How to Decorate a Room with Limited Natural Light

Designer Rebecca Atwood shares.

image
Potter
Living with Color: Inspiration and How-Tos to Brighten Up Your Home
amazon.com
$35.00
$24.99 (29% off)
SHOP NOW

"Color is alive." So begins the latest book from textile designer Rebecca Atwood. Following her successful take on pattern, Atwood is back with clever lessons relating to color. And, as that first line notes, part of the reason color is so complex is because it's ever-changing based on what it's paired with, what material it's on, and, perhaps most importantly, how it's lit.

While the entire book is a wealth of information on color, one lesson is especially useful: how to decorate a space with little or no natural light. You see, when we're selecting colors at the paint store, we're often looking at chips under bright, fluorescent lights—and when scrolling for inspiration on Pinterest, we're seeing colors backlit by a screen. So what is one to do when a space isn't all lit up? Here's what Atwood recommends.

image
A living room by Kayla Alpert in the book features overhead, sconce, and art lights.
Potter

Layer light sources.

If there aren't beams streaming in through the windows, artificial light is even more important than it usually is (which, any designer will tell you, is VERY important). This means you'll want multiple sources of light. "In general, each room should have different layers of lighting that break down into three categories," Atwood advises: "ambient (think overhead), task (think reading lamp, a light over a stove, etc.), or accent (supplementing ambient lighting, used to highlight artwork or other details in a room)."

Having multiple light sources allows you to adjust the level of light throughout the day, better mimicking natural light and ensuring your colors will look good at any time of day.

Find the right bulbs.

No, you shouldn't just be using whatever comes in the lamp. A light with the wrong lightbulb is basically a waste of light. Atwood encourages testing different options at different times of the day. "If you love how a color looks with natural light but your lightbulbs make it too yellow at night, find a different bulb," she says.

image
A bright fuchsia in Anthony Gianacakos’s home takes on interesting depth in low light,
Potter

Be creative with color.

A low-light room may inspire use of colors you didn't ever think you'd like. Says Atwood, "I would emphasize the importance of looking at colors in the space and even bringing in things that might be outside of your original idea to see how they feel. For example, if you're thinking about introducing green, bring a range of light, medium, and dark as well as some more yellow greens and more blue greens."

Be sure to consider different saturations, too: "Even just playing with a fan deck of paint in the space can give you ideas," Atwood says. "It might be that with your lighting you need a warmer or cooler version of the color, or a more saturated one because the limited light makes it more gray."

image
Lighter isn’t always better in low-lit rooms. Case in point? A matte eggplant hue looks invitingly moody in this dark space.
Potter

Steer clear of white.

Though it may seem like a bright white is a good way to make a dark space feel more open, that's not always the case. Atwood credits designer Emily Henderson with this realization. "Everyone loves white walls, but they can look very dirty in a space that doesn't get a lot of natural light," Atwood explains. "In that case, you're better off picking a midtone or intentional gray, not a white that ends up looking gray because of the lack of light."

Go matte

As always, finish is almost equally as important as color itself. Atwood advises opting for a matte finish in low-light rooms, since all the artificial light sources will create glare on a more high-gloss option.

Use mirrors!

What's the best way to open up your space? Reflect it! Atwood suggests adding mirrors, as well as white accents that help bounce light around the room.

Follow Miescisko on Instagram.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Design Inspiration