Whatever a person’s taste, “I think almost everybody wants to maximize the light in their living space,” says HGTV host Genevieve Gorder.
Natural light can bring out the beauty of fabrics and furniture, and seems to have an intangible impact.
The conventional wisdom is that “if you have a room that’s very sunny and packed with natural light, people use it more, and they’re happier in it,” says designer and decordemon.com founder Brian Patrick Flynn.
It can be challenging to increase the daylight in rooms with small windows. But with the right mix of paint colors, fabrics, furniture and mirrors, homeowners can maximize the sunlight in even the darkest rooms.
Gorder, Flynn and Betsy Burnham of Los Angeles’ Burnham Design share some tips and tricks for helping the sun to shine brightly in any home:
All three designers recommend mirrors.
“It makes a space feel bigger,” Flynn says, “and if the space has a view and you put a mirror on the wall opposite the window with that beautiful view, you’ve doubled the light, doubled the view.”
The idea of mirrors can make clients nervous.
“People can think it sounds a little ’70s or dated, but not if it’s an antiqued mirror and if it’s just a small part of your room,” Burnham says.
If you’d prefer a mirror that isn’t antique, she suggests having a large one expertly framed. It can be hung on a wall or, if it’s quite tall, propped up against a wall and anchored at the top.
Smaller mirrors can be used anywhere. Line the backs of bookshelves with mirrors or arrange several on one wall.
“Ikea has bunches of mirrors, 8 inches by 8, that come in packs of 10 with stickies on the back,” Flynn says.
“If you stick them on your wall, left to right in a diamond pattern, it’s so beautiful and really affordable. You can go across an entire wall.”
Also consider furniture with glass, chrome or mirrored accents.
Many people try to maximize light by painting a room in a pale color. But the choice of shade is important. Yellow-based shades, even if fairly pale, can warm up a space.
“I see newly built homes where the developer has chosen a yellow throughout and it’s such a mistake,” Burnham says. “Somehow it closes it in or warms it up too much.
“You want cool tones,” she says, like “blue-grays and taupes that are shades of off-white with a little blue in them. It can really chill things out.”
Metallic paint colors also work well. Gorder likes to use paint with a reflective, metallic finish on ceilings, especially in dining rooms.
She prefers shades that look like brass or pewter. It’s a trick many hotels use, she says, to softly amplify light.
Minimizing dark pieces
“Instead of big, dark wood pieces of furniture,” Burnham says, “try something lighter and airier, like a glass-topped piece with a metal base.”
That allows you to see the floor, drawing attention to a light-colored rug or pale wood flooring.
In decorating a wood-paneled living room in a Tudor house, Burnham says she “kept all of the antique pieces and old sofas, but we recovered everything in different fabrics that were all white to off-white. It completely changed the room. It was friendlier, modern and lighter.”
Gorder recommends doing the biggest pieces in a room, such as sofas and love seats, in light colors. Then she advises bringing in brighter or deeper shades for smaller pieces of furniture.
Some design choices don’t increase the actual light in a room, but they make the space feel sunnier.
Cotton and linen fabrics in soft colors evoke cool summer breezes and sunny days at the beach, while “heavier fabrics, like velvets or brocades or even chenilles, sort of weigh a room down,” Burnham says.
Gorder agrees. Using sheer and cottony fabrics in pale shades, she says, such as “light smoky purples that are barely there, lightens and brings a sense of joy, and with that emotion comes a sense of lightness.”
Another trick she uses: “Flank your windows with window treatments that go way beyond the top of the window, all the way up to the ceiling.”
That makes the window look larger, making it seem as though the room has more access to sunlight.
Windows and skylights
Some window treatments, such as Roman shades, block sunlight even when they’re technically open.
Burnham suggests using “really tailored, simple draperies on rings on an iron rod, and maybe have a wand to push them back.”
Draperies hung that way are easy to open fully, she says, so “you can clear the windows during the day, and it can still be private at night.”
Even sheer curtains hung behind draperies can limit sunlight. So try hanging a single drapery, rather than a double set.
Also consider adding a skylight or two.
“Don’t think it’s not appropriate just because you don’t have a super-modern house,” Burnham says. “I worked on a 1920s house in L.A., and put in a skylight in keeping with the period and the other windows in the house.”
If all else fails, Flynn says, you can embrace a lack of light.
Choose a dark paint for the walls and dark furnishings, he suggests, and then accessorize with lamps, ceiling fixtures and “tons of metallic pieces that will bounce all of the artificial light around the room.”