How do I lighten a room that feels dark? 3 simple and inexpensive solutions from Nate Berkus that anyone can try

These clever design tricks are the easiest way to lighten a room with dark walls or low light levels

a home officed designed by nate berkus
A home office designed by Nate Berkus
(Image credit: Nate Berkus)

Nate Berkus is a master of minimalism and a king of warm neutral decor. It's no secret that we're huge fans of the esteemed designer, so we treat his words of advice like gospel. When he has something to say, we listen, especially when it involves solutions to ubiquitous problems, like how to lighten a room that feels to dark. 

Anyone familiar with Nate's designs will know that with a wave of his magic wand, he can make any space feel light, bright, airy, and warm. In fact, it's practically impossible to put the man in the same bracket as darkness altogether but, as the image above demonstrates, he can do dark and moody palettes just as well as he can light ones, all without them ever feeling dingy or dreary. 

In a recent Instagram reel, he revealed the three easiest ways he lightens a room with dark walls or low light levels. As he explains in the video: 'You just need to balance it out with things that are really light.' The key, as he goes on to tell us, is all down to a matter of contrast. Here are his three simple and inexpensive solutions to brighten a dark room through clever design tricks alone. 

1. Contrast dark walls with light drapery

A brown living room with tall windows

(Image credit: Albion Nord)

Whenever light is in question, the first place to turn is your windows. Even if you've opted for a black living room or a dark bedroom idea, you won't be able to appreciate the nuance of your chosen colors or textures without the help of some natural light. To allow more natural rays to penetrate a space while also offering a contrast to darker paint ideas, Nate recommends choosing drapery that's light in color and texture. 

'With light linen, ivory, floor-to-ceiling drapery, and a dark paneled wall, what you notice isn't the darkness of the room any longer, you notice the contrast,' the  NATE HOME founder said. 'I love using lightened upholstery furniture in spaces like this. I tend to steer away from pattern and I tend to steer away from a tremendous amount of color because I think it's just a pure move to do something solid and ivory - or off-white, or bone, or chalk - against a dark wall.'

2. Go heavy with the lighting 

Mini Sun Retro Aged Nickel Floor Lamp

(Image credit: Mini Sun)

Your surrounding lighting ideas will, of course, also come into play. There's a time and place for overheads and statement pendants, but when darker rooms are in question, Nate urges you to go heavy on the side lighting, especially when it comes to living room lighting.

'In any project that I do, there's always a mix of sconces, floor lamps, and small table lamps basically scattered throughout the room,' he explained in the video. 'What I like about that is that it allows you to control the mood.' Always use warm bulbs for a more relaxing, atmospheric lighting solution for dark rooms, and it's a good idea to use dimmer switches where you can so you have even more control over your lighting levels. 

3. Embrace your dark space

Brown living room with black and white sofa

(Image credit: Shade Degges. Design: Ashe Leandro, 1stDibs 50)

As Nate rightfully points out in the video, sometimes we want to shine a light - or should we say, switch off a light - on our dark rooms, allowing them to be enjoyed in all their gloomy glory. Playing into darkness is a great idea - and some of the best paint colors for small, dark rooms are dark hues themselves - so in rooms where natural light is limited, why not layer browns and deep navy shades for a moody feel? 

That said, even darker paint colors have nuanced tones you won't be able to see without at least a little light. Consider using sconces or floor lamps to cast shadows around the space and highlight others so these different shades are noticeable. 'There's something really beautiful about flooding light on a dark wall,' Nate said. 

Ready to put your dark room in the spotlight? Use these clever design ideas to add contrast and brighten your space. If they're good enough for Nate, they're good enough for us!

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Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.