Colors to Brighten Rooms and Make them Look Larger

Small windows and shaded halls are the bane of modern housing. Box rooms can be a particular problem. Little can be done about the room’s dimensions, only its interior design. But what colors will give the illusion of a spacious hall and add light to a dark room?

Colors that Add Light to a Dark Hall

Basically, pales, mutes and cools will appear to recede; dark, garish and warm colors will appear to advance.

But before addressing the color scheme, clutter needs to be minimised. Such items as bookshelves, draws or bureaus, particularly of dark wood will do a small space no favors, as can be seen in the image of an artist's interior (details given below). Clearing the area of clutter will help give the area an airier feel.

Colors to Avoid on Ceilings

Ceilings painted with dark or deep colors will make the ceiling appear lower than it actually is, exacerbating a claustrophobic feel. Pale colors will push the ceiling upwards. White is a safe bet. But there is an array of off-whites to be explored, such as ivory white, apple-white or champagne. This pale color will form the foundation or 'base color' of the color scheme in any interior, in that it can be used for skirtings, window frames, curtains and other fittings.

Interior Design Tips

The same applies to the floor, whether it is to be wood or carpeted. Fresh colors such as sage, primrose or lavender can be incorporated into the color scheme, so long as it echoes the color of the ceiling in some way. For instance, if the white on the ceiling has a warm cast, such as cream or ivory, then an echoing color can be used on the floor, such as cornflower or primrose. This echoing color can be included in a pattern if desired. This will create harmonious colors on the landing.

White, of course will go with anything. The image on the top right shows ideal coupling of colors to add space to a room, which are (from top left) pale cornflower and cream; sage and pale rose, lavender and ivory, and two shades of pale turquoise. Colors of these types will add freshness to a pokey room

Patterns to Make a Room Look Bigger

Avoid bold patterns with garish colors, as such designs will appear to advance at the viewer. So, no big flower-heads or bold swirls. Go for a subtle pattern with small repeats or muted color-shifts. This will give the impression the patterns are far away, a similar effect to viewing distant hills on a misty day. This might include subtle or cool colors. Avoid hot and dark colors.

Ideal Colors for Small Rooms

The walls are the most important. Again avoid dark colors; be wary of maroon, chocolate, gold or orange. Such rich colors will appear to advance. Worse some colors will appear grey or darker than it actually is on a gloomy day. Reds are prone to appearing almost black as evening draws in. Blues are better, but if preferring a warm color, go for a red shade that has a blue bias, such as pink-sorbet, lavender or pale rose (see image).

This is because any color that has a blue bias will appear paler in poor light. Further options are fresh green (nothing swampy like olive) and pale yellows (not bias towards red, such as peach). And yes, magnolia might be a clichéd color choice, but does add a spacious and fresh feel to any interior.

Colors to Make your Room Appear Larger

Add punch to your color scheme by incorporating a simple, eye-catching design to create a sense of depth. If your landing terminates at a window, bring in a simple, bold linear design, such as plaid or a zebra pattern on the curtains, motif or a painting. Echoing this design on fittings close-by will create a deep perspective effect and offer a point of reference. This design might also be used on a rug or motif on the wall. Be careful to keep it simple and bold, not fussy. Similarly, avoid heavy drapes and over-fussy drapes. Blinds might be better.

Color Schemes for a Dark Hallway

To make your hallway appear larger, incorporate a pale ‘base’ or foundation color which may exhibit various shades throughout the area. This foundation color and its complementary (an opposing color, as shown on the diagram) can be used to add light and air to a cramped hallway. Ideal combinations might be pale cream and pale blue, blue-green and ivory, bluish-violet and magnolia. Incorporating bold patterns here and there will add a sense of perspective and depth to any hallway. Remember to keep the colors fresh. Avoid murky or swampy colors such as beige, brown, olive or terracotta.

Further Articles on Color Behavior

Color temperature of white

How colors advance and recede

Color behavior in light versus pigment

Image credit: Carl Stefan Bennet (1800-1878) Interior of Painter’s Room in Stockholm (1867) photo by Szilas in the National museum, Stockholm