Stephen Thompson: Pick colors that won’t get lost in the shadows

Poor light is a problem in rooms without windows – powder rooms, hallways, basements, and rooms that face north. These areas can be troublesome, especially when you’re trying to pick a color that won’t get lost in the shadows. Choosing the right color for a dimly lit room can be easy, but probably not the way you’d expect it to be.

Everyone knows, “Light colors reflect more light than medium or dark colors.” Common sense says, “Paint a small, dark room a light color and you will make that room look bigger.” True, but if you follow such milquetoast advice, you can easily make an uninteresting room look even more dreary. If you don’t have much light reaching your walls to start with, then any light color you paint them will end up looking gloomy and gray.

Many of you who need my help to pick out your colors shy away from using color altogether in a dark room; you worry that anything darker than beige just won’t show up. Yes, a dimly lit room has more shadows and shadows do tend to smother color. But we can compensate for that by choosing a bit more saturated (brighter, more pigmented) color than we might for another better-lit space. When selecting a saturated color for a dark area, you’ll have better results with a clean color (one containing little or no black), because a clean color will make your walls appear lighter and brighter.

Perhaps you have a power room tucked under your stairs or maybe a bath with no window. These are great areas to use a saturated color. Family and guests won’t spend much time in these small spaces, so pick a color that pops; pick one with a “wow” factor. You might think it counterintuitive to use a dark or unexpected color in a windowless area, but doing so takes a humdrum, boring, monotonous room and immediately transforms it into one that’s exciting, bright and stunning.
Caution: Don’t use saturated colors in hallways; they won’t work well there. Deep, rich colors in a hallway will mess with your mind, making you think the color is jumping off the wall. Since hallways are where most rooms connect, you’ll want to provide a transition between the hall and adjoining rooms by using mid-tones that are neither light nor dark, or perhaps a light neutral. You’ll be using color in your adjoining rooms, so there’s no need to choose a “color” for the hallway.

Can’t visualize? Manufacturers offer a variety of online tools to help you show you what a new color will look like. One of the most creative is the Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer, an online tool that lets you select rooms and house styles and, with a just a click, experiment with both interior and exterior colors.

Too many choices? Lowe’s Pantone Universe palette pares your choices down to just 100 handpicked, designer colors – putting the latest color trends right into your hands – even Pantone’s 2013 color of the year.

Scared of making a mistake? Both Valspar and Benjamin Moore paints offer small jars of color to try on your walls before you commit to buying a gallon. And, if after you commit and paint on a whole new coat and you still don’t love the color – Lowe’s will let you choose another on Valspar, thanks to their Love Your Color Guarantee.

Banish the dull! Use the power of color to pull your poorly lit rooms out of the shadows and bring them back into the light.

Live in beauty!

Stephen Thompson, Allied ASID has been creating coordinated, beautiful, tasteful interiors since 1975. For questions, comments, or consultations contact Designer Connection, P.O. Box 361, Tupelo, MS 38802 or

Click video to hear audio