Truth: Major renovations can be expensive, inconvenient, and more often than not, both at the same time. But when you're dealing with a part of your home that looks or feels cramped and moody due to dismal natural light, you'd probably do just about anything to brighten things up, right?
Since we spend so much time inside our homes, it makes sense that lighting should be a priority. Plus, beyond aesthetics, spaces with minimal natural light can also impact your mood.
"Visible light helps the human body to regulate the production of the hormone melatonin, which in turn helps to regulate our body clock, affecting sleep patterns and digestion. [It] also helps to stimulate the body's production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of depression," Dr. Alan Lewis, a lecturer on Architectural Studies at The University of Manchester, told The Independent.
However, instead of having to rely on a major renovation like expanding our windows or installing new ones altogether—not to mention how this wouldn't be possible for renters, we asked interior designer Marissa Bero of Homepolish how to brighten up a dark room for a stylish, comfortable atmosphere (that's also great for our wellbeing). And we have to say, Bero came up with some genius, transformative ideas that, for the most part, don't require heavy lifting.
Meet the Expert
Marissa Bero is a Brooklyn-based interior designer and owner of Marissa Bero Interiors. She served as a senior designer with Homepolish and has been a display coordinator with Anthropologie.
Scroll through Bero's tips below to learn how to brighten up dark rooms with small windows, balance your light and dark furniture and décor pieces, and highlight your favorite dark and stormy colors without going overboard on the moody vibes.
Install Multiple Light Sources
"One overhead light fixture just isn't enough to properly illuminate most rooms, especially a dark room," warns Bero. "In a bedroom, for example, it's important to have a lamp or sconce on either side of the bed, and I like to put one on the dresser as well. If the bedroom is large enough for a cozy chair or sofa, then I would add a floor lamp or table lamp there as well. This ensures that each part of the room is well lit." This is especially true in the kitchen, where you want to see what you're doing while cooking and eating.
Use Transparent Furniture
This room is a great example of moody interiors done well. With dark, dramatic, and artfully painted hardwood floors; a large black-and-white photograph; a sophisticated gray sofa; and plenty of brass accents, this room is absolutely stunning. One of the reasons it works well is its bright white walls—they reflect natural light, which softens the room up.
Plus, "A piece of furniture that is solid to the floor can block a lot of light and make a dark room feel even darker," says Bero. So, opting for a small lucite side table like the one above is a great choice.
If neutrals and metallic accents feel too moody for your taste, bring in a playful throw pillow. This will make your living room or bedroom feel casual without dressing it down too much, and the cheerful color scheme offers a lighter feel.
Leave Space Beneath Your Furniture
Another tip? Choose a sofa with 6 to 10 inches of open space underneath, says Bero. "It will allow light to pass and therefore illuminate more of the room."
Incorporate Bright Artwork
A simple, bright painting in an unassuming frame is a great piece to adorn the walls in a darker space. It will bring in cheerful colors without overwhelming the room.
Bring in Greenery
This room uses a few brightening tricks to make it seem more spacious and light. The crisp white walls and splashes of color, from the colorful art combined with the natural feel from the indoor plant, really brighten up the dark flooring and narrow space. When it comes to bringing in natural plants, the bigger the better, as long as you use a white vessel that visually bleeds into the white surfaces and walls. This way, large-scale items don't feel too bulky. You can still decorate darker corners with plants; just choose greenery that thrive in minimal light.
Paint the Ceiling Bright White
Expand the illusion of a poorly lit room with a coat of bright white paint on the ceiling. An eggshell or satin finish will boost the ceiling's reflective qualities, suggesting the feeling of even more space.
Consider a Whiteout
If you really want to take the plunge to achieve the above aesthetic, strap on your old overalls, grab your paint roller, and open a gallon of white paint. Start by painting the walls, but don't stop there. Paint everything white, from floor to ceiling, including your décor and furniture like the photo above. Or assign someone else the task with services like TaskRabbit and Angie's List.
We love how even the baskets and bed frames are the same shade here. The beds look like they're floating, don't they? Not only will this brighten up your space, but it's also the perfect canvas to decorate in any style.
Place Mirrors Strategically
While many know that mirrors can amplify a small space, it's less common knowledge that they also brighten up a dark room. "I like to put large mirrors opposite windows to reflect more natural light into a dark room," says Bero, who adds that "it's like adding another window to the space." And don't feel limited to hanging mirrors. "You could also incorporate a coffee or end table with a mirrored top for example," Bero says.
Smooth out a room's lines with lighter furniture pieces that aren't overly ornate. If you must, keep heavy furniture to a minimum and think Scandinavian-chic or modern minimalism with the rest of your pieces.
Opt for Lighter Lampshades
Choose lampshades made with light material (like linen) to help diffuse light without blocking its glow, like opaque shades do.
Choose a Light Area Rug
For darker flooring, which can close in a room, opt for a lighter toned area rug. Patterned rugs are ok too, though consider a light and bright color scheme.
Avoid Heavy Window Treatments
By now, you've probably sensed that "light and bright" is a recurring theme for making your space appear larger. Same goes for window treatments. Swap heavier materials for lighter drapery, like linen. Venetian blinds are also an option, as they help direct sunlight upward.
Commit to Maximalism
A bold color palette and striking décor can energize a smaller space, so don't be afraid to try a vivid accent wall or statement chandelier, for example.
Opt for Light Wood Flooring
If you can, choose light wood flooring or a light stain to hide scratches. The lighter the floors, the lighter and brighter the room.
Add Metallic Touches
Liven up a drab, dreary space with metallic touches. Whether expressed through a light fixture, artwork, or decorative objects, metallic surfaces reflect light.
Tidy Up Outdoor Greenery
Overgrown tree branches and bushes blocking access to sunlight? Trimming your greenery is an easy fix.
Contrary to popular belief, matte finishes do a better job of reflecting light in all directions, as opposed to glossy surfaces, which create glare. Go matte to maximize the amount of times sun bounces around the room.
Clean Your Windows
Perhaps a good window cleaning is the answer to your low-light woes. Sounds obvious and almost too simple, yet the less dirt, dust, and debris on your windows, the more sunlight can enter your room.
Aim Lighting Upward
Strategic lighting like a torchier floor lamp toward the back of a room can play the sun's role when the real thing sets and begins to cast shadows across the ceiling.
Arrange Shelves Perpendicular to Windows
Give sunlight ample space to stream, so try not to position things like bookshelves parallel to windows, and go perpendicular instead. Also, try not to obstruct the top of a window; light entering here will reach the farthest into the room.
Bedrosian TA, Nelson RJ. Timing of Light Exposure Affects Mood and Brain Circuits. Transl Psychiatry. 2017;7(1):e1017. doi:10.1038/tp.2016.262