If you have a room in your house that doesn’t have any windows, or the windows it has don’t bring in a lot of light, then you know how hard it can be to make a dark room feel bright, warm and inviting. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can brighten a dark room with a few design ideas and tricks.
Most homes have a few dark corners, whether that is the basement, bathroom, or even the living room.
It can be caused by north-facing windows that don’t get as much sun, or sometimes by low ceilings that affect how bright a room looks.
Outside, overhangs such as a deck or awnings can affect the light coming in through the windows. Even trees in a yard can block the sun’s beams from reaching inside the home.
Or maybe you have a room with no windows at all (like my mother’s living room).
Regardless of the issue, there are plenty of design ideas that either bring more light into the home or mimic its reflective qualities.
Keep on reading to learn how to brighten a dark room, no matter the size or severity of the lighting problem.
1 | Add different types of lighting
This post may contain affiliate links. We make a small commission if you buy the products from these links (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But we only recommend products we would use ourselves. For more information, click here to see our disclosures.
The first step to brightening a dark room is to focus on the lighting.
It may seem obvious, but most people don’t add enough light sources to their dark room and then wonder why it isn’t bright enough.
While overhead lights do their job to illuminate a room, adding other light sources can make a huge difference in a space..
Ideally, you want to have at least 3 sources of light in addition to any natural light.
To ensure the whole room is lit properly, these should be set up in a triangular pattern, rather than all in one line.
Here are some options to consider:
- Table and floor lamps: Lamps are the most versatile lighting source since they can be moved where you need them. They also provide eye-level lighting that is the most flattering since it reduces facial shadows that can make people look older.
- Perimeter lighting: Adding light sources around a room’s perimeter will help ensure that the walls and corners are lit so they don’t appear as shadowy dark areas.
- Overhead lighting: Switching out your current overhead lights can not only make the lighting better but can make the design more stylish too. Aim for semi-flush, pendants, or chandeliers that hang further from the ceiling, allowing light to move in all directions instead of just down.
- Hidden lighting: Light sources that are hidden between beams, under cabinets, or in bookshelves can be an unexpected way to brighten a space. Use these to highlight features in the room, all while adding more light.
- Candles: Even burning a few candles throughout the room can add to the room’s lighting., and they definitely create some ambiance.
2 | Improve the light quality
Beyond adding new lighting to an area, look at what is already there and see if there’s room for improvement.
For example, take a look at the wattage of the bulb. If the lighting fixture can handle a higher wattage, go ahead and swap out the current bulb for a new one.
Also, look at what types of bulbs you are using.
Some rooms look good with cool white light but warm light works best in a dark room. It will prevent the space from feeling cold and harsh.
For lampshades or covers, avoid amber or yellow shades. It affects the quality of light and won’t diffuse as well as pure white, frosted, or clear glass.
Finally, consider moving the position of the lamps in your room. Remember, you want to create a triangle with your sources of light. If the overhead fixture is adjustable, you can also play around with angling it to light up a room.
3 | Hang mirrors
If you don’t have a window, mirrors are the next best thing.
They replicate having an extra window, working to reflect all natural and artificial light in the space.
Not only do they reflect light, but they also help to make a room appear larger, creating the illusion of more space.
To double the light reflection of an existing window, hang a large mirror directly across from it. Or at a 90 degree angle to it if the window is close to a corner. You can also do this with doorways to reflect any ambient light they provide.
4 | Swap out your doors
If your room has interior doors in it, consider swapping them for a door that has windows.
French doors allow more light to pass in from neighboring rooms.
Better yet, if your room has a door to the outside, make sure it has some windows, too.
5| Add transom or internal windows
Transoms and internal windows are an underused design feature in homes.
And while they are more of an involved project than most of these tips, they can be an excellent way to get light from adjacent rooms into spaces without natural light.
Without this internal window in her living room, my mother’s space would be really dark since it has no outside windows at all. However, the kitchen in the next room over has light to spare so this solution worked out really well for this room.
Living rooms, hallway entrances, kitchens, bedrooms and even bathrooms can benefit from a transom or internal window. If placed high enough, it won’t affect your privacy.
6 | Pick high gloss finishes
Even your décor can help to light up a room.
Just like mirrors, any type of shiny or coated decor can help to keep a space nice and bright. As if I needed an excuse to add a little bit of bling! Anything bling-like tends to reflect the light of the room, while solid surfaces absorb rather than reflect light.
Think of glass, shiny metal and anything with a glossy finish. Glass tabletops for coffee tables, metallic paintings, coated vases on bookshelves, and crystal bowls are all some great examples.
If you want to go all out, you can even paint your walls with a high gloss finish.
7 | Limit the amount of furniture
Your furniture choices can also make a big impact on the overall brightness of a room’s appearance.
First of all, remember that less is more when it comes to brightening a dark room. A crowded room will automatically look darker and smaller.
And the furniture itself absorbs and blocks light, creating dark shadows in a room. So try not to have too many tall dark pieces, especially close to windows where they absorb the light before it even enters the room.
Glass-topped tables and other clear furniture pieces work well in these spaces since they let the light pass right through.
A room that lets the light circulate through it will feel brighter.
8 | Cover dark floors with area rugs
Flooring is a more difficult thing to change in a home compared to paint color or furniture. Which is why area rugs are a good idea.
A large rug helps to make sure the room is light and bright from top to bottom, especially if you have dark hardwood floors or vinyl.
The rug also makes the room feel cozier and adds texture.
9 | Use the right paint color
The right paint choice can make or break any room, but it is especially important when you’re dealing with a dark one.
By definition, lighter colors reflect more light.
Which means if you have some light to reflect, your room will look brighter. So if you’ve applied our tips and increased the overall light level in your room (especially natural light), a light paint color may work quite well.
However if your room still doesn’t have much light available to be reflected, those light and airy pastels can end up looking drab and dull.
In that case, opt for brighter colors that will bring life to the space. They will fill the room with energy and you won’t notice how dark it is.
Getting small test cans of paint and putting up large swatches on the wall is the best way to know for sure what works best for your room.
10 | Install a skylight
Okay, I know this is a pretty big project and not every budget can accommodate it.
But if you have a dark room with a roof immediately above it, installing a skylight is a great way to let in a lot of natural light. Which can instantly transform a dark room into a bright and airy one.
There are even artificial skylights (and windows) coming out now that claim to mimic the look of sunlight without requiring a roof opening. However, when I looked up the cost of them, they were a lot more than a real skylight would be. But if you’re curious, you can read about them HERE.
11 | Take advantage of natural light
Of course, if your room does happen to have some windows, you’ll want to make sure you’re maximizing the amount of natural light that comes in through them.
Remove outdoor elements that are blocking the windows
First, take a look at what is on the other side of the window.
Then, trim back any tree branches, bushes, or other landscaping features that block light.
If you have awnings, you might want to consider removing them. Or getting the retractable kind so they’re only blocking the light when you’re outside.
You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference this makes!
Keep the windows clean
Next, give your windows a deep clean.
We often forget to wash them regularly, but stained or dirty windows do limit visibility and light.
Clean both sides to get the full effect.
Fix your curtains
Lastly, change out any curtains that are blocking the light coming in.
Or hang them high enough and wide enough that when they’re open the whole window is exposed.
Also, move any furniture that blocks light or makes it more difficult to open the curtain. The more accessible the lighting is, the better.
While it may not be for everyone, you could avoid having any window treatments at all. Even open blinds still block light. Instead, having open windows will allow as much natural light in as possible.
Well, that’s it for our ways to make a dark room look brighter. Hopefully, you’ve found a few that will brighten up your dark space.
Other decorating tips you might like
- How to decorate with mirrors
- Interior decorating principles you’ll actually want to follow
- Common living room layout mistakes (and how to fix them)
- Space saving design ideas for small bedrooms
Have comments or questions on how to brighten a dark room? Tell us in the section below.
Pin It So You Don't Forget It!
This post was originally published on June 21, 2021 but was updated with new content on March 22, 2023.