Using Dark Color in Small Spaces

Dark Does Not Have To Be Drab

Decorating a tiny room can come with a lot of limitations, but paint color isn’t one of them. Despite what you’ve probably heard, there’s no reason to stick to white walls if you’d like to create the illusion of more space.

Using dark paint can achieve an expansive effect similar to that of white paint – for the complete opposite reason. It’s true that clean white walls work a bit of design magic by reflecting light to brighten a small room, bouncing it around to make the edges of the walls almost disappear. Instead of reflecting light, dark walls absorb it – blurring the definitive lines of the walls and making the room feel larger.

Choosing a darker paint color can also give smaller rooms a greater sense of depth. While white walls reflect light in a consistent, bright way, dark walls offer much more complexity – the undertones of a dynamic hue almost shift along with the changing light. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the same shade of charcoal grey can feel cool, warm, or somewhere in between.

Dark walls can add character to a bland little room, and provide the perfect canvas for artwork and other accessories. These guidelines will help you incorporate this effect to achieve a strong impact in your small space.

1. Aim for balance.

Dark walls offer an elegant backdrop to showcase beautiful linens, furnishings, and accessories. This is where you’ll want to bring in just a little more brightness, to keep your room from being overly somber. Reflective materials like metal and mirrors are great additions, as well as layered lighting sources to provide a warm glow. Try to incorporate contrasting pops of vivid color or interesting patterns to really make a dynamic statement.

Suggested accent pieces that would stand out dramatically against a dark wall include this stainless steel floor mirror from Michael Dawkins Home, this brass console table by GUBI, and the Duane Pendant by MENU.

2. Try a test run.

Because of the way darker colors interact with the light, it’s important that you sample potential color candidates before you go all in. Try painting a patch of wall in your small room and see how it responds during various lighting conditions to get a better idea of how the shade works with your space – and be sure to let the paint dry. A color that looks cool and dark at the store might display warmer undertones under the incandescent lighting in your bathroom, or look muted with the natural light from your windows streaming in.

You won’t go wrong with deep charcoals, forest greens, navy blues, rich chocolate browns, or a heavy black. Jewel tones can also make a space look very luxurious, but can sometimes draw too much attention to the walls – so if you’re after the illusion of more space, you’re better off with a more neutral dark hue.

3. Add architectural interest.

Often, smaller rooms lack architectural detail, making them seem dull and lifeless. Enhance your room by adding interest with paint, using contrasting colors on the inside of shelving, around windows, or to create an accent wall. Another trick to make your space appear bigger is to keep darker colors below eye level, and use lighter colors higher up.


This creates the illusion of depth in a tight, bland space and makes it feel more like a cozy retreat.

4. Go monochromatic.

Covering your room in multiple shades of the same color is one of the most effective ways to push the walls back and create the illusion of space. Paint the ceiling and trim the same shade as the walls to create a seemingly endless room – or, choose paint just one shade lighter for the ceiling to add visual height.

You can continue this monochromatic look throughout the furnishings and accents, too, but make sure to include some contrasting elements like metal, mirrors, or patterns to give your space a bit more personality.

5. Embrace coziness.

Unless your small room is full of natural light, pale paint colors won’t be able to brighten your space enough to give it the feeling of airiness you’re probably looking for. Instead, play up the warm, cozy atmosphere your little room can provide by choosing a color that evokes those kinds of emotions. Layer in plenty of texture like velvet, linen, and knits to transform your room from a too-tight space to a veritable cocoon of comfort.

Your small room doesn’t have to be a boring, white box. Give your cozy space the personality it deserves by following these tips to create the perfect little nook.