What colors should I paint my living room to make it brighter? 5 space-boosting colors, as chosen by designers

These are the paint colors to choose for small, cramped and dark living room spaces – plus expert tips on how to use them for the best effect

What color should I paint my living room to make it brighter?
(Image credit: TR Studio / Kalina Krawczyk / Kit Kemp / Margaret Ash Design / Tim D Coy)

Finding the right color to paint a living room to make it brighter and lighter is a design challenge worth taking on. The power of paint and color is enormous, and getting it wrong or right could mean the difference between a restful or gloomy room. 

All it takes is a living room paint refresh to drastically change the look and feel of a space, and it should be the first course of action you take if your dark living room is feeling cramped or claustrophobic. While you can change the direct light source, the room’s color palette can still sway the overall aesthetic. 

Choosing which paint color to decorate with for any room color ideas can be a daunting process as there are so many to choose from, but becoming your own color consultant is easier than you think, and we are on hand to help inspire you with a range of paint ideas to make your living room look brighter. 

What color should I paint my living room to make it brighter?

Getting the color right in a living room can be a tricky business. Even with all their experience, it can take time for professionals to make a decision. There is a lot to consider if you want to brighten a room – the size and shape of the space, the available natural light, and its direction, who it is for, how the color makes you feel, etc. 

Here interior designers, decorators, and color psychologists reveal what the worst colors to paint a room are, and how to approach choosing paint ideas for room color schemes that truly sing, from using the color wheel to help you avoid making disastrous color mistakes to finding paint colors that will make you feel happier at home.

1. Limewash

snug room with plastered wall and pale sofa and olive tree

(Image credit: TR Studio / Kalina Krawczyk)

Limewash paint gives a room such a special feeling that you experience as soon as you step into it. It doesn’t have a flat color, like normal paint, and so the light seems to dance across the walls, making a space feel brighter in an instant. 

'One of the most amazing qualities of limewash paint is how it looks in different lights,' says designer Louisa Grey, of House of Grey. 'In a north-facing living room, you will get a totally different color to a south-facing living room – so it’s important to get big tester cards to see how it looks in a space.'

Not only can it make a living room appear bigger and brighter, but limewash is also popular for its eco credentials. 'The fact that it is made from natural materials – silt, clay and lime – is important to me and chimes perfectly with my ethos around creating a holistic house,' says Louisa.

2. Earthy pinks

roost episode 3 - a living room decorated in pink and blue - PinkBlue_JAMES-MERRELL

(Image credit: James Merrel/Future)

It's inviting, uplifting and effortless to decorate with, so it's no surprise that pink is now seen as an interiors neutral. But with choices from pastel to bubblegum, the right shade can prove a tricky quest – and that's where earthy pink comes in. Rich and nuanced, an earthy pink has a depth that lends sophistication to a scheme. A versatile hue, it can veer into burgundy or brighten into a deep coral. 

‘This tone works perfectly in a living room that is rather dark, or which suffers from a lack of natural light,' says Elizabeth Hay, founder, of Elizabeth Hay Design. 'Not only does it inject a space with brightness and cheer, but it will also bring out and highlight any accent colors in the room.’ 

This versatile hue adds freshness when used alongside classic furniture and impact in a more contemporary setting. Quite simply, it's a pink for grown-ups. 

3. White

Rustic living room with white walls and wood coffee table

(Image credit: Public 311 Design)

It's the simplest of colors but, as anyone who has set off on the quest for the perfect white can attest, also one of the trickiest to get right, especially if you want to brighten a dark living space.

‘White represents purity, innocence and new beginnings, as well as cleanliness and clarity,' says Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball. It can be used everywhere in the home but is very successful in diminutive living rooms and any room where you want to increase the feeling of spaciousness and brightness. It is also an ideal foil for a well-curated room of art and furniture.’

Patrick O’Donnell
Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell is a color consultant and brand ambassador for the world-renowned paint brand Farrow & Ball. Having worked at the brand since 2012, Patrick is now one of the leading authorities on paint and color. 


Cream foot stool, white shelves and curtains

(Image credit: Kristen Rivoli/John Bessler)

An earthy golden yellow is a shade that not only shines, but also brightens, and can visually expand a small living area. Mood-lifting and warm, yellow brings energy, confidence, and optimism to a space. It can be used anywhere in the home but is particularly effective in north-facing rooms that lack light.

‘Yellow is a color that evokes happiness and provides a sense of positivity,' says Andy Greenall, head of design, at Paint & Paper Library. 'It is perfect for areas of the home where there is much activity and socializing, such as the living room, where it adds energy and vitality.’ 

‘To use yellow or ochre, you need to think of it as the “neutral” in the scheme; as a foil to set off other colors, not to overpower everything else. Avoid anything that says canary or banana and go for something that sets off the architecture or warms up a cooler space.’ 

5. Green

green living room with painted ceiling, blue rug, blue striped armchair, plants, mantel, artwork, pale blue lampshade on floor lamp

(Image credit: Pooky)

To make green living rooms look brighter, it's important to do a little in-room research first. To begin with, consider the room's natural light. Is it a cool, east- or north-facing light that the room gets or a warm one? Knowing this will help you choose a balancing shade – warmer ones for cooler rooms and cooler ones for warmer rooms. 

Finding the right green – one that will help maximize light – will turn your dark living room into a brighter space. But green has many other positive qualities, too. 

'Green is such a joy to use: the primary color of nature,' says Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball. 'It is the perfect color to deliver calm and serenity and therefore has the flexibility to be applied in every room in the home but is especially great for living and reception rooms. It symbolizes renewal and growth.'


How can I brighten a living room?

If you want to brighten a living, it is worth taking note of the natural light and direction of the room. 

Light is a key factor, and the best way to address this is by considering the aspect of the room. ‘As a general rule, to lighten up a north-facing room, avoid anything with a green or grey base or don’t fight it and paint it dark which creates a cozy and cocooning feel,’ explains Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball. 'Meanwhile, using soft, pale tones is a great way to maximize the feeling of light and space in a south-facing room. Light in west-facing spaces is cooler in the morning and brighter in the afternoon so warm tones will work well, while light blues and greens can have a calming effect on east-facing rooms.'

Choosing the right paint colors to make a living room brighter is an art, and should be given as much consideration as any other aspect of interior design. 

Designers also talk about another element when using color to maximize space: contrast. As a result, don’t be tempted to lean on analogous colors – those that sit side-by-side on the color wheel – the result will be harmonious but might lack in vitality and light. Equally, a scheme based on complementary colors will result in maximum contrast but will need to be softened by neutrals.

The best colors to make a living room brighter

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.