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How to Make Dark Rooms Look Brighter With Paint

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Learn how to choose paint colors for dark rooms to make them look brighter! You might also be interested in how I picked the perfect white paint for a dark room!

How to choose paint colors for dark rooms

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You know how sometimes you get on Pinterest to search for a specific subject and before you know it, three hours have passed and you’re looking at completely unrelated information?

That’s exactly how I ran across an article about choosing paint colors for dark rooms. This article blew my mind.

I’ve been painting rooms for a while and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about paint and choosing paint colors. I know all about colors leaning towards green or red. I know that not all whites are the same. I know all about color theory.

However, my current house gives me trouble and I’ve never been able to figure out why until now. Now that I know, I want to scream from the rooftops: this is how to choose paint colors for dark rooms!!!

I live in the forest, surrounded by trees. We have pockets of sunshine, but for the most part, we have a lot of shade. This is lovely in the summer when our house is 10-15 degrees cooler than everywhere else, but it sucks for picking out paint colors.

This whole time, I have been thinking that the green of the trees was reflecting weirdly and making the paint colors look dark.

dark walls
Living room, without color correction, to show how the room looks and feels in real life.

You’re probably thinking, duh! Paint the rooms a lighter color. But the first floor of my house is painted Benjamin Moore Galt Blue and Wickham Gray. They’re both very light colors that I would describe as pastels. So why do they suck up so much light?

This post by Kylie M. Interiors shed a lot of light on the subject (pun intended!) Kylie’s post was the first I had ever read that mentioned LRV.

What is LRV?

LRV stands for light reflection value and refers to how much light is reflected. The scale is 0-100, with 0 being dark and 100 being bright. She recommends colors with an LRV above 65. I think I need at least 70 for my house.

Without even looking it up, I knew that my beloved Galt Blue was lower than that. It’s barely lower, but it does make a difference.

Wickham Gray, on the other hand, has an LRV of 68, which is pretty impressive for a gray. Gray is made from white and black, so most grays have low LRVs.

In other words, just because a color is a pastel doesn’t mean that it will make your house feel brighter!

What Color Reflects the Most Light?

Technically, white reflects the most light. But all whites are not equally reflective. 

Choosing the Best Paint Colors for Dark Rooms

I have a lot of rooms to repaint in the next few months, so I spread out my collection of paint chips. I collect these like normal people collect pottery (except I also collect that.)

All major brands are represented here, but only the Sherwin Williams Paints from Lowes have the LRV clearly listed on the back. I knew there was a reason that I loved that line. However, most paint companies list the LRV on their websites.

Choosing a paint color with a high LRV can help make a dark room look brighter.

Here, you can see how low the Navy blues are.

LRV for navys

Naval has an LRV of 4, which means it sucks up all of the light in the room. I have this color in my basement. 

LRV for grays

Here are some light grays.

LRV for aquas

And some aquas, which are all too dark. These are just colors that I already had in my stash of paint chips. It looks like I’ll be collecting a few more.

I found this information incredibly helpful and thought others might, too. Choosing paint colors just got a little easier for those with small, dark rooms.

Check out this post about how to choose white paint!

Other Ways to Brighten a Room Without Paint

I have an entire post on brightening a dark room, so be sure to check that out.

  • Mirrors placed across windows or light sources
  • Light-colored decor like rugs and curtains
  • Shiny surfaces to reflect light
  • Add more lighting. This can involve complex changes such as adding a new light fixture or as simple as changing out the bulbs. I really like daylight LED bulbs for really dark spaces. (They’re a bit overwhelming in tiny spaces but perfect in a basement.)
  • Declutter. Sometimes, removing stuff has the ability to make a room feel larger and brighter

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  1. Well dang.,..that totally makes sense! We painted our whole condo in Benjamin Moore’s Thundercloud Grey (a light blue-grey) and it is SO dark! Just looked up the LRV and its a 50!!! Looks like we will be repainting.

  2. Thank you! we have a new fixer upper house, and I couldn’t figure out what gray to put in our Northern facing rooms! This is exactly what I was looking for! and the rooms are small so this is the greatest info I have found yet!

  3. Wow thanks for showing me where to find the LRV number on the paint chip. I need to paint my living and dining room. The dining room is a darker room.

  4. Hi Emy,

    Is it possible to mix in a bright white paint into an existing can of paint, and thus upgrade the LRV?

    Thank you SO much for this information on LRV!! Who knew?

    1. That would probably work to some degree. Dark colors are much harder to make light though, so I would just use a little of the paint and add it to the white instead.

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