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Lighten Up! 5 Ways to Bring Light into a Dark Room

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On Monday I showed you my fireplace painting from white paint back to brick. This was only one step in our major living room renovation. I hope you will hop back again this week to see some of the other transformations we made to this room.

1. Faux painting brick over a previously painted white brick fireplace
2. Lightening up a room in 5 steps (this post)
3. Painting decorative graphics on a wall
4. Preparing to Install Antique Heart Pine Floors (and living to tell about it!)
5. Installing Heart Pine Floors and the Final Reveal

After the bricks were painted, I enjoyed the results for a few months, but I had bigger ideas for this room. The first was to lighten up the room. This room has no windows, only a sliding glass door that opens to a screened porch. No ceiling lights except two eyeball lights aimed at the fireplace.  Add to that a deep pine green paint on the walls and this room was one dark cave.

These pictures were taking before we moved in:


Years ago Pretty Handy Guy and I learned that the first thing you need to do to increase light in your room is to scrape the popcorn ceiling and repaint it using Valspar’s Ultra Bright Flat White Paint.

Photo courtesy of DIYNetwork.com

This always makes a dramatic difference in how much light is reflected (as opposed to being absorbed by the popcorn texture and dull builder’s white paint.)

Okay, so if you are thinking that I scraped the ceiling myself, think again.  I may be pretty handy – and there isn’t much I can’t do – but this is one job I choose NOT to do. I scraped our pantry ceiling and it was easy, but my neck hurt for days! Do yourself a favor and hire someone to scrape, spackle and sand for you if you have neck or shoulder issues like I do. Then you can prime and paint with a roller on an extension pole.

Ceiling scraped, spackled, sanded, primed, and painted with ultra white paint. Wow, that is bright white!

Just kidding. I didn’t take a picture of the ceiling.

Most people know that adding a lighter color to a room increases the amount of light. Dark colors absorb light while lighter colors reflect them. (Remember the wisdom of not wearing black on a hot sunny day).

After much deliberation*, (because I liked the green color that was already there) I chose a lighter green for the walls. Wasabi Powder by Behr. But I had my favorite “paint guys” at Ace Hardware match the color in a Benjamin Moore Satin Aura Paint.

*When I deliberate, I bring home about 50 different swatches from many brands for each room I am trying to decide for. Then I put up a few at a time stuck in door jams, light switches, etc. I move them around on different walls at different times of the day. Then weed out the ones I don’t like. I live with the colors for at least a week, taking time to narrow my choices down to three. Then I run to buy the little sample paint jars of the colors I chose or have the paint department at Lowe’s mix one ($3 for a sample of ANY color! Woot!)

At this point I am so gung-ho about painting that I grab my brush and paint big 3′ x 1′ patches of the finalists on all four walls right up against the white trim (so I have one edge against white not the existing wall color). But, If you aren’t quite ready to paint on your walls, you can paint your swatches on big pieces of poster board instead. Usually within a day I can decide on “The One.”

Since this was my first experience with Benjamin Moore Aura paint. I was shocked when the paint covered the deeper green with only one coat! Pretty Handy Guy and I are perfectionists about painting, so we have always used two coats on any room we paint. We both agreed that this time we couldn’t see ANY spots showing through with this paint!

Legalese: Of course, your results may vary.
We have since painted the office from a dark sienna color
to a light stone color and definitely need the two coats.

One more thing about Aura paint, it really is super low odor. It is more expensive, but you don’t have to use as much since it covers better, no roller marks, and …hey, it is good for you and the environment!

The new color made a difference, but the biggest unexpected change in light happened when we widened this doorway:

This was a measly 4 feet opening from the kitchen to the living room.

I had been trying to convince Pretty Handy Guy for eons months that we really needed to open up the doorway. I wanted to be able to see what our two screaming boys were up to while struggling to pull dinner out of the oven. Or be able to participate in conversation with guests when they sat in the living room and I was busy in the kitchen.

I tried taping up cardboard to show him the new width. But, he just couldn’t see the potential. Luckily, he finally gave in.

The next day, I hired a contractor to open up the doorway. This guy was worth his weight in gold, especially when he proposed a brilliant idea:

“Why not add sconce lights to each side of the opening in the living room since I have to cut holes to move the wiring in your wall anyway?” YES! I yelled. I could kiss that contractor. To this day, I still love those sconces and the light they add to the room. But, most of all, I loved the expression on Pretty Handy Guy’s face (sheer quizzical skepticism) when he heard “sconces”. I found out later that Pretty Handy Guy didn’t have the same vision as I did:

Opening up that wall had an unexpected bonus. It allowed all the light from the kitchen bay window to spill into the living room. So, to recap, here are the light altering changes we made:

  1. Scrape Ceilings
  2. Repaint Ceilings Ultrabright White
  3. Repaint Walls Lighter Green
  4. Add Sconce Lights to both sides of the wall opening
  5. Open Doorway

And the results speak for themselves!

Before shot: Living room during daylight with table lamp lighting


After shot: Nighttime room lit by fireplace lights
(gotta love Santa’s magic North Pole footprints made with baking soda!)


After shot: Nighttime room lit by fireplace lights, sconces
and (okay) a few Christmas tree blinkies

Before shot: 4 foot doorway looking into living room


After shot: Same doorway widened to almost 8 ft. (doorway looking into kitchen)


Final shot: Way too early Christmas morning!
Stay tuned!
And then…Dec. 26th 2009…Christmas is over, take down the tree and remove everything from the room. Make way for reclaimed antique heart pine floors! You gotta see this (coming soon.)
25 replies
  1. Michelle @ Dream Home DIY
    Michelle @ Dream Home DIY says:

    Oh your new doorway is just PERFECT!! And I laughed out loud, sitting in my office, when I scrolled down and saw the scone picture hahaha

  2. Amanda@The Hand Me Down House
    [email protected] Hand Me Down House says:

    Fantastic post, Brittany! (As always!!) These are some wonderful tips — and believe me I'll be using them! I love the color you chose for your living room — as well as the molding — it's beautiful!

  3. The Pennington Point
    The Pennington Point says:

    Oh dear…I desperately need to remove the old popcorn ceiling. Like you, I don't want to do it myself. Your post is a reminder that I really need to have it done. I love the results of all of your hard work. Lisa~

  4. Brandy
    Brandy says:

    I so want to get rid of our popcorn ceilings… sigh. but I just don't see me doing it!!! I wish.
    great post!!!

  5. Jeralee
    Jeralee says:

    Love the green! Benjamin Moore is usually my first choice for interior paint. Most of my trim is done in the satin Impervo… good paint!

    Great tips here.

  6. rebecca @ older and wisor
    rebecca @ older and wisor says:

    Those sconces were a FANTASTIC idea! Smooches to your contractor. I hope he's on your Christmas card list. You never know what you might need done next, eh?

    Our living room is always dark too, thanks to an enclosed sunroom (game room) out the sliding door/covered porch out front/mature trees out windows/etc etc etc. Too bad I can't open up any walls to do some wiring.

    Maybe I'll just have some scones instead…

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Love the room. So glad you mentioned the bright white paint for the ceiling. We didn't scrape our popcorn but did first thing paint over it with bright white cause did realize other was sooo dull. Does make such a difference.

    Donna (got here from Decor Lady too with her pantry)

    • Jenni
      Jenni says:

      I had all popcorn ceilings and I hated it. It just looked old and dingy. I tell you what. It pealed off in sheets! About 3-4 foot sections at a time. Thank Goodness. It was was easier than I thought I would be!

  8. Jen
    Jen says:

    Haha regarding the sconces! I sold PartyLite for years and I had so many guests fill out their sheets telling me that their favorite piece was the 'scones'. Beautiful home, btw. =)

  9. That One Girl
    That One Girl says:

    OKAY! I'm following you from now on. My house is TERRIBLE! I can't WAIT to be able to redo it! I'm only changing the paint and whatnot. Our living room is not huge, but not tiny either, and the former owners painted it chocolate brown and brick red. Our master bedroom is on the smallish side… peach and chocolate brown sponge paint… backwards… (dark on top) and every room in the house had popcorn on the ceiling!

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Nice job….

    We did those prints but not for Santa (wish we'd thought of that), but the Easter Bunnies' prints coming out of the grass on to the front porch…kept them believing a little longer…my brother-in-law came around with his little foot print kit..thanks for the memory 🙂

    Kathy 🙂

  11. Becky
    Becky says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Trying to figure out how to make a space light and cozy with only a little natural light is so hard, but you make it look easy!

  12. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    I never realized the popcorn ceiling was absorbing my light! I hate those ceilings–and I wish there was more light in our house. Great ideas. YOu are very creative and clever.

  13. Kristy
    Kristy says:

    Beautiful home. Could you tell me the color of your kitchen or dining room. The yellow room 🙂 I think it’s a perfect yellow color.

  14. Juanita
    Juanita says:

    My apartment is dark and gloomy. I don’t have screens to open the front door or the patio door. My front room only has the kitchen window and the patio door and window and they are on opposite sides of each other. I am starting to feel depressed all the time. I go outside and sit and I am a happy person. I come back inside and I can’t wait to get outside again. How can I fix my dark apartment?

    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Juanita, Here are a few more ways to increase the light in your apartment. Hang or lean a big mirror on an opposite wall from your window to bounce the light around the room. Make sure your ceiling is painted an ultra bright white. Builder’s white is a little dull in color. Any curtains, blinds or drapes you have should be installed outside the window so that the entire window glass is exposed. Even 2-3 inches that are covered can cut down on light. Add more lamps to your room. Floor lamps are good at bouncing light off the ceilings. And finally, look for some full spectrum light bulbs to help your mood. Or this product by Philips looks really cool: http://www.usa.philips.com/c/light-therapy/11625/cat/en/?origin=|mckv|sF0hMo9mw&pcrid=9042887694|plid|#/cp_tab1

    • Juanita
      Juanita says:

      Actually I meant to say that I have one patio door and one window and they are at opposite ends of the room. The patio door faces east and the window faces west.

  15. koontzk@worcesterma.gov
    [email protected] says:

    Hi ,

    I am looking for a few pointers. I just rented a large beautiful apartment that has one major flaw. Every room (living room, all 3 bedrooms and the family room) are paneling and my landlord will not let me paint. Can you please give me a few pointers on how to brighten up this dark apartment? To make matters worse, I have dark living room furniture and I am on a tight budget, my husband is out of work right now.

    This seems impossible to me and I may just have to live with it for a while and slowly make changes as I can. Any advice or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    Kimberly L.Koontz


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] not just any DIY blogs. The ones where some very attractive mother of two single-handedly remodels the family room in three easy steps. Steps that involve painting – free-hand – complex murals with […]

  2. […] Faux painting brick over a previously painted white brick fireplace (this post) 2. Lightening up a room in 5 steps 3. Painting decorative graphics on a wall 4. Preparing to Install Antique Heart Pine Floors (and […]

  3. […] steps can be viewed here: 1. Faux painting brick over a previously painted white brick fireplace 2. Lightening up a room in 5 steps 3. Painting decorative graphics on a wall 4. Preparing to Install Antique Heart Pine Floors (and […]

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