aggression and will revitalize your space with a warm, refreshing energy," said Anderson. "In fact, in ancient Chinese religion, orange was the color of transformation due to its interaction of red with yellow. My personal love of orange didn't emerge until I met my husband Charlie, who is a big UT fan (hence the orange), which shows that love can often bring new meaning to color! Sharing in a color can be a catalyst for change and a boost to your relationship."

Dunn Edwards Golf Course
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

"Located in the center of the color spectrum, green is the color of balance, combining the cool tones of blue with the warm tones of yellow," she said. "As nature's neutral, there is an abundance of green hues to choose, many of which are found in nature. Green introduced to a room naturally—fresh herbs, plants, limes—is my favorite kind of green and a must-have for balance."

Dunn Edwards Summer Sun
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

"Uplifting, refreshing, and rejuvenating, yellow is a happy color strongly associated with the sun," Anderson advised. "The vast spectrum of yellow hues provides many choices for your home, from buttery to vibrant lemon to muted saffron and gold. The highly reflective color will help to open up small spaces and bring light in! Yellow makes me feel full of life and gives me energy—I keep bowls full of lemons in my kitchen to enjoy daily!"

Think Jewel Tones

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When it comes to bright, Katherine Carter of Homepolish prefers jewel tones to not only liven up a small space but open it up too. "Colors can have a strong effect on you," she told MyDomaine. "Grab some samples and play around before you commit to anything. Read up on some fun feng shui tips if you're into that. Overall, go with a color that makes you feel good."

Benjamin Moore Seaweed $7
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"This color brings the outdoors in, subconsciously making you feel as though you are outside, which in turn will make your small space feel bigger. Also, according to the laws of feng shui, green is meant to attract prosperity, and with that extra money you could get a larger space and choose any color you wish," said Carter.

Sherwin-Williams Framboise
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Pricing available upon request from the brand.

Fiery magenta is a really fun color for small spaces; it adds a visual element of richness and fun. Bonus: This color is meant to induce positive energy, harmony, and emotional balance.

Farrow & Ball Vardo $99
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"I would suggest using this color in a small home office," said Carter. "If you keep the molding and trim white, it will trick the eye into seeing distance between the bright blue, ultimately giving an illusion of more space. I also like this color for an office or small space because it is considered to bring the energy of calm and peace to a space. And who doesn't need more of that in their workplace?"

Use a Single Bright Color

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If you're still undecided, then Farrow & Ball's head of creative, Charlie Cosby, says to use a "single bright color to create the illusion of higher ceilings and loftiness, as it is more difficult to decipher where the walls begin and end." It's also easier to decorate around one bright color than a multitude.

Farrow & Ball Nancy's Blushes $99
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"For those looking to be very bold in their color choice, Nancy's Blushes is a great option for a small space like a washroom," said Cosby. "Unexpected and vibrant, the color can create a stunning effect that is upbeat and brave without becoming tiresome. Pair it with darker hues for an updated, modern effect that feels both calming and playful at the same time."

Farrow & Ball Studio Green $99
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"For a small sitting room, try a strong, dark color like Studio Green," she advised. "This will draw your attention to the furnishings and bring the space together, creating a stylized and inviting feel that highlights the design elements of the room, which will make its size essentially unnoticeable."

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Farrow & Ball Radicchio $99
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"Radicchio is a great color to use in a smaller space like a dressing area," Cosby suggests. "It is warm and inviting, while also evoking a sense of opulence. The color will allow the dressing area to feel glamorous, with the classic red hue creating a timeless look."

Farrow & Ball Stiffkey Blue $99
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"Stiffkey Blue is an excellent choice for a bright color in a small space; the bold blue hue creates an automatic depth of color that will leave any room feeling comfortable, soothing, and larger than expected," she said. "Pair it with Farrow & Ball’s All-White trimmings to create a fresh and classic color scheme."

Don't Forget White Can Be Bright Too

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If you really are afraid of using electric hues, then take Emily Henderson's advice and use an all-white paint to really lift the space into vivid territory. Adding a splash of color via an accent wall or small panel instead.

Benjamin Moore Super White $7
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"If you are looking to open up a space and bounce light around, then Super White is your friend," she told us. "My old house was painted this color from floor to ceiling and it brought so much light to even the smallest of spaces. It’s so simple, clean, serene, and bright, and it basically has no tone to it, so it works for any space." 

Devine Color by Valspar Paint for Target Pirouette $5
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"If you are dying for some color in your small space, then rather than go too bright or electric in tone, keep it light and bright with this pretty pink tone," she said. "It will instantly bring a dose of fun into the room."

Farrow & Ball Teresa's Green $99
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"For a bright minty green that's really easy on the eyes, I love Teresa's Green," she said. "I've done many aquas and some of them I’ve liked, and some of them I’ve wished they were more muted. But this green is super soft, and yet not sage-y at all. It would be beautiful in a small space with natural light."

This post was originally published on April 5, 2017, and has since been updated.

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