Let there be light – 6 interior design tricks to brighten up a dark room

Given the choice, we would all live in bright, airy rooms flooded with sunlight. But what if your bedroom or living room is a gloomy place to be, even in the middle of a sunny day? I asked the interior designers at Pfeiffer Design for advice on how to deal with dull and dreary rooms.

 

  • Maximise the light coming in

 

There may be nothing you can do about poky windows, a north facing room or a light obstruction outside, but you can make the most of what you do have control over.

Take a look outside the window to see if there are any trees or bushes blocking the light from coming in. If so, a regular trim should make a big difference. Resist the temptation to plant trees on the southern side of the house as the summer sun may be too high for the tree to give shade while the winter foliage will block the light.

Next, check the window itself – has it perhaps been fitted with an external security grille or window shutters? Think about whether these can be removed to let more light in.

Finally, it should go without saying that windows should be sparkling clean at all times. Dirty or dusty windows can have a major effect on how much light streams into the room.

 

  • Do away with heavy window dressings

 

Dark or heavy curtains may be a beautiful interiors feature but be warned: they will absorb the light. Clearly, a light-challenged room is not the place for heavy curtains or other window coverings that obstruct the little natural light that comes in through the windows.

A much better solution is to use sheer window dressings, with translucent shades that will allow sunlight to spread through the room. Sheer curtains are made from voile or chiffon, a modern version of the traditional net curtain and particularly useful to maintain extra privacy. To provide a feeling of space, choose light colours.

Alternatively, use roller blinds or pleated blinds that take up minimal space when pulled up and can be lowered for privacy when needed.

 

  • Use mirrors to reflect the light

 

How do you double the amount of light coming into the room? By reflecting it off a mirror or other reflective surface. A large mirror, or collection of smaller mirrors, ideally positioned directly opposite the largest or sunniest window in the room will help to bounce light around the space, dispelling the gloom.

You can also incorporate other shiny surfaces into your interior design scheme. From translucent furniture, glass, metallic finishes and mirrored surfaces on furniture and accessories, it will all add to the amount and distribution of light in the room.

A word of caution: You may reasonably think that choosing silk emulsion, shiny wall finishes or wallpaper has the same effect but this isn’t the case. Glossy walls don’t reflect the light equally and can cause glare. Instead, choose matte wall finishes that reflect the light in every direction.

 

  • Add artificial lighting

 

If the room isn’t receiving enough natural light, you will have to provide additional lighting to improve the ambience. But don’t think one central ceiling light or table lamp will solve the problem. A single light source creates shadow which can give the room a gloomy and downright creepy appearance rather than the cosy glow you may be hoping for.

Lighting design is an often overlooked and underrated aspect of interior design. Clever lighting can have a huge impact on the room – it can enhance the colour of the décor, add warmth and atmosphere. Most lighting schemes recommend 3 types of lighting that should be used in combination to illuminate the room: general (ambient) lighting, task lighting and accent or feature lighting.

Choose a ceiling fixture for ambient light, perhaps supplemented by floor standing uplighters to make up for lack of light at dusk and beyond. Add some table lamps in strategic positions such as by the sofa or bedside. Also consider the use of full spectrum daylight bulbs that can provide a similar level of brightness to sunlight.

 

  • Choose the right wall colour

 

Common sense dictates that a white or neutral colour scheme works best for small spaces since lighter colours reflect more of the light, making the space appear bigger. However, when it comes to a dark room, white and off-whites may not be the best solution as there isn’t sufficient light to start with. Rather than looking bright and cheery, you may find that your walls will take on a grey, shadowy appearance that will leave the colour drab and unappealing.

A better way to inject colour and warmth into the room is to choose warm, rich mid-tone paint colours for your walls that don’t need the reflected light to look good. Alternatively, experiment with bright colours – don’t worry, they won’t look quite as intense in a room with little natural daylight.

 

  • Use furniture and accessories to your advantage

 

Whether you are furnishing a bedroom or reception room, it’s important for the design to come together to create a warm and welcoming space. Don’t use dark, heavy furniture or display large, darker coloured paintings or posters on the wall as they will absorb the little natural light that comes into the room.

Having painted the walls in a bright or saturated mid-tone colour, it’s much better to add some contrast with furniture in a medium finish. Use soft furnishings such as carpets, curtains, cushions or bedding in white or light colours for a brightening effect to make the most of the light while keeping the room scheme interesting. 

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