Choosing the right wall color for a small, dark room is all about what the intention is for your space. Lighter, fresh colors can work to battle against the smaller size and bring airiness and light into the space, while bold pops of color can create drama where you might not expect it.
Despite popular opinion, going darker also has its own merits. 'Something about dark colors and small rooms evokes a sense of intimacy,' says Ester Corti of Mitchell + Corti Architects. It's often presumed that dark color schemes make a space feel small, but by embracing size and going to the dark side, you can give a space greater gravitas and help the space really pack a punch. 'It may seem counterintuitive but dark colors can be a good idea for poorly lit rooms such as a north-facing room,' adds Patrick O'Donnell, brand ambassador of Farrow & Ball. 'This is because you play to the limitations of natural light rather than fighting it.'
Deciding on which paint color ideas to go for and what kind of space you want with our handy hints and top tips from the designers.
What are the best paint colors for small, dark rooms?
Decorating a small room isn't always about trying to get it to look bigger, and many designers recommend embracing the size. 'Dark colors don’t always lead to smaller dark spaces,' says Becky Russell of Kingston Lafferty Design. 'When combined with the right combination of textures and finishes, they quite often create cozy and calm spaces with a moody undertone.'
Green is a versatile shade that can really have a positive effect in a dark, small room. It can help you feel grounded to nature when otherwise it might feel claustrophobic. It might make you feel calm when you want to create a cozy atmosphere. It can help bring a zesty color to a space that is otherwise dark and filled with shadow.
Its calming qualities are thanks to its relationship with nature, which has a power to sooth and get us through the day. Forest greens and dark green shades can be more vibrant, while sage and mints are soft and positive. ‘Green has become such a popular color because people are wanting to add life to their spaces and bring nature in,’ explains Sue Wadden, a color expert at paint brand Sherwin-Williams (opens in new tab). ‘We went from seeing bolder colors trending the past couple of years to seeing warmer, nature-inspired hues. A grounding green creates an earthy vibe. From a color psychology standpoint, green is the color of nature, revitalization and growth,’ she adds. A green bathroom or green bedroom is the perfect application for this color.
2. Dark brown
For a smaller bedroom or living room where you might want to embrace the size and create a feeling of coziness, a brown on the walls can work beautifully. Here, interior designers Benjamin Stelly and Tanya Selway of design studio Stelly Selway (opens in new tab) also used the brown on the door frame, giving it a monochromatic look that makes this room feel like a warm hug. This shade has grey tones, and really connects the paint color to nature, which is another way of adding comfort to the space. The space has been made extra cozy with two bedside glowing pendants.
Think about how to build on the theme in a smaller room, adding soft furnishings, thick throws and layer with lighting. Think about how you accessories and colors that go with brown, and the room will really tie together.
Mouse's Back, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)
This grey brown classic takes its characterful name from the fawny color of the British field mouse. It will read greener when used on the walls of underlit rooms.
3. Dark grey
An enveloping dark grey also can work to create this feeling of depth and gives a smaller room a sultry and sophisticated feel. If you want to create a moody and atmospheric feel, dark colors work well in small spaces, creating depth and drama.
'If I am looking to create a nice intimate and cozy aesthetic, I will go with a darker shade of paint, like a dark grey, blue, or green and use it in a monochromatic color scheme ,' says Nina Magon (opens in new tab), who designed this space.
4. Light, cheerful pink
Or go for something altogether different to a cozy, darker shade, and opt instead for decorating with a pale pink in your small, dark room, as seen in this beautiful bathroom from Romenek Design Studio (opens in new tab).
Pink paint colors have a natural warmth to it, as a muted shade of red, so in a small, dark room that might feel cold, bringing warmth is a smart design move. The result is that its quietly positive and playful. During hours of natural light, the light will reflect off the pink and really make it stand out. Even if your room doesn't have much natural light, it will feel naturally warm and have a sunshine tint to it. Color is the name of the game in this room, balanced perfectly with the green flooring from the other side of the color wheel.
5. Try a shade of dark blue to calm the space
A dark, inky blue is a beautiful dark and glamorous color that can also bring calmness and sumptuousness to a smaller room, as seen in this beautiful blue bathroom from Mitchell + Corti Architects (opens in new tab).
'There are few spaces where you can get away with having such dark walls and smaller bathrooms naturally lend themselves to this as they are used for small periods of time throughout the day,' explains Ester Corti.
Blue has an optical illusion power to make a space feel bigger too, says color and paint expert, Annie Sloan (opens in new tab), who explains that the color 'draws the eye outwards, blurs horizon lines and gives a sense of never-ending space.' she says.
6. Go for a splash of sunshine yellow for a positive space
Yellow might feel like quite a vibrant color to choose, but it really works for a smaller room, in all its tones, from a pale, muted yellow that errs on neutral, to something zesty and vibrant. You might be quite wary of using a bright, bold yellow such as this yellow living room from Suzy Hoodless (opens in new tab), but the sunshine tone really brightens the space, thus lightening and helping it feel bigger, more open and more friendly, instead of dark and moody.
Linking the front small living room with the middle sitting room, designer Suzy Hoodless used yellow paint to open up the space. 'The idea was to bring some excitement with a flash of color dividing the area,' explains Suzy. 'It’s uplifting and uncompromising, but also neutral. I think spaces need to be pushed – to have a rhythm and pace to them – and that’s what this yellow is about. It makes me smile.'
7. Maximize natural light in with a shade of white
Ultimately, staying away from bright or pops of color altogether can be a clever way of painting the walls of a small, dark room. The best white paint isn't boring, and can act as a blank canvas to your room, also bringing an airiness and brightness to a space, no matter the size, and works in this windowless room from Ries Hayes (opens in new tab). The white also matches the white of the ceiling, so you don't feel the ceiling closing in on you as you look up.
'If I am looking to brighten the space and bring in some lightness, I love using a nice pure white paint, this helps the light reflect and creates a more open and airy feel,' says Nina Magon.
Be wary of the type of white you use however, warns Patrick from Farrow & Ball. 'Avoid pure harsh whites for your walls, whilst naturally paler shades will feel lighter and brighter, they can feel rather chilly if a room is poorly lit - look for a white with subtle warmth.' Wimborne White or Schoolhouse White are nice alternatives.
8. Try a cozy deep purple
Another cozy color that exudes a richness and depth to a small room is a deep plum or dark purple. This gives a luxurious feel to a small space, and instead of feeling dark and cold, the underlying red tones bring a warmth, whether it's a bathroom, as above, or a purple living room.
‘Purple is a multifaceted hue with a great balance between the calming cooler tones of blue and the warmth of red,' says John Ashton of Albany (opens in new tab). 'Strong deep purples including plum work well paired with natural tones or try tints such as lilac and periwinkle for a calmer space. Purple can change dramatically in a different light, so always make sure you buy a sample pot in your chosen color to try in the room you’re decorating.’
Brinjal, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)
Brinjal takes its name from the beautifully deep and shiny skin of the aubergine. It can create a warm and highly sophisticated finish when used on all walls and create a beautiful coziness in a small, snug space
Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.