The One Thing I Wish I Knew Before Painting My Small Room White
It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for every small room.
Small spaces are a design challenge almost all of us have or will encounter at some point in our home-dwelling lives. Whether it’s a city apartment that’s tiny in every way or a cramped dining room in an otherwise spacious house, trying to design in a smaller space can be difficult. Often, the primary goal is to make the space look larger than it is. But of the most commonly employed tactics to make that happen (think: choosing proportionally appropriate furniture, using white or other light colors, creating the illusion of a larger space with mirrors) one can actually be hit-or-miss depending on the specifics of the room.
It’s a commonly repeated design rule: Paint small spaces white to make them look bigger. But before you head to the hardware store with your favorite white hue in mind, know that white is not always the smartest choice for every small room.
First, white paint thrives when soaked in natural light. It reflects the light and does create an airy feel, but if the room lacks well-sized windows or doesn’t get many hours of direct light, the bright white walls can feel a little sterile and flat if only lit by lamp light. And even though we’re at the height of white-wall popularity thanks to Instagram, foregoing color altogether (even one in a neutral hue) can actually leave your space looking blah instead of bright and fresh.
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The solution? You can still stay on the lighter end of things and opt for a rich cream or light gray to give your space the best chance at looking larger than it is—even the slightest depth to the walls (and contrast to your trim if it’s white) will give your small space a lot of life. Or, if you’re willing to try something bold, a small room can be the best place to really experiment with color and pattern.
For certain rooms (bathrooms, foyers, dens), it really might not be necessary to play down the fact that it’s a small, dark space. So why not embrace the coziness and consider it a playground for your most exciting design ideas. A great room covered in navy blue toile wallpaper—that’s the stuff our nightmares are decorated with. But a small half-bath doused in that same print? Brilliant. Going bright or dark or patterned in a small space works well because it packs a strong punch without being too overwhelming. Need proof? Check out this bold bathroom:
This small bathroom may appear to get a lot of natural light in this photo (Read: Don’t be fooled by the tricks of professional photography) but even at night, this bright green pattern is lively and fun—especially with the coordinating lime green trim—but still shy of overwhelming.
We certainly won’t be swearing off all white paint anytime soon (have you seen how many all-white kitchens we love?), but we do suggest taking a step back before picking up that paint brush and consider bringing some serious personality (and color!) to your small space instead of trying to “fix” it by going white.