How to make a dark room brighter: 12 ideas to lighten your spaces

Looking for ways to make a dark room brighter, even in summer? Use our expert tips and tricks to make your north-facing or light-starved space light, bright and airy

How to make a dark room brighter: William Morris wallpaper and fabric in living room
(Image credit: Style Library/William Morris)

Looking for some tips on how to make a dark room brighter? Designing a light-starved or north-facing living room can pose some challenges – although nothing you can't overcome with some clever decorating know-how. It can also be a blessing in disguise – no sunlight streaming through the blinds as you try and watch TV? Sounds ideal. Love the feel of a cosy room? No problem.

If you need a bit of help making the most of your dark room, here are some tips and tricks for transforming a dimly lit living room into a cosy, relaxing haven. Of course, you can use these tips to tackle light levels in all your other rooms, too.

1. Choose the right colour scheme to make a dark room brighter

It goes without saying that using light colours in a north-facing space can make a dark room like brighter. White walls are major light reflectors so will enhance any natural or artificial light. Try using colours like Annie Sloan’s Old White or Dulux’s Jasmine White for that light, airy feel. Even warm grey-toned neutrals would have a similar effect or if you want a little colour opt for pale dusky pastels. 

Check out our white living room design ideas to get some inspiration.

Light coloured north-facing living room

(Image credit: Norsu Interiors)

You could always of course embrace the darkness and accentuate it with deep, dramatic paint colours. Strong colours like Studio Green from Farrow and Ball create intimacy in a room, making the lack of natural light seem cozy and inviting rather than dim and dingy. 

If you want some more inspiring ideas check out our grey living room design ideas and our dark and atmospheric decorating ideas

Dark green north-facing living room

(Image credit: Cuckooland )

Whether you choose to go dark or keep things light, always choose warm tones as the light coming in to a north-facing living room will usually be cool. 

2. Opt for light reflecting flooring to make a dark room brighter

Of course a lighter coloured carpet is going to reflect the most light, as well as pale hard-wood flooring.

We are loving Scandi inspired white floorboards (use our tips on painting wooden floorboards to get the look) and they would work perfectly in a north facing space and help make a dark room brighter. But, if white flooring is just too high maintenance for you, a white washed or pale hardwood floor is another option. And, fear not, if you are doing your living room on a budget there are lots of realistic wood-effect vinyl flooring options out there. 

Alternatively, for a quicker way to bring in light, throw down some large natural coloured rugs in jute or rattan – these natural materials will have a similar brightening effect to a cream rug but are more hard wearing and easier to keep clean (or at least easier to keep looking clean.)

White flooring in a north-facing living room

(Image credit: Loaf)

3. Choose the right furniture to make a dark room brighter

Where you can, avoid heavy, bulky furniture, instead opt for slimline, low slung pieces, that will allow for as much light as possible to flow around the room. Steer clear from anything too dark and instead choose furniture that is going to reflect light around the room; think marbled sideboards, pale wooden TV stands and mirrored or glass coffee tables. 

Find out how to choose the best living room furniture and how to pick furniture for a small living room.

Add greenery to a modern living room

(Image credit: Desenio)

4. Plan a layout that makes a dark room brighter

When choosing how to lay out furniture in a north facing living room, look first at where the most natural light falls. Then think about how and when you use each piece of furniture. A sofa that you only use to slob out on in the evenings is in less need of natural daylight than a reading chair or a home office area, so make sure to place these light dependent items near a window. Avoid putting any heavy, dark furniture near windows as this is obviously going to block out light. 

Reflective furniture can have a similar effect to a mirror and will bounce light back into the room so place any items that have a light or metallic surfaces in the areas that get the most natural light. 

Ikea furniture in a north-facing living room

(Image credit: Ikea)

5. Choose lighting expertly for a well-lit living room 

For a well-lit north facing living room – or a well-lit one of any orientation – you will need to incorporate three different types of lighting: ambient, accent and task. 

For general ambient lighting in a dim room you will want to create an even layer of overhead lighting. If you are working with a central pendant light just be sure to choose a warm shade or bulb that gives off a welcoming light. Ideally your overhead lights should be dimmable so they can be adjusted at different times of the day. 

Accent lighting gives warmth to a north-facing living room

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

Once you have overhead lighting covered you want to think about more specific lighting – accent lighting, and task lighting. Adding different layers of accent lighting is what creates ambience in living room so we recommend having at least three different sources. Evenly space tables lamps, wall lights and floor lamps throughout the room, mainly sticking to the edges as this will create a warm, even glow that bounces inwards. 

If you have an office desk in your living room, first make sure it’s positioned in the space that gets the most natural light and then add a task light – an anglepoise is our personal favourite. 

Light bulbs can also make an impact. Choose warm bulbs to counteract the harsh light or daylight light bulbs which are designed to replicate natural light. Find out how to plan living room lighting, and don't miss our living room lighting ideas for more.

6. Choose curtains and blinds that make a dark room brighter

Window blinds: vertical, Roman and Venetian all work well in a north-facing living room as long as you choose a light or sheer fabric and ensure they can completely retract so as not to deter natural light. Fussy, heavy living room curtains will always partially block out natural light so opt for curtains made from a light, sheer fabric, and make sure your curtains are hung so that they can be pulled right back against the wall and don’t obstruct the window when open. 

Looking for more living room window ideas? Check out our inspiring gallery. 

Light curtains in a north facing living room

(Image credit: h&m)

7. Bring in more light with reflective wallpaper

Wallpaper is your friend when it comes to making a dark room brighter. Choose a living room wallpaper that has a metallic finish and a pale background colour to maximise how much light it will reflect. We love the subtle print of Farrow and Ball’s Hegemony and it would perfectly suit both a traditional living room and a more contemporary living space

Farrow and Ball Hegemony wallpaper brings light into a north-facing living room

(Image credit: Farrow and Ball)

8. Use strategically placed mirrors to add light

We all know this one, using mirrors to create the illusion of more space and light is the oldest design trick in the book. Placing a mirror on the adjacent wall to your biggest window will reflect the most light, and obviously the larger the mirror the better, so go as big as your living room can handle. If you are working with a small north-facing living room, choose a mirror with a thin frame, it can still be generous in size but won't overwhelm the space.  

We've got loads more design ideas for displaying mirrors, plus tips for designing a small living room over in our guides. 

living room with neutral scheme and yellow and red cushions by furniture village

(Image credit: Furniture Village)

9. Hide away living room clutter to up light levels

A clean aesthetic is always going to make a room brighter so, we hate to say it, but that means organising all the stuff that has accumulated in your living room. Invest in some living room storage that fits with your space, and get all that light sucking clutter hidden away. 

Living room storage options

(Image credit: Ikea)

10. Keep window sills clear to banish shadows

Filling up your window sills with knick knacks, house plants and neglected half-read books? It may look lovely but a cluttered window sill is going to prohibit light, so keep them clear to allow as much light to flow in as possible. If there are certain items that you just love having on show, opt for keeping them in open storage instead. 

Got house plants? Keep large, dark plants clear of windows and instead group them around the edges of the room. 

sage green and pink living room with several species of houseplants

(Image credit: Willow & Hall)

11. Add personality (and light) with reflective accessories 

Yep, even the smallest things in your dark or north-facing room can make it feel brighter. When picking accessories for your space, choose pieces that will reflect light around the room. Metallic vases, mirrored picture frames, marble candle holders, copper plant pots, you get the idea. 

Metallic accessories in a north facing living room

(Image credit: Dunelm)

12. Get cleaning to let the light flood in

Okay, just moving away from the lovely decorating ideas for a sec to focus on something a bit less glamorous... But seriously, cleaning your space is a simple, completely free way to make a dark room brighter. Make sure you keep your windows (inside and out) clean to allow as much light as possible to come into the room. Regularly dust the surfaces as dust can seriously dim those reflective surfaces, and make sure to give all your light fixtures a good clean so you are always getting the most out of that precious light. 

For loads more cleaning tips, head over to our cleaning hub page.

Looking for more living room inspiration?