True or False? Painting Walls White Will Make A Room Appear Larger



Common’ Laurel… That one’s easy. Everyone knows that painting walls white will make a room appear larger. Right?

Sorry, but that answer is false.


Oh stop looking at me like I just told you that Little Bo Beep is a militant vegan! I mean, I know, I know… it’s EVERYWHERE! Believe me, I see it on a daily basis.

“if you want to make your room appear larger, paint it white or a pale color.”

And every time I read it, I get angrier and angrier because it is one of those interior design myths that’s proliferated into our mainstream thinking like two horny gerbils locked in a cage together for a month.

Here ya go. Here’s what I’m up against. Some magazine or blog will write an article or a post.

How To Make A Room Appear Larger.

That’s a great headline. Very compelling; everyone wants a small room to appear larger.

Here are some quotes from some articles I found.

“White Rooms Always Look The Largest. ” ~ Forbes

“Lighter colors tend to open up a space, while darker hues give a closed-in look.” ~ Bed Bath and Beyond

“Maximize your space by using light colors, specifically on the wall.” ~ Apartment Therapy

“For the illusion of a larger room, use a color scheme that’s light… ” ~ Lowes

Oh, I could keep going… Thousands of online magazines, forums and bloggers believe that painting a small room white will make it appear larger. Their justification is that white is reflective therefore creating “expanse,” while dark colors absorb light making a room feeling more closed in.

It sort of makes sense enough for most of it not to question it. Yes, it’s true. A light color will give the feeling of light and airiness because it reflects the light. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the size of the room. And reflections of light come forward making the room appear to be smaller by making the walls appear to be coming towards us.

Take the ubiquitous white ceiling. Yeah… Painting it white will make it appear to be lower.

When I go on paint consults I hear the same thing over and over.

“No, Laurel, we don’t want to paint our room Chelsea Gray because it’ll make the room look smaller.”

ARRRRGGGGHHH!!! (just in my head)

My face is smiling sweetly.

This is what I say to my clients when I see that they think I’m a clueless idiot.

“If you want your legs to look thinner do you wear, white pants or dark pants?”

Common’, I’m thinking waiting for the answer. It’s not a trick question. Don’t think too hard. (trying very hard not to look smug)

“Well… dark pants.” They smile back at me.

Still… I can see the wheels turning.

I know what they are thinking.

What that hell is she talking about? How does that translate to walls?

It’s the same principle.

Dark colors recede.

Light colors advance.

This is physics, not an opinion; not a debate; pure science. Here is the proof..

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 3.04.53 PM

The black recedes and the white projects. The white square also looks larger, doesn’t it?

It’s not. The two squares are the exact same size. And the two outer squares are also the same size. The white one appears to be thicker.

Okay, Laurel, so that means that because the white square looks larger, it means the room will look larger? Right?

Sorry, no. I get your thinking. But it’s not one wall. It’s six counting ceiling and floor.

Four walls and a ceiling painted white will look bigger and closer than they really are. Therefore the room will appear to be smaller.

Surely Bo Peep eats meat? No, I’m afraid to tell you that she doesn’t and never did. It’s a difficult nut for some people to swallow. I understand. It takes time to turn the ship around.

Images say it best.


Notice how the walls appear to go deep into space.

farrow-ball-black-walls-bedroomFarrow and Ball

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of accent walls. Two exceptions are when they are architecturally meaningful like in a dormer or in bedrooms, behind the bed.

manhatten-nest-bathroom-makeover-racoon-fur-white-tileManhattan Nest

This is a rental in NYC. You have to click on the link to see the before. Amazing what can happen with a little paint and a scrub brush. ;] Again, notice how the dark wall recedes and the white tile appears to be coming forward.


Notice, the white “popping” forward against the receding wall.

The+Makerista-Dining+Room-Black+and+Blue-Farrow+and+Ball-Williamsburg-ChandelierThe Makerista

Fabulous blog post (if you click on the link) explains her process and how she hung the cool chandelier. Notice how fabulous colors and the warm metal looks juxtaposed against the cool dark blue. Notice too, how she took the black all the way up and onto the ceiling. Love.

farrowball1Farrow and Ball Stiffkey Blue

A sea of infinite inky blue. I love how the color draws you in to its depths like looking into a deep dark ocean.

jeannette-whitson-hague-blue-kitchen-white-cabinets - room appear largerJeannette Whitson – Garden Variety Design

Farrow and Ball Hague Blue – Warm blues make my heart sing! And this one is divine!


I could not find an original credit and I realize that this space is pretty funky. But I actually love this look. It’s like it’s been there for 300 years, scrubbed but well-loved.

torontotothree.blogspotToronto To Three Blog

Above and below. Notice how the black ceilings have the feeling of deep space. The dark ceiling pulls it upward.

Elle Decor España lori monte-apartment-therapyvia apartment therapy

matt-carollo- Attic Fire Photography-farrow-ball-downpipeMatt Carollo via Lonny    photo: Attic Fire Photography

Another wonderful color Is Farrow and Ball Down Pipe. It is a charcoal gray with slightly blue-green undertones. I’ve never used it but there are many who have who consider it to be the greatest color ever!

little-green-notebook-bedroom-dark-wallsLittle Green Notebook.

Love the way the bright colors in the artwork pop out.


Another wonderful color from Farrow and Ball called London Clay which is a Brown-Gray, these days called “Bray” This is another fabulous color juxtaposed next to wood and art.

muskoka-our-boat-house-kendall-charcoalOur Boat House

An exterior shot using Benjamin Moore KENDALL CHARCOAL HC-166. This is another great, deep rich, warm charcoal color. Please notice how it appears to recede against the white which is projecting.

I hope I’ve won you over to the dark side. If so, will you gently correct folks who insist that light rooms look larger? They don’t. They look lighter, yes, but smaller. This  is why LARGE rooms (with a lot of light) look wonderful painted in a light color!

My point is… Don’t be afraid to paint a room as dark as you like because you’re afraid that it’ll look smaller. That is pure hokum!

painting-myth-make-rooms-smaller or room appear larger


if you want to make your room appear larger, paint it a pale color. no, no, no!”

Here are some other tips when using dark colors in your rooms to make the most of them.

  • Dark colors love white
  • Dark colors love brighter colors
  • Dark colors love mirrors and metal, especially gold
  • Black loves dark blue. Insanely.
  • Cooler dark colors will make the room seem the largest. (another myth is to paint a room a warm, bright color to make it larger but that’s a different post!
  • To make a ceiling appear higher, paint it darker than the walls and don’t forget the floors. Dark floors will appear to go deeper.
  • To make a room look longer. Paint the back wall dark and the side walls light.
  • Lighting the corners of a dark room is essential
  • While I love matte paint, for blacks and navy I generally favor an egg-shell or even a satin finish. However, the walls must be very smooth. No shiny orange peel please!

I realize that I’ve been talking a lot about black and dark shades recently. I am fine with you painting your home white. I could happily live in an all white house.

Years ago, however, I visited a home that was largely black and dark blue.

It was absolutely the most heavenly thing I’ve ever seen. Deep, enigmatic and very comforting. I could’ve lived there too. The kitchen was all white. I would’ve painted the walls a rich navy.

It’s just something to consider. How do you feel about it? Would you paint a room a very deep color? Black? Have you done so? Any tips I might’ve missed?




  • Mercedes Brennan - June 25, 2017 - 5:09 PM

    Although I agree with you that it makes a room look bigger, it has been my experience that dark rooms like you feature above are not places people wish to spend time in. I used to work for Windsor Smith and we were big into painting rooms black for a time. The thing was, people were not drawn to those rooms. They were too dark. Despite how beautiful they were, people preferred hanging out in the light colored rooms. There is one exception though: a dark paint in a powder or bathroom is the bomb. No one spends significant time in there anyway so it doesn’t matter if it’s dark.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog posts. They are super helpful!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - June 25, 2017 - 5:15 PM

      Hi Mercedes,

      That’s very interesting and I don’t disagree. It’s rare in my practice that I’ve gotten the opportunity to paint a room a dark color. But most of the time, the spaces are punctuated with windows, doors, furniture, etc. so I don’t recall any of them feeling that dark. Still, the majority of people prefer light and lovely. We did a killer black bathroom last year. I posted it here somewhere. Not the greatest photos, but it’s an idea.

  • Gorana - May 23, 2017 - 3:43 AM

    Thank you Laurel, very useful. One thing I struggle with is what to do with long and narrow rooms – i haven’t found a good blog post yet that deals with this issue in detail. Could be an interesting one to address, or if you know of a good blog post on this topic it would be great if you could share. Many thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Caroline Donnelly - April 7, 2017 - 8:08 AM

    I just wanted to say how wonderful I think this particular blog post is !! I moved into an 1890 home in 2002. I had never ever decorated or worked with 12 ft ceilings or renovated such an amazing space. I have a large amount of art work and a house full of Persian rugs. I chose deep wonderful colors for many of the walls . We added huge crown molding where it was absent and had it painted a rich cream. I used Belgian Chocolate in the DR, True Navy in the sitting room, Thyme green in the kitchen ( it is an interior room with cream cabinets) , Terra cotta in the master suite, and another version of the Terra cotta in the TINY 1/2 bath. Everyone says it is amazing. It flows due to the art and rugs. After all these years I have never wanted to re-paint. The art pops on the walls. I always cringe when folks say they must paint walls a bland white or beige to showcase art….NO! I just found your blog due to a post on Garden Web referencing your use of colors. I look forward to reading more. I am not going to move or change anything in my current house but I truly feel uplifted reading your honest comments and looking at your fabulous pics. Thank you ! CarolineReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - April 7, 2017 - 2:52 PM

      Hi Caroline,

      Hooray for the Garden Web! And so glad that you chose gorgeous colors that work beautifully for your home and furnishings!

      There are a lot of erroneous ideas out there, but this gives me a great idea for a blog post. So, thank you for that!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - March 8, 2017 - 6:42 PM

    This is the first time I’ve ever asked for advice on a blog, but I’d love to hear your professional opinion! I’m painting the back wall/alcove of my family room black panther to hide my monstrosity of a TV which my husband adores. 🙂 that same wall has a door to my office (which is currently white and trimmed out in white) and I was wondering if I should also also paint the door and trim to make that disappear as well so the black wall isn’t all broken up. I also want to paint the crown black, but is that going too far? And would you paint it in a different finish? My walls are a crummy orange peel and I’m thinking about slip coating them. But then where do you stop… It’s never ending!! Haha Thanks for your amazing blog and freely given advice, I love it ALL! Sarah in BoiseReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 8, 2017 - 10:16 PM

      Hi Sarah,

      I’m sorry but the advice ends with the post. There is a little note which no one sees as close to the comment box as I can get it. No worries. It’s dozens every week. And I’m not doing any consultations at this time but if I were, there’s a hefty fee. Thank you for your understanding.ReplyCancel

      • Sarah - March 9, 2017 - 8:27 PM

        Sorry I did in fact miss that little tidbit!! This post was a great starting off point for me, however, so thank you. I’m excited to work here locally with an interior designer who also loves your blog. 🙂 I look forward to all of your posts, your writing style is so engaging and authentic. Big thumbs up.ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - March 9, 2017 - 9:11 PM

          Hi Sarah,

          No worries at all! And thanks so much for your kind words!

  • Karen Graf - February 23, 2017 - 10:10 AM

    Hi Laurel! I just stumbled upon your blog and am really inspired by your posts! Just curious, we are renovating an 1800’s all brick home in St Charles IL, needed to update all of the electrical so we will cover the gaping holes in the walls with board and batten, black kitchen with brass accents, exposed all of the original brick (and no uppers of course!). What white would you use for the batten in the LR (5′ high)and what dark (black? blue?) would you use above the batten to the ceiling? I have some ideas but just gotta know what you would pick! Love your style girl!!!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 23, 2017 - 10:58 AM

      Thanks so much Karen. It’s very difficult because I get a lot of notes like yours but I can’t give out colors unless I’m standing right there.

      But since that’s not going to happen, please consider purchasing my paint collection/palette product. I have all of my favorite whites, dark blues and blacks included. You can read more about it here.

      (the first part is about the shopping guide, Laurel’s Rolodex but you can skip over that, if not interested)ReplyCancel

  • Annie - January 27, 2017 - 9:08 PM

    We recently bought a very large home and paint was my new best friend due to our budget. I painted a smaller, soon-to-be dining room SW roycroft Bottle Green, which is a deep, cool hunter green color.We painted the woodwork as well, as it seemed to blend the room together. It’s a 70s house and I thought it would be interesting and a period color. I absolutely love it! I have to yet work on the lighting, but we don’t live there yet 🙂 The question I have for you is regarding flooring. I have always *heard* that dark flooring could make a space (especially with 8′ ceilings) feel claustrophobic. Is that because they are talking about having light wall against the dark floor? We need to replace the flooring in many rooms and we really like darker flooring, but we were leaning towards grays.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - January 28, 2017 - 12:34 AM

      Hi Annie,

      I’m sorry, I can’t see what you are talking about specifically and cannot give advice without being there. My recommendation would be to hire a local designer, if you’re struggling. ReplyCancel

  • Cynthia Quant - July 10, 2016 - 10:21 PM

    I have loved your blog, and have learned more in the short 2 months since I’ve discovered it than in the 10 years I’ve been trying to learn about decorating. Thank you for sharing all your info!

    I have one “duh” question…when you discuss a “north-facing room” or an “east facing room” are you referring to the window placement in the room (the main window faces north, for example) or are you speaking of the actual location of the room in the home layout, regardless of which wall has a window?

    Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 10, 2016 - 10:28 PM

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks so much!

      That’s a good question. My understanding is that it refers to the direction the window(s) is facing.

      One thing I’ve discovered is that there can be bright north facing rooms and dark south facing rooms. Just depends on the terrain, trees, other buildings, time of year, time of day… Then, the windows. Are they big little, high, low?

      That’s why I get a little bit crazy when I hear -“west facing rooms get yellow warm light.”

      Well, not in the morning and not on a cloudy/rainy day. That is why I take those rules with a grain of something. And that is not to say that a north facing room won’t make everything go gray-green. They often do.ReplyCancel

  • Katie - April 26, 2016 - 4:12 PM

    Does this rule applies to kitchens, too? We are renovating our small, but open kitchen, and I am pushing for black shaker style cabinets, while my husband wants traditional white. The kitchen itself is a narrow u-shape, that is open to a common living/dining area, with a peninsula on one of the long sides of the U. It would be great if the wall of cabinets could visually recede to make the kitchen appear larger. Do you think dark cabinets with a light countertop and backsplash would do the trick? Or the opposite?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - April 26, 2016 - 5:03 PM

      Well… Here’s the thing. I really cannot stand upper cabinets unless they are floor to ceiling without a counter. I’ve written about this numerous times.

      While dark colors recede, they are also weightier. So for the theory to work, nearly everything needs to be dark.

      Frankly, I’m with hubs. I adore white kitchens. Although a white kitchen with a black butler’s pantry could be sweet, but it needs to be very separate from everything. Yours sounds open and I think the black would be a mistake in that case. Now, if you had no upper cabinets and only shelves, that might be different, but that’s probably not the case. In any case, I don’t think that protruding dark cabinets will make the space feel larger.

      One trick that can work for a narrow space is to paint one side dark—IF that makes sense and since I can’t see your space, I can’t say. Also a mirrored backsplash would make the space feel more expansive and brighter. But I would only do a mirrored backsplash with dark cabinets not white. ReplyCancel

  • Lynette - March 6, 2016 - 8:46 AM

    Dear Laurel,
    Here in NYC we studio dwellers are pretty envious of the capacious rooms featured yonder in Weatchester… the tiny powder rooms your readers speak of are bigger that my 236 sqft dark, ground floor, east facing (or should I say light shaft facing) pre-war Manhattan studio! I’d love you to do a blog post for people like us, where the man/gal cave is our only cave – with 8′ minus ceilings – and who will probably spend the rest of our lives in it (not every Manhattanite gets to retire in a triplex or a mansion upstate). It will really make a difference – and consider doing say, a weekend whistle stop of consults down here!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 6, 2016 - 9:03 AM

      Oh Lynette, I lived in the city for 14 years. My smallest place was 500 sq feet and for 5 years had a roommate! That was sometimes painful!

      Come up to Bronxville! It’s 30 minutes into GCS. You can walk to the train. I’m in Yonkers but B’ville PO, literally 500 feet from the B’ville border. It’s beautiful here. You can get a place 3 times bigger for under 200k!

      Did you see this post, however? It’s about tiny homes!

  • Julie - February 10, 2016 - 8:21 PM

    Design dilemma. I live in one of those box style late 60’s homes…. two stories, you know the one… thousands of them in our area. My living room is l shaped with a large fireplace on the back wall and a short l shape wall where the TV is. On the front wall is a large window. There is a mountain in front of us, so we have shady sunlight. I always have a hard tie with choosing colours because of the fireplace (stone all the way to the ceiling) and the TV (no where else to put it. I really love french blue and white and have a taupe couch. I had painted my TV chocolate brown when all that was abuzz, and really want to change it up. We have dark wood laminate (no judging!) and the room feels a bit dreary…lighting is also an issue… help pleaseReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 10, 2016 - 8:26 PM

      Hi Julie,

      It sounds like you could use some professional design help as there are a lot of issues here. I wish I could help you, but I’m not doing long-distance consults at this time.ReplyCancel

  • Jill - December 28, 2015 - 12:01 PM

    Re; The dark vs. light issue, does a medium color have any effect on our perception of the size of the space? Do medium colors recede more than light colors, and less than dark colors? I have a north east facing first floor living room painted in a blah shade of cream that goes gray in a heartbeat. It opens to the dining room, which is south facing and well lit. The rest of the house has enough light to handle light colors well, so I’m reluctant to paint only the one space in a very dark color. I can see the living room, however, in a medium color.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - December 29, 2015 - 1:25 AM

      Hi Jill,

      Yes, a medium color will recede more than white. But the best trick to make a room appear larger is with a big mirror! Mirrors also expand the light. And mirrors with darker walls are stunning, IMO. You can paint one room a dark color but only if that dark color exists in the other adjacent rooms and viceversa. Hard to give advice without seeing things and I’m not doing that right now, in any case. But your instincts sound great!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie - September 15, 2015 - 12:22 PM

    We are remodeling a house with a light fireplace brick (whole wall, raised hearth) and dark paneling.

    If we replace the paneling, I think we need dark paint on all but the window wall (big panes). The fireplace needs the contrast around it and the balance of light opposite it? Guess we try it and see.

    A designer wanted to make it all white. I’m not feeling that.ReplyCancel

  • janice parsley - September 1, 2015 - 8:24 AM

    Would you paint oak books shelves white in a living room that is dark?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - September 1, 2015 - 9:18 AM

      I would always paint oak bookshelves. Otherwise, I can’t comment about whether they should be white or some other color without seeing the room. I’m sorry, but at this time am no longer doing paint consultations.ReplyCancel

  • kate baron - July 11, 2015 - 2:07 PM


    Great post!!! You really hit it home with the frame example. Years ago I had my foyer, which is a large, south facing, flooded with light room, painted a medium teracotta color. Can’t say I loved the color itself but the intensity against the trim gave the room so much depth. Two years ago I had it painted SW Sea Salt. Niice color for a kids room or bath but what a mistake in my foyer!! The room is so bright that when you walk in the front door the walls seems to hit you in the face!!!! It lost it’s depth and my trim (and there is a lot of it) looks less substantial. After this post I think I know that this room needs painted a richer color once again. I will have to contact you directly to get help on the color. Do I just go through the paypal thing on the sidebar??ReplyCancel

  • deborah main - July 9, 2015 - 11:52 PM

    Stumbled upon your blog through LOVE it!! Repainting walls but not sure what. Love to hear color experts debate pros/cons of color. Love your writing style for sure. Love questioning all were taught to believe. Keep up the great work!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 10, 2015 - 12:53 AM

      Hi Deborah,

      So happy to see you here! Thank you so much. I’m immensely flattered. I didn’t realize that I had any kind of listing on todl. It’s not something I use, but have subscribed for years and years.

      I checked out your website and your pillows are gorgeous! Do you come to the New York Now Show? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s not a very good show, unfortunately. It was a lot better before the recession but after, it’s rapidly gone down hill. ReplyCancel

  • Jo - July 9, 2015 - 12:28 PM

    Laurel, as a veteran designer of 40 years, I would have to agree with Kim — it’s not so much light or dark that determines how large a room feels, as it is how warm or cool the color is. Staying just within the white family, a white with blue undertones will make a space feel larger than a white with yellow undertones. Same with dark colors. I know in theory, dark recedes and light advances, but I find it to be the theory most often proven wrong, because the greatest sense of spatial “floating” comes from both white, the presence of all color, and also from black, the absence of color. It is only when we add the colors of the rainbow — the actual electromagnetic spectrum the eye perceives (which has neither black or white in it), that we get a sense of how we relate to white or black, and how they affect us EMOTIONALLY. Do we feel enfolded and nurtured (warm earthy undertones), or do we feel light and airy (cool undertones of sky and water). When we’re closed in a room with no windows, doors, or artificial light, it doesn’t matter what color the walls are, we have no sense of how large the room is. In conclusion, our sense of DIMENSION, is based on available light source, not color. Our sense of SPATIAL RELATIONSHIP is purely emotional and is based on the three basic colors: red, yellow, and blue, and how they act as undertones when added to white or black. All very scientific, isn’t it?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 10, 2015 - 12:45 AM

      Thank you for all of that Jo. It’s all very interesting. And as you said the colors surrounding us can affect as emotionally, so it’s really an important aspect of our surroundings! I’m not fond of whites with blue undertones. I guess I feel they look icy. But definitely cool colors recede. It’s kind of like how I feel in the winter. shrunken. And swollen in the summer. :]ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 9, 2015 - 10:05 AM

    Thank you Laurel! It’s refreshing to find someone who gets it! The part I wish people understood the most is about the warm and/or bright colors advancing, cool receding, whether they be dark or light. And I’ve always felt I could not use a dark color on walls in a large room for some reason, but didn’t know why. I guess it would be too much ‘dark’ on too much of an expanse of space. I have a small bedroom painted James River Gray, LRV 30, I use pure white with it, a few accents in bright colors, and aged brass as the metal. It looks gorgeous, and will look even better when I add more light to the corners per your suggestion, thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 10, 2015 - 12:41 AM

      Hi Kim,

      Yes, that’s true. I briefly mentioned something in the bullet points but felt it was too much to get into for this post. Thanks for the endorsement for James River Gray. I always love hearing when someone has had success with a color!ReplyCancel

  • SL - July 9, 2015 - 7:55 AM

    Hi Laurel
    Great blog. Read it all the time. Can you please give your fan base some insights on painting floors? Mine are in desperate need of an upgrade. What are the options for staining, painting and/or stenciling an existing floor? Do I have to sand? Do your dark vs. light color comments apply to underfoot too?
    Thanks a million.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 10, 2015 - 12:38 AM

      Hi SL,

      That’s a great idea! Thank you. But in answer to your question. Yes, a dark floor will also recede, however, I don’t think it really changes the height perception in a room.ReplyCancel

  • S.J. - July 8, 2015 - 10:59 PM

    Years ago, in our 8th house, I painted our family room a color that a dear friend had used successfully. She said this color “went” with everything. This friend has fabulous taste and this color looked great in her home. Our room was quite large and had both stationary and usable French doors. The color is called “Zinc” and it’s by Pratt and Lambert. Not sure they even have it anymore. I’d call it a lovely deep, rich brownish charcoal but with a dash of green, too. All of our art work plus my zillions of fabrics and textiles looked incredible with it. I really miss it.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 9, 2015 - 12:09 PM

      Hi Sally,

      Yes! They still make it and it is a wonderful color. I love those grayish brownish greenish shades, or “bray” as they are wonderful neutrals that make a wonderful backdrop for everything else!ReplyCancel

  • bfish - July 8, 2015 - 10:51 PM

    Oh, I neglected to mention in my earlier comment that years ago we painted our bedroom eggplant purple (some BM color). We’ve never regretted it. Yeah it’s like a cave but it’s the most inviting place for sleeping, cuddling and whatever. We don’t use our bedroom for watching TV or reading so it is solely intended as a peaceful sanctuary. (Trim is white and ceiling is pale yellow; furnishings are dark wood and cream/white/beige/black with some purple/pink/red in there too.)ReplyCancel

  • bfish - July 8, 2015 - 10:42 PM

    Several years ago I had this uncontrollable urge to paint our living room ceiling dark brown (actually reddish brown). There is a substantial white crown molding and the walls are kind of between a light olive and acid green. I’m pleased with it but can’t say that it makes the ceiling look higher (it’s okay though as ceilings are almost 9 1/2′). The exact same height ceiling looks much higher in our entry hall which has a pale aqua blue ceiling, white crown and trim, and saffron walls.

    The biggest game changer, relative to how the size of the room appears to be stretched, is built-in bookcases. The floor-to-ceiling one in the entry hall elongates the wall height while a waist-high built-in in the LR elongates the width of one wall. (Trim and built-ins everywhere in these rooms is white). The effect of the latter bookcase on the perceived size of the room is quite substantial and has really gotten me thinking a lot more about how different shapes and configurations impact what we see, both in the house and in the garden.

    I’m not disagreeing with you at all, as I tried all white for awhile in both the LR and the entry, and got bored with the minimalist look after a few years. With the more intense colors and elimination of white ceilings also, these rooms certainly don’t look any smaller than they did when white. I also can’t really say they look bigger, just different and more pleasing to me and more reflective of my preferred aesthetic.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 9, 2015 - 11:58 AM

      Hi Barb,

      With a ceiling that’s already high, it’s not really in the line of vision unless it’s a very large room, so it wouldn’t apply as much. Also, warm colors, even if dark will not recede as much as a cool dark color. My old living room was also a pale aqua blue and it definitely lifted the ceiling higher. I loved it! If the walls are light and the ceiling is low, I would not paint the ceiling very very dark because I think that the contrast would be jarring. That is unless it’s a very small room like a powder room.ReplyCancel

  • Brenda - July 8, 2015 - 9:59 PM

    I have always wondered about this one…dark recedes, right? But every where you turn they say light = bigger. In our last house the basement family room was long and narrow and painted light beiges. I picked a darkish grey for the long wall and we put. Large open shelf with tv in the middle on it. It was awesome – cozy but also made the room proportions seem better.

    I happended on your wonderful blog just as we were chooisng colours for our new house. I was inspired by your “No Fail” posts – especicially the one about dark colours bedrooms = more sex LOL. I didn’t have the courage to go black or do the whole room but painted the bed wall narragansett green HC-157 and I love it! (and you were right;))ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 9, 2015 - 11:53 AM

      Hi Brenda,

      A lot of people run on auto-pilot. They hear something once and assume it’s accurate. Then, it mushrooms until the majority are going along with it and hearing it over and over. I didn’t say this in the post but in my research, I did find others who are dispelling the myth as I am and other experienced designers and I have had this convo. I’ve never had one tell me that they thought this was wrong. It’s people who are not designers who are writing editorials and some blogs who are getting it wrong. Glad to know the paint color is working nicely for you. ;]ReplyCancel

  • Mari - July 8, 2015 - 9:28 PM

    So happy to have stumbled across your blog — wonderful images and very sassy editorial.

    We have a small (7.5′ x 9′), windowless galley kitchen in our rental. The current wall and ceiling color is a very dreary cream yellow, lovingly accentuated by an overhead fluorescent fixture.

    If my husband didn’t object I would go with BM Tempest or BM Schooner on the walls (plus white ceiling) hoping it would contrast with the builder-grade but not totally awful oak cabinets and then add either pendant or other spot lighting.

    Instead we are compromising with BM White Water (a grayish blue) for the walls and BM Chantilly Lace for the ceiling.

    When I get up the courage to defy the management I will call in a tile person to replace our cracked vinyl tile flooring with Moroccan-style blue-and-white ceramic.

    Our — thank God — spacious living room will be walls & ceilings in Chantilly Lace with White Dove trim and Pink Damask/White Dove for the bedroom.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 9, 2015 - 11:47 AM

      Hi Mari,

      Thanks for the kind words. Hopefully, you have made a nice sample of White Water with two coats of paint on some poster board. And then you need to tape it to the wall next to the cabinets after it dries. That shade can read as a lavender, but it might be fine in your lighting. Better to be safe.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - July 8, 2015 - 9:00 PM

    I just don’t know—i have absolutely no decorating credentials, and maybe I’ve been brainwashed, but dark rooms make me think “cave” and “cozy” which equals small in my mind. My current decorating delima is a beach condo we are redoing. The ceilings are 8′ and 7′ in this 2 bedroom 1300 sq ft condo. I am planning to paint the entire condo in BM white dove. Satin finish. I’ve had all the walls and ceiling smoothed. Should I add color instead?!?! No I’m really second guessing myself!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 8, 2015 - 9:36 PM

      Hi Lisa,

      Dark rooms can look bad with improper lighting. Or sometimes it’s just not a good color! Not all dark colors are good just as not all light colors. And light rooms also need to be lit properly.

      The cozy comes from everything else that’s in the room which is set off by the deep color. A dark room can feel mighty cold with nothing else in it.

      I can’t say without seeing what your place looks like and that would have to be with my paint consultation service. If interested, please contact me for pricing.

      I don’t recommend the satin finish for the walls. It tends to look cheap. The matte finish is washable if that’s your concern. With deeper colors, you could do statin, but not white unless it’s wood trim, doors, etc.ReplyCancel

  • Laurie - July 8, 2015 - 8:32 PM

    So true. I painted a small office in my house a dark forest green and added an oak hardwood floor (the wood trim is a honey/medium stain). It made the room appear larger even with the reading chair in one corner and a substantial desk/cabinet combo that fits across two walls (at a right angle). The room was painted a pale yellowish cream with a blue carpet when we moved in. It looked claustrophobic then. It’s a cozy man cave/home office now.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 8, 2015 - 9:27 PM

      Hi Laurie,

      I’ll have to do another post about this, but bright colors also make a room look smaller. Hot colors, smaller… Cool colors bigger.

      The old colors sound pretty horrid together. Thanks for stopping by! ReplyCancel

  • Ellen - July 8, 2015 - 8:12 PM

    I think you have pretty well covered it. I shared this on Google+ because I think you are so right. I do think that black or very dark walls need artfully designed lighting.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 8, 2015 - 9:24 PM

      Thank you so much Ellen for sharing! Much appreciated! Yeah… lighting is very important. ReplyCancel

  • Teri - July 8, 2015 - 8:10 PM

    I have pretty much decided on charcoal for my family room walls. It is a narrow room, appx. 12 x 20, and is in the basement, walkout, no windows, just sliding glass doors facing north. It is painted an abominable shade of brown right now. The downstairs trim is still honey oak, although I have completed the upstairs in white. I am sick of painting trim. The ceilings are whitish popcorn, and will stay that way since it cost a lot just to redo the bedroom ceiling. There is no way to scrape it without sheetrocking it. Laurel, do you think the charcoal will look okay with honey oak trim, and since the room is a little like a tunnel, am I on the right track?ReplyCancel

  • Michele - July 8, 2015 - 7:57 PM

    Great post, Laurel. We have been remodeling our entire home to simplify and clean the clutter. We went from dark colors throughout to very light grey/white walls and a lot less furniture. We’re loving it not because it looks bigger but because it looks cleaner, more calming. But for the bedroom, I am using navy and white and considering navy walls. My room is fairly large, though, with three normal size west-facing windows and orange peel texture. What do you think?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 8, 2015 - 9:23 PM

      Well… I’d probably do a skim coat on the walls, for starters. Once the orange peel starts it begins to turn into something really scary. I love navy with lots of white. White linen drapes, etc. But it sounds like the walls need a number done on them before the final color goes up.ReplyCancel

      • Rebecca Meals - November 21, 2016 - 12:34 PM

        Laurel, we are also remodeling, like Michele. We are about to put up drywall, and I was going to do some sort of texture, but I keep seeing you mention orange peel in a negative way. I’m starting to see that many of these beautiful homes don’t have the highly textured walls that are common in new construction, like orange peel or knockdown. So, my question is, what would you recommend? We are tearing out all of the nasty “trailer home” paneling, knotty pine “lawyers” panelling, and flat sheet paneling, and replacing it with drywall throughout the house. It’s a 1960s ranch, if that makes a difference.

        Also…if you don’t mind, I have one more question. I see how you’ve added interest in some of your rooms by adding in moldings, or wainscoting. I’d like to do something like that, but I don’t want an architectural identity crisis. How do you turn an ugly 1960s ranch into something with some interest and character? There is cheap, builder-grade base and case, a small, cheap crown molding that simply serves to cover the seam from the paneling (which we’re replacing with drywall, like I said), and low 8-foot ceilings. Since we’re tearing it down to the studs, we have the opportunity to update all the surfaces, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to do this without it looking awkward. Any ideas? Is there a simple answer, or does it depend on my house? I’m really hoping it’s a simple answer so I can have a jumping off point to start planning how I’m going to do the texture on the walls and all the trim work.ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - November 22, 2016 - 12:24 PM

          Hi Rebecca,

          That would be a good blog post as it is quite common that homes are too plain which I think is a problem. It’s common with builder-grade bare-bones homes, too. The term “orange peel” is used to mean walls that have been painted over numerous times with a roller and each time, there’s a build up of paint which causes orange-peel-like bumps. New walls should be smooth. I do not know the term “knockdown.”

        • Shelby - May 18, 2017 - 11:00 AM

          I realize I’m super late to the party (can’t stop reading old posts today!), but in case anyone else had the same question as Rebecca, our contractors in Texas would call the traditional smooth finish a “level 5” or “museum” finish.
          Unfortunately, it is typically significantly more expensive than the standard knockdown here, but in a classic home, it does make quite a bit of difference in look.

        • Laurel Bern - May 18, 2017 - 3:51 PM

          Hi Shelby,

          Read away! We have your Texas heat today or at least something approaching it. It does get far muggier here though and there is a nice breeze.

          Thanks for the info too!

        • Rebecca Meals - November 22, 2016 - 4:12 PM


          I believe the terms are regional. In Texas, orange peel is a spray on texture applied to drywall. Then it is painted. Here is an example:


          Knockdown texture is also a spray texture, but it is heavier and gloppy, and then when it dries a bit, it is literally knocked down flat with a trowel. Here is an example:

          These are the common ways to finish drywall in this region. I have rarely seen anything else. I wonder what it is that people do in your neck of the woods? Do they use drywall with some sort of plaster skim coat? I’m not sure, and I’m trying to figure out what to ask a contractor to do that will achieve the look that you commonly have in your area. As I said, regional definitions of terms are different, so I’m trying to figure out what exactly y’all do (y’all…that really gives away that I’m from Texas, haha!).

          I’m intrigued that you may do a blog post on adding character to plain homes. I’m drawn to colonial styles like Georgian architecture. That’s not common in Texas though because this area wasn’t settled until the mid-late 19th century. We commonly have some old victorians from the late 1800s, then the turn of the century gave us some craftsman style and some four square. Typically, though, what you see if my area is a whole bunch of mid-century ranch houses that lack any character whatsoever. They are known for awful horizontal window openings. For example, my house has 4 rooms in it that have two 42″ X 60″ windows mulled together, created one large window opening measuring 84″ wide and 60″ tall. They are quite squatty. They layouts are also all over the place. There is a lot of wasted space, tiny closets, boxy designs, and lots of “trailer home” dark paneling. Oh, and orange-stained wood EVERYWHERE. My entire kitchen is like this. It’s horrible.

          When it comes to adding character, I typically try to stay within the architectural style of the home. As an example, there’s a cute little arts and crafts of Main Street in my town. Somebody bought it and completely remodeled it, which I was excited about. When I saw the pictures on MLS, guess what they had done? Gotten rid of all the original craftsman windows and replaced with vinyl with faux grids, put “ranch” (not ranch style house, but Texas western ranch style) cedar everywhere, and even put in a Texas star front door instead of the craftsman door that was there. It’s ridiculous! They completely missed the character and charm of the house, and now it has an identity crisis. I’m afraid of doing that with my house. Am I going to put up wainscoting and chair rails and crown molding in a 1960s ranch style house? I have no idea. I’m really worried it’s going to have an identity crisis like the house I mentioned above. At what point do you have to admit that there is little hope for a home, know what I mean?

          As always, thank you for your blog posts, Laurel! I’ve been poring over them for hours on end as I plan this remodel (though honestly I think I’m at a loss and will have to hire an interior decorator as bad as this place is…and I don’t have any local.) 🙁

        • Laurel Bern - November 22, 2016 - 6:57 PM

          Hi Rebecca,

          Oh wow! Learn something new every day. And yes, it’s regional. We don’t do anything like that — ever. But Texas interiors often try to resemble plaster or stucco like all of the southwest. I just had never heard those terms before.

          We prime and paint and it’s a smooth finish. Older homes do often have plaster walls, but generally, it’s still a more even finish than what you showed me.