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Why Dark Walls Work in Small Spaces

by Kevin O'Gara

When it comes to small-space decorating, the common advice is to go all-white on the walls to reflect the most light and make the space feel bigger. This theory made sense to me when I first heard it, and is a great way to brighten a room, but after painting my father’s entryway grey, I’ve begun to appreciate the value of darker walls in small rooms. While white is an easy and versatile base, the way that light interacts with white can be very static — there are no subtleties in its hue because it reflects all the colors at once. This is where the dynamic color of a dark shade gets interesting: as the light in a room changes throughout the day, so does a dark wall color. Even black can have cool or warm undertones.

Now, the main purpose of a fresh white coat of paint in a small room may be to make the room appear larger, but the fact is that a dark color can do the same thing — although in a different way. Instead of reflecting more light, it reflects less, and though this difference may seem misleading, the depth of its color and shadows — and the fact that it’s not so clearly defined by the light — blurs the edges of the room. By absorbing the light, the walls of the room are less clearly marked and can give an illusion of more space.

So, next time you see a white wall, think of it as a blank canvas and consider the impact of a moody charcoal or luxe jewel tone, just as these rooms showcase. I love the mix of colors here — from shades of grey to cool blues and greens. Would you consider painting your walls a dark shade, and if so, do you prefer the rich colors or modern monochrome? 

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The moody bathroom of a Catskills vacation home by Tara Mangini and Percy Bright pairs blue with a gold mirror and hardware. The metallic accents shine in the shadows, offering warm reflections.
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From the creative home of Luke Edward Hall in North London. A forest green is made playful by pops of red and yellow.
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A minimalist vignette from the LA home of Eva and Ian Goicochea. Warm, dark wood and a small rug make this corner cozy.
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This warm ebony in Emma Reddington‘s Toronto Victorian was ahead of the curve when this home tour was shared back in 2010.
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This corner captures the light on Anna Potter‘s green walls beautifully. Her home tour showcases the changing shades of green that this paint color produces throughout the day.
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A hand-stenciled pattern brings interest to this accent wall in the home of Amber Hampton. The playful pattern brings this dark wall to life!
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A sophisticated study in the Brooklyn townhouse of Melissa and Keye Lee. The richly hued and paneled wall shines over the light bleached floor.
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A high-contrast bedroom in the home of Paige Morse creates a cozy reprieve. The light, fringed textiles create the effect of an airy cocoon.

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