Choosing a Wall Color: Light and Lighting Help

December 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have you ever entered somebody’s home in the summer with the hot afternoon sun streaming into their bright yellow living room and felt like you’re drowning in a container of lemon curd? Perhaps a bit too much sunshine! The message? Light matters.

When you’re choosing a paint color for a room in your home, pay attention to which direction the light is coming from, how big the windows are, what the function or desired feel of the room is, and the shade or tone of the color you’ve selected. Here are some things to think about — not rules — just guidelines.


Function: Gathering, conversation, reading, and TV.

Direction of light coming in: Important as the living room is often the first room you see when you enter your home and where you receive guests, day and night.

Desired feel for the room: Warm and welcoming

Color choice: If your living room faces North, choose a paint color with a slight yellow undertone (as opposed to blue/gray)  to add warmth to that North-facing room. If your living room faces South or West, you may want a cool color with the warmer hues reserved for pillows and accessories that can be moved in or out with the seasons.  Easy solution? A medium-toned neutral (not necessarily beige) will allow you to bring in any furniture, window coverings and accessories without changing the wall color in the future. Another option: a rich hue on the focal wall (the one you see as soon as you enter the room — it may have a fireplace) and the other walls lighter and more neutral. Canadian designer Sarah Richardson loves this effect– that is one of her designs pictured above. Notice how the black TV disappears in front of the chocolate accent wall? Clever! (


Function: Primarily sleeping. Exception: Kids’ rooms. Since kids often play in their rooms, you can ramp up the palette to please them (a topic for another post!).

Direction of light coming in: Not a huge factor since you’re in there primarily at night anyway.

Desired feel for the room: Spacious if the room has little square footage and relaxing for a good night’s sleep.

Color choice: You can go in one of several directions. For the spa feel, look at light grays, gray-beiges, and calm gray-blues/greens. For a cheerful awakening every day, include pops of color like orange, yellow or shell pink like in this bedroom by Nicole Sassaman Designs ( Luxurious with cream bedding!


Function: Eating and conversation.

Direction of light coming in: Again, not a huge factor since you use the dining room primarily at night. (Exception: dining areas that are in an open-concept layout do have some light considerations.)

Desired feel for the room: Stimulating and dramatic.

Color choice: If you like deep, rich colors, this is your opportunity to use them for maximum effect. But you do not have to go dark with the wall color to be dramatic. Beautiful furniture, artwork, and lighting will make the room dramatic even if paler or more neutral colors are used. And don’t neglect the ceiling in the dining room. You may want something dramatic above the table — designer Troy Beasley’s handpainted canvas on the ceiling certainly gives a dramatic European flair to this dining room! (


Function: Cooking, eating, entertaining, and sometimes studying.

Direction of light coming in: Vital since you’re in the kitchen at all times of the day and night!

Desired feel for the room: Warm and welcoming.

Color choice: Okay, now this is where it gets tricky. Start with your cabinets. Are they dark? What color is the counter top? You’ll want to introduce some contrast in the room either by choosing a lighter tone for the walls or bringing in a complementary color.  Are your cabinets light? As long as there is some contrast somewhere in the kitchen, you can choose a light wall color for a light and airy feel to the kitchen like this one by designer Lori Dennis ( Lori uses the warmth of the wood floor and different tones of whites and warm grays to warm up this light, open kitchen and adds pops of color on the counters as well.


If you have a separate area for watching movies on the big-screen TV, then go medium to dark with the walls and even the ceiling. The idea is to recreate that movie theater feel and eliminate glare at the same time. Gray, navy, eggplant, chocolate and rich red — all great wall colors for the “man cave” like this one by designer Phyllis Harbinger (

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