Decorating tips for rooms with little or no natural light

“It has become fashionable to say light doesn’t matter. It does,” colour expert Joa Studholme told us last year. Which got us thinking about all the rooms with little or no natural light that we’ve occupied or visited over the years. There’s a reason that some of them have felt like they have a real wow factor while others have felt cool and drab – and that reason is colour. Some tones add depth, warmth and drama and so with a few tricks of the trade up your sleeve, it’s easy to make sure that you achieve the former wow effect rather than the undesired drab latter. Here’s what we’d advise…

Embracing dark colours – and which ones to try

Got a small dark room? A common colour myth is that white will improve it but as Farrow & Ball‘s Joa Studholme once cautioned, “if you paint it white, you will just end up with a small, dark, dull room.”  Instead of fighting nature, embrace the darkness with invitingly strong and cocooning colours. Green Smoke, Brinjal, Hague BlueRailings and Down Pipe are shades that will help to create a sense of intimacy in a dark space – in fact, they’re arguably at their best in darker rooms where they become extremely rich.

Finding the right white for a north facing room

A creamy New White hallway by Farrow & Ball

Light from the north is cooler and harsher so in north facing rooms it’s especially difficult to create the feeling of light and space. If your heart is set on white then a good rule of thumb is to avoid off whites with a green or grey base that will make the room seem even darker. Choose yellow-based, creamy neutrals – e.g. New WhiteWhite Tie and Tallow – which will help to bounce as much light around the room as possible.

A grey that’s ok

A dark attic room painted in Worsted from Farrow & Ball

Although darker greys can be warming and soothing in light-less rooms, lighter greys can feel like a big no-no if you’re trying to avoid the chill factor. A good compromise is Worsted, a mid grey with that feels rich and has no cold undertones. Use colourful furniture and accessories to further warm this sort of tone.

Making your dark hallway pack a punch

A hallway painted in deep Mahogany by Farrow & Ball

Hallways are frequently tricky especially if you have a solid front door. Hallways are also a great place to be bolder with your colour choice since they are a space for passing through – you can create more neutral rooms peeling off from there. Yellow Ground is beautiful in dark hallways and Mahogany is full of warm tones including burnt brown pigments that give depth to this sort of space. At the lighter end of the spectrum try Setting Plaster – which also works well when paired with Mahogany – or Nancy’s Blushes, which works in shady rooms, especially when teamed with a soft neutral on the woodwork.

Playing with finishes – using gloss to add atmosphere

Gloss is not just for woodwork and can help bounce and reflect light around a room whether it’s dark or light. Paint a small dark cloakroom in full gloss or pick out a feature wall or built-in storage within a bigger room. You could even paint just a strip of full gloss across matt Estate Emulsion to add glimmer discreetly, but without going the whole hog.

Planning every surface – and considering one colour, all over

Image from Pinterest

In a dark dark room simplify your approach to painting it, by painting everything – walls, skirtings, dado’s – in one dark shade. For the fullest, most enveloping effect sweep your paint up the walls and over the ceiling too and fully embrace your fifth wall. You’ll end up with a room that feels like a jewel!

Pitch Blue living room by Farrow & Ball

Banner photo: Brinjal bathroom by Farrow & Ball

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist