Even if you're dealing with a tiny space, there are some paint tricks for small rooms that can help you make the most of what you've got to work with. In a lot of cases, you'll want your room to feel as big and bright as possible, but there's also a growing trend for turning our home's smallest rooms into 'jewel boxes', making them feel dark, luxurious and cocooning.
While there are some paint colors that work better for small spaces than others, there's more to just which shade you pick when decorating a compact room. 'Paint is such an easy and inexpensive way to have a powerful visual impact on your space,' explains interior designer Lane McNab. 'For small rooms, it’s less about the exact color you choose and more about how you apply the paint.'
With that in mind, we asked interior designers for their go-to paint ideas when it comes to painting a small room. Here's what they told us.
Luke Arthur Wells is a design writer and award-winning interiors blogger with a passion for high-end homes. Faced with a small room, here's how he, and a number of interiors experts, approach painting the space.
1. Paint a white ceiling with dark walls
When you're trying to make a small room feel bigger, your ceiling is a good place to start. It can be hard to get to grips with what effect a painted ceiling can have on your space. If dark colors draw a room in, for example, surely you should always paint a ceilling white, no?
With the right color on the walls, this is a tried and trusted trick. 'For low ceilings, going dark on the walls and then painting the ceiling a light color will make the room feel airier and the walls taller,' explains San Fancisco-based interior designer Lane McNab (opens in new tab).
2. Paint the ceiling the same as the walls
Well, possibly not. The idea of color drenching is a paint trend that's taken off over the last few years, not least when applied to the ceiling of a painted room. This idea, which sees the walls and ceiling painted the same color, can help to mitigate the feel of a low ceiling.
'Enveloping a room in color and unifying the architecture is a great way to make the boundary disappear,' says Lane, 'as well as calm down any busy-ness that can feel overwhelming in a small footprint.' So, try matching your walls and ceilings for a clever optical illusion that can make your room feel bigger.
3. Consider an accent wall
However, another approach to use paint to make a small room have more depth hinges entirely on contrast by comparison. Some designers say a dark accent wall in a room painted otherwise light can work magic for a small space. But how does a dark accent wall make a room feel bigger? 'A dark accent wall can appear to recede, making the space feel larger and more expansive,' says interior designer Kathryn Findlay, founder of Studio Findlay (opens in new tab).
4. Keep it light
Your first instinct to take a small, dark room and paint it white may not necessarily be the worst idea to make it feel as big and bright as possible, but there are a few clever ways to get the most out of your paint finish.
'If you are more of a minimalist, you can’t go wrong with light, nuanced colors that add an airiness to a space,' advises Philippa Radon, a paint specialist for C2 Paint (opens in new tab). 'Choosing full spectrum paints (like C2 Paint) reflects the full range of natural light so it’s more reflective, which adds a sense of harmony and expansion to a room.'
So what exactly is a full spectrum paint? This tends to be used to refer to a paint that doesn't contain any black (where most paint colors do). This makes this paint more reflective in light shades, and richer and deeper for other colors. Full spectrum paints used to be more of a niche product, but with ranges like Benjamin Moore's Aura now available, it's far more accessible.
5. Or go dark
Rather than fighting the natural characteristics of a small, dark room, many interior designers are now leaning in to embrace the darkness for a more dramatic, less apologetic space
'Lean into the cozy factor,' suggests Jamie Gasparovic, owner and principal designer at Studio Gaspo (opens in new tab). 'Pick a darker, moodier shade and paint the walls, trim, and ceiling the same color. It creates such a vibe in the room, and is a very intentional way to elevate the design of a small room with paint.'
In one way, a dark color scheme can also make a small room feel less claustrophobic. 'Darker colors also will highlight windows and views to the outside,' explains Lane McNab, 'which can help keep a small room from feeling confined.'
6. Don't shun color
The idea of keeping it simple in a small room might sound appealing, but according to interior designers Jenna Choate-James and Mariana Ugarte of UK-based Interior Fox (opens in new tab), more vibrant paint color ideas can be a useful tool in changing your perception of a room.
'The use of a bold pop of color in a small space will make it feel ten times larger,' the designers explains, 'especially when carried onto the ceiling. Color actually adds depth to your walls when oftentimes our clients think the opposite.'
7. Skew perspective with half painted walls
If you're considering a half-painted wall, whether it's just with paint, or combined with your wall paneling or wainscoting, it's important to know how the height you choose will affect how you perceive the dimensions of the room. According to interior designer Rudolph Diesel (opens in new tab), the key is to keep the color bottom heavy.
'Simply paint the bottom third of your room in one shade (this should be significantly darker or a different tone to the rest of the walls) and the remaining two-thirds a light shade, such as light grey or off-white,' Rudolph explains. 'This trick works as your eyes are drawn to the darker or brighter tone at the bottom of the wall which then makes the rest of the space between the wall and the ceiling seem longer, skewing the room's perspective and making it seem much taller than it is.'
8. Camouflage awkward architecture
Small rooms often come with other drawbacks related to their compact footprint, but ones that might also be able to be remedied with paint. 'Awkward architectural elements can be minimized with paint too,' suggests designer Lane McNab. 'For instance, that awkward corner fireplace that seems misaligned or maybe has unattractive tile will disappear if you paint the wall around it a similar color to the tile.'
'You can minimize asymmetry with careful paint applications too that add the illusion of additional width or height,' Lane adds.
9. Match your wall color with your furniture
Many of the ideas surrounding small rooms link back to the idea of color drenching, even when it comes down to choosing the furniture to match your room's color palette. 'Furniture-wise, we’d always recommend styling with either complimentary or contrasting colors to ensure natural breaks are present throughout the room,' suggests Helen Edwards, a color expert from Benjamin Moore. However, going all in on color drenching, down to the furniture, is an option, too.
Think about this idea for something like a small living room in particular, where a sofa is going to be a dominant feature of the space. By choosing a dark green sofa to match the dark green walls in this home, designer Chloé Mason Gray (opens in new tab) helps it recede into the background.
10. Paint the doors and trim
The big question - should doors be painted the same color as the walls? If you're dealing with a small space, the answer is probably yes. It all comes down to reducing the visual clutter of a room, and by painting the doors, trims and more the same as the walls, you can stop these elements from overpowering the room.
In this sage green bedroom, Stephen Nash, creative director of All&Nxthing Interiors, used the same paint color on the walls, doors, trim and built-ins, packing a lot in while ensuring it remains feeling like a peaceful, pared-back space
11. Consider reflective paint finishes
A more reflective paint finish can help a small space not only feel a little brighter, but give it more of a sense of depth, too. However, don't go reaching for the gloss paint right away, says Rudolph Diesel. 'Semi-gloss paint can help reflect light back into the space but not highlight any imperfections,' Rudolph explains.
Or, consider an even bolder approach. 'Consider metallic paint or wallpaper on the ceiling too for a little reflective element that makes the eye feel like the sun is shining down,' suggests Lane.