Dark living room ideas – 10 design rules for brightening a dark space

These dark living room ideas will help you turn a dark and dreary room into a striking focal point that is warm, cozy and inviting

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with gray walls and orange and blue sofas
(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Dark living room ideas need not be dull, dreary or dated.

There are a plethora of sophisticated ways to enhance a dark space, so dress your living room with deep navy blues, smokey greys, gorgeous greens and earthy tones for a space that is cosseting, cocooning and oh so stylish.

These daringly dark living room ideas will help you brighten your dark space and have you reaching for the paint chart.

Dark living room ideas – how to brighten a dark space

Whether your dark living room is expansive, open-plan, a shared home office space or on the compact side, there are a multitude of living room paint ideas and design tricks to create – and enhance – a dark living room scheme.

1. Go for contrasting colors in a dark living room

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with navy blue panelled walls and a burnt orange velvet sofa

(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

If you are stuck with how to decorate a dark living room, then look no further than the color wheel.

Apply color theory to decorating and reveal a whole new way to enhance a dark space. When choosing a living room color scheme, your first port of call should always be the color wheel.

It provides a clear and instant visual for exactly which hues contrast and coordinate, to help you to devise harmonious, tonal or contrasting looks.

By taking shades that sit opposite each other on the wheel, such as orange and blue, you can create a rich, vibrant scheme packed with drama and energy. This pairing works particularly well in small living rooms.

2. Embrace dark colors in a small living room

A dark living room with green wallpaper and an orange and green rug

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

If your living room is north- or east-facing, or if it lacks natural daylight, your choice of decor – and color scheme – can change its mood dramatically. 

This is where green living room ideas can come in use: it's a transformative color that can connect indoors with outdoors, and make a room feel brighter and more cheerful, even when the tones you choose are quite subtle and sophisticated.

Employ color theory (see above) when choosing color pairings for a dark scheme. Here, subtle touches or coral, yellow and blue are standout additions.

Marianne Shillingford, Dulux's Creative Director says, ‘Creative decorating techniques like layering, adding shapes and painting the ceiling in a color rather than white can completely alter the appearance of a room and make it unique to you.’ 

3. Go for a gorgeous gray color scheme

A dark gray living room with a navy sofa and a red coffee table

(Image credit: Future / Polly Wreford / Sally Denning)

'For centuries gray has been regarded as a workmanlike, utilitarian non-color,' says Kate Watson-Smyth, author of Shades of Grey. But in fact, gray living room ideas are supremely practical as this color doesn’t show the dirt easily, making it perfect for family living rooms. 

While it may seem counterproductive to use an all-over grey in a dark living room, the best decorating choice is embrace the darkness rather than trying to force a look that just isn't working.

By using the same color, but in both its palest and deepest incarnations, you can create a rich, cosy living room that is co-ordinated.

4. Light up a dark living room – artificially 

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with dark blue walls and an orange sofa

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

The right living room lighting ideas can not only make a dark room look brighter, but also highlight architectural features, provide dramatic decorative effects, create illusions of space and define zones in open plan areas. 

Create a thoroughly modern scheme with statement neon lighting. They give a dark living room a gentle glow, and set against a dark wall, they are guaranteed to stand out. 

5. Go for white walls – and surround yourself with natural materials

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with white painted walls and dark cabinets

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

Neutral living room ideas are versatile, and the color shown above is one of the most popular shades for dark interiors. It offers a blank canvas that brightens dark spaces and makes even the smallest rooms feel spacious and airy. 

A basement living room is the perfect place to use neutrals as a base. After years of living in a 'throw-away society', we’re celebrating taking a 'less is more' approach by decorating with a neutral color palette, natural materials and plenty of greenery in the form of houseplants. 

6. Opt for a symmetrical layout

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with symmetrical brown leather seating in front of a grey wall

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Symmetry in interior design is a trick used to create smart-looking rooms – and it's perfect for small or dark spaces. 

Symmetry creates balance and a feeling of calm when used in interior design. And while it is wonderfully elegant in large rooms, it can also create a feeling of enhanced space in smaller rooms, and these that are very busy, such as dark living rooms and kitchens, too. 

7. Create a feature wall

A dark living room with green paint and a gallery wall

(Image credit: Future)

Turn a dark living room into something to marvel at with smart gallery wall ideas that include your favorite artwork or photographs. 

The space above the couch itself can often be forgotten, but it needs just as much attention as other areas. Choose prints that coordinate with the overall scheme of the room and hang in an assortment of matchings frames. Group in odd numbers – three is a great place to start – to create harmony and visual interest. 

8. Find furniture to fit the size of the space

An example of dark living room ideas showing small grey furniture in front of a distressed wood cabinet

(Image credit: Future)

Select room seating that is in proportion to the size of your living room – oversized couches and chairs can make a small room feel narrow.

Make sure you arrange your  chairs at an angle to create a sense of depth to the room, as shown here. Otherwise, if you place all seating against the walls you might end up with a narrow 'bowling alley' look.

This layout is great for intimate conversation, informal entertaining and dark living rooms.

9. Follow the 60-30-10 rule when designing a dark space

A dark living room with a large window, dark grey walls and yellow furniture

(Image credit: Future / Lisa Cohen)

If you are planning a dark living room, and lack a little confidence with your color scheming, let us introduce you to the 60-30-10 rule. This foolproof design theory will ensure that you never go wrong when it comes to choosing colors. 

60 represents 60% and is the main color you are using in the room. Here, that would be the deep black on the wall. This shade will anchor the room and be the backdrop for your 30 color, which is the vivid yellow in this space. 

Use this color half as much as the main color. This is likely to be seen on accent chairs, curtains, or even a feature wall.

The 10 is your accent color, which will be represented by about 10% of your furnishings, showcased here through gorgeous green foliage.

10. Hang mirrors to reflect light

An example of dark living room ideas showing a living room with mirrors and spotlights

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

Mirrors are a wonderfully versatile design feature, adding instant intrigue and interest, while maximizing light and boosting the sense of space in a dark living room. 

‘We always recommend going for the largest mirror you can afford to make the most of every ray of light from your mirror’s reflection,' says Lucy St George of Rockett St George.

Plus, not only are mirrors great for reflecting light, they can also give you the opportunity to create a vignette, especially when hung as a gallery, creating a light-reflecting, space-enhancing focal point. 

How do you decorate a dark living room?

Decorating a dark living room is no east feat, but it is not impossible to create your dream scheme. 

The first, and most fundamental thing to consider is lighting. Get your lighting right and the rest of the scheme will follow. The right living room lighting ideas can not only illuminate a dark living room, but will also enhance the feeling of space. 

Color (even if you’re using neutrals) should be high on the list of things to consider when starting to redecorate. Ensure your chosen hues work well in your room by applying testers of paint onto sheets of white paper, then tacking them onto each wall you’re thinking of using that color on. 

Finally, add bold color with furnishings. It might seem niche, but we recommend employing the 60-30-10 rule when planning and designing a dark living room. 

What is the best paint color for dark rooms?

Traditional or contemporary, white paint is an ideal option for a dark living room. 

There’s nothing cleaner or crisper than pure white paint; it’s a look that lasts, no matter what the latest craze is. If you’re minimalist at heart and love a clutter-free aesthetic then white paint is undoubtedly the best option for a dark room. 

However, many an interior designer will often recommend going with – rather than against – the darkness in your space to create a cozy living room. In which case, choose a neutral paint color. This can be a range of taupes, beiges, blues, greys and browns for a smart, tailored look.

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.