The best paint colors for dark rooms, according to pros
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The best paint colors for dark rooms, according to pros

When faced with choosing a paint color for a lowlight room, you can go one of two ways: Attempt to do magic tricks with lighter shades, or embrace the darkness. “I think you can go light or dark to sort of maximize those lowlight spaces,” said Beth Webb, a designer in Atlanta.

Even the most cheerful designers find themselves leaning into cave life at times: “I like to just embrace the fact that it’s a darker, moodier space and not try to make it feel artificially brighter,” said Alexandra Kaehler, a designer in Winnetka, Ill.

Others gravitate toward lighter options, for good reason. “In rooms where light is limited, pale colors generally work well due to having a higher light reflectance value,” Andrea Magno, director of color marketing & development at Benjamin Moore, said in an email. “What this means is that the natural light that is present will reflect from the surface of the wall, making the overall room feel a bit lighter.”

Alex Papachristidis, a designer in New York, often selects a sunny choice. “I’m not such a dark room person by nature,” he said. “Even if I do paint a room or upholster a room in a dark color, I tend to use light trim because I like that kind of juxtaposition of the heavy and light. And I also like light ceilings.”

Another key consideration is the type of daylight your room receives. “Think about the direction the room is facing and what kind of light, albeit limited, is coming into the room,” Magno wrote. “If the room is north-facing, the light is indirect and cooler, [so] opting for a color with more warmth in its undertone will help create a more welcoming mood.”

We asked design pros their favorite colors for dusky interiors. Here are their suggestions.

Benjamin Moore Cloud White 967

Cloud White has always been one of my favorite whites,” Papachristidis said. “It’s just a very soft, very neutral white: It’s not too white, it’s not too yellow, it’s not too pink.” In this entry space with limestone floors and casing, he applied it on the walls as well as the vaulted ceiling. “I think it looks beautiful in the daytime. I think it looks beautiful at night. It’s just always been a go-to for me.”

Webb likes the light-reflecting qualities in Domingue Finishes’ lime wash paints, which are made in Italy and Belgium. “It’s all potassium silicate, which is a mineral paint and it’s extraordinary,” she said. “It gives it a depth, because if you think about it, a latex is just that: It’s plastic. It lacks dimension, so it doesn’t have the same light-refracting quality.” In this powder room without any windows, Webb said she paired a light-bouncing antiqued mirror with Domingue Finishes’ Perle to change “the complexion of the light.”

“This Library in a ‘Classic 6’ on the Upper West Side comprises the central spine of the apartment which receives no natural light,” Kyle O’Donnell, principal and founder of Gramercy Design in New York, said in an email. They painted the paneling and molding Stone Blue by Farrow & Ball. “The rich, saturated color provides visual interest in the absence of exterior windows,” he said. They used the British paint company’s estate eggshell finish, which O’Donnell said has a 20 percent sheen that “gently reflects light from the library sconces above.” They also painted the doors Benjamin Moore’s Deep Space, a blue-black that creates contrast and “makes the saturated tones of the blue paneling appear brighter,” O’Donnell said.

Benjamin Moore Black Beauty

Painting the walls, ceiling and overhead duct work of this Walland, Tenn., dining room in Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty had an added bonus: hiding the functional HVAC system, a visual eyesore. The velvety matte finish was also “an easy and inexpensive way to create drama,” designer Christine Carney, of Blackberry Farm Design, said in an email. She added that it works particularly well in powder rooms, TV rooms or wet bars, “where darkened rooms feel natural and welcome.”

Farrow & Ball Sulking Room Pink

Designer Jean Liu used Farrow & Ball’s Sulking Room Pink to lighten a Fredericksburg, Tex., living room clad in ebony-stained white oak millwork. “It’s got this mid-value hue that allowed us to brighten the space, but it wasn’t so light that those blush tones were completely washed out,” Liu said.

Benjamin Moore Fog Mist, OC-31

“Sometimes when you see white walls — and this is very popular right now — it almost feels like an unfinished treatment. It looks like you primed and forgot to paint,” said Gideon Mendelson, founder and creative director of Mendelson Group. To counteract that tendency, Mendelson selected Fog Mist, a grayish white, for a Brooklyn living room. “It gives you the same impact that white has, but it feels like you made a choice.”

Benjamin Moore Yellow Clover, 375

Mendelson also went light for a kitchen on the North Fork of Long Island, using Benjamin Moore’s Yellow Clover on the upper cabinets and island. “Yellow can be a very tough color,” he said. “But in this particular kitchen, it just adds a little bit of happiness without being too buttercup. It’s not tennis ball yellow. It has a little bit of a greige-y, mustardy tone to it, so it still feels sophisticated while at the same time adding a little bit of life to the space.”

Farrow & Ball Cook’s Blue

This room in a Chicago brownstone does have a window, but it faces directly out onto the building next door. “We really felt like, ‘Let’s embrace the moodiness of it,’” said Kaehler, who wanted a color with a lot of depth. “Certain colors really come to life when they have natural light on them. And then there’s other colors that are really interesting and dimensional without a whole lot of natural light.” Farrow & Ball’s Cook’s Blue is one of the latter. “It had a lot of personality,” Kaehler said.

Kathryn O’Shea-Evans is a design and travel writer in Colorado.