help! how do i make my living space brighter?

I believe in taking a chance on paint color, since you can always paint over it. But I should have listened when I was cautioned against painting our living room and dining room shades of blue and gray. Despite our efforts with colorful curtains and art, our walls are simply too gray for Seattle. When it’s overcast outside, which is quite often, the colors inside amplify the dreariness. When we get one of our lovely sunny days, the paint sucks the life out of any rays that make it into the house. A large roof overhang that shades our living room doesn’t help matters.

We don’t want to paint everything white, but we’d love to hear suggestions on paint colors or any tips on making the space seem brighter. Yellow in the dining room and orange in the living room? Should we start by painting one accent wall in the living room (currently two shades of blue-gray) or would it be better to go with one color everywhere? A note that we’d like to do this without replacing the furnishings — we just can’t afford that right now — though I am thinking about moving the hutch from behind the couch since it makes the room feel even smaller to me.

Please weigh in with your suggestions! Thanks! –Mary T.

Click through to the next page to make suggestions and see a few more photos!

Colorful art and furnishings still don’t do enough to counteract Seattle gloom.

This gives you a clear view of the two shades of blue-gray in our living room and hallway.

A white fireplace (still in progress) is helping somewhat, but I need to do something about that Darth Vader-esque TV and cabinet. (I love the cabinet but it might be better somewhere else.)

From our partners

My immediate reaction is “why is all your art red and orange?” It’s very unsettling to look at the blue/red and blue/orange combination since it’s so high contrast. It feels very stressful. If I mentally take away all the hot/warm colors, the rooms feel much better and don’t look at all dreary.

A lot of your stuff would look fine in a pale yellow room… lots of neutrals and warm colors. I wouldn’t go for actual orange walls, since it’s a high energy color. A softer terracotta or peach would give a similar effect and not be so overbearing.

(the other option is to hang art that suits the tranquil space the blue gives… sunny landscapes would work a lot better than the vivid primitive stuff.)

Mary T.

Thanks for weighing in, Emily! While we have a considerable amount of art in other rooms, there’s not a sunny landscape among the bunch and I don’t foresee one showing up in our house in my lifetime. : ) The color observations are good ones, though!


Well, I love your artwork (I’ve seen it in person). It’s so very you and Dave.
What about a pale celery, (Pantone 9582?) not too green, for the walls. It could brighten things up a bit and not be too cold. It could pick up some of the green in your art. Without appearing too “Little Miss Sunshine”.


I’ve lived in Seattle, and Olympia, and currently Portland. One thing I noticed right away is that you don’t appear to have enough lighting, (though there may be some that doesn’t show in your pictures). It looks, to me, like you have some interesting accent lights, but no overall room lighting. I learned, from a friend who consulted a lighting specialist, is that you need three kinds of lighting for a room to feel good; overall lighting, task lighting( like desk lamps, or undercounter lights in a kitchen, and accent lights. You might consider adding more lighting of some sort… wall sconces, uplights, basically something that “bounces” light off the ceiling. (In one room in my house I added strings of white LED christmas lights around the ceiling edge and it really helped)


I’m lousy at picking colors, mainly because I can never find any that I like in a room all day long and all night long. It’s hard to find a color that works in all lighting.

Having said that, I’ve had the best luck with what I used to think of as boring neutrals that are lighter and warmer. Especially in our north facing rooms. I’ve used sand, taupe, and a sort of sage green with just a hint of lime with some success.

However, the climate where I live is the polar opposite of the climate in Seattle. Even in winter, most days are sunny with blue skies. We have something like 358 sunny days a year. So the light is completely different.

I find that the grey days in the Pacific Northwest can sometimes have a kind of hard shine to them, like living inside a stainless steel bowl, with light reflecting from everywhere, but not feeling like a warm light.

If you don’t mind painting, maybe you could get several colors that you think might work, paint large squares of them on various walls, and see how they look over a period of several days at different times.

It’s a lot of work, and I’m essentially lazy, but I REALLY wish I’d done that with our living room, which is a lovely buff color in daylight, but turns olive green at night under artificial lights.

I’m with Cherlyn. I can visualize a celery or even lime tone which would work well with all that red and orange, and bring spring light into the rooms, even in dreary days. We live in the northeast and have a big kitchen/gathering room that is spring green with lots of red and orange accents, and it totally works–and feels cheery even on really drab days.


There are already great suggestions (more light sources, reflective ceilings, paler warmer walls -but I do like the grey).
I would mention that the windows could be utilized better- removing the shades that block the sun and (is that an umbrella that blocks it from the outside?) and opt for something like a wide panel that could be moved to the sides during the day to make the windows a bigger presence and then slide ’em over for privacy at night. If direct light is too harsh at least a sheer lets in more light than the hard shades.
Also fewer larger rugs that tie more of the furniture together and protect the beautiful floor. I love so many of your quirky objects that it would be great to ground them in a less busy background.


i just painted my entire front room and hallway in behr chocolate froth. though the straight color was a tad too light for my taste and my white trim, it might work well for your predicament. i chose to do 1.5 pigment of the chocolate froth and i couldn’t be happier with the outcome. its still very light, but still allows the white trim to pop just enough. the room is much brighter and just gives an overall fresh, clean feeling. good luck!


and after a second look, just repainting that blue wall that goes through to the hall in something less intense and color sucking and removing the hutch, which could free up some space to move the large art piece to behind the couch (suddenly leaving room for a low table near that door :) and either leaving a nice pale blank wall opposite your big window or something that reflects more light than it pulls. perhaps the black cabinet with the inside painted/lined/mirrored.

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Since your art is very orange and the wood floor and hutch in the main room have an orange cast to them, I would also recommend a green paint color. Try a neutral green with a hint of grey. I would suggest either Behr paint in Spartan Stone or Olympic paint in Sprig of Ivy. You can get these paint chips at Home Depot for Behr or Lowe’s for the Olympic brand. These green colors are very soothing and reflect light very well. You can even view the colors online (but of course the colors may be altered depending on your computer screen)


I’m all for bold room colors if you think you’ll like it. Because you have such bright artwork, you probably would be a bold-room-color sort. I LOVE your yellow dining room/orange living room suggestion, but a note of caution when choosing orange paint. Take DJ’s advice above and paint the sample swatches on your wall first. Orange is a really tricky color — it’s easy to get it too funhouse bright, too ’80s peach, too unsettling pink, too wait-is-that-orange-or-yellow, too dark and reddish, too anything. (I’ve painted two rooms orange in my life, and I didn’t get the shade anywhere near right on the first one, and it’s just a smidge off on the second one. Fortunately, I sold the house with room #1, so it’s someone else’s problem now.)

Also, if you went the yellow and orange route, make sure to choose a truer yellow. I can’t think of anything weirder than a beautiful orange with a mustardy/harvesty/brownish yellow. (Unless you went with a burnt orange, but that’s getting back into dark colors that eat all your light.)

And I know whereof I speak. My kitchen is painted “Dandelion” (yellow) by Dulux/ICI paints, and my adjoining sunroom is painted “Honey Maple” (orange) by Olympic paints. The “Honey Maple” is just a smidge too pale and too close in tone to the yellow, but it is very cheerful and bright and cozy and lovely.

Good luck!

Mary T.

I love all the responses — and yes, I once ended up with a garish yellow bedroom that I decided to try to make work because the yellow was off. We also had the wall with the big red piece on painted a kind of yellow green initially, and it looked ghastly! A lighter shade might make it work (especially if we ditch the dark gray in the tiny DR).

There is an orange color that I’ve seen and liked that is called “terracotta” (I think that’s the maker’s official name for it) but has a nice orange look on the wall. Anyone know who makes that?


I painted a dreary bedroom a light, but bright, green. I was afraid it was going to be too bright, but it was lovely and brightened the room.

If you move the hutch, a mirror or an assortment of mirrors over a console table or shelf at table height would add light, especially if a lamp or two were on the table. I have also found that uplights on or near the floor can work wonders.

I think painting the entire dining area a different color would help, it would look further away and maybe larger and breezier?

We did a bright orange wall and landed on a pretty good color. It might be brighter than you’re thinking, and I’m sure it wouldn’t go with your dining chairs, but for what it’s worth it’s Field Poppy from the Olympic store brand (which might be called something else now) at Lowes, here is the the before and after.


I’d go with a really warm apricot color on the walls. The weather in Seattle can get gloomy and I’m afraid the blue doesn’t help in that department although it is a very pretty blue. The apricot won’t clash with your art or your furniture either from what I can tell.
Good luck!



The terracotta color you saw could be from Bioshield. It’s called Terra Cotta Milk Paint.

nice to see someone who loves colorful art pieces…ben moore’s seville orange is a beautiful orange, and ralph lauren’s beachwalk is a light reflecting, calming color (but not sure where i see it in your home, but it’s a calming alternative to white). go to my blog, click on flickr link…… will take you to a house tour i’m working on, with big, bright pieces of art and light walls. i don’t know if it would work in your house, but you will see examples of painting the lower third of the wall a richer, grounding color.

yes,remove the hutch from behind the couch…not only is it large, but the wood is “eating” up all the light. maybe orange on that wall…don’t be afraid to mix colors…i buy the mini-pots of b.moore and mix straight or use it with ralph lauren’s picket fence white. would you have the option of glass panes($ and safety) in your front door? that would add light…


I think a buttery or creamy yellow, not lemony, would be perfect without distracting from the decor.


I’m with the light celery/pale yellow crowd….. our bedroom is a not-quite-yellow-not-
quite-celery-cementish-almost-neutral-but warmish color and what I totally love about it (we are fellow Seattleites) is that it warms up and can hold its own in the gloom and when it’s sunny it gets nice and bright, and when we get indirect sun it bounces off the foliage from outside and brings out the celery green which is fresh and and cheery. Yeah, Seattle can be tough with your darker colors…. anyway, with such cool art, scaling back to a more neutral, lighter tone will help to focus attention on the art and lighten things up. I’m a big fan of the accent wall, though, so maybe keep your fireplace wall a darker shade, I like how the fireplace pops, it gives good depth and dimension, lets you keep some of the drama you might lose by going more neutral/lighter everywhere else. My dos centavos!

this might be too complicated but if you have ACE hardware where you are, they have the recommended color combos and one of the booklets is “sporty”. Unless they change frequently, within “sporty” is a 4 color combo that is basically cream, orange, gray/blue and sort of a puky green. The green is nasty but the gray/blue looks similar to what you have. We used the cream on 3 walls in our (too dark) family room and the orange on the main wall. The kitchen, which has a view into the family room is cream with the gray/blue on the backsplash. I like the orange in the color combo and that 4 color palate might be a nice fit with your art. when choosing paint I usually look at the recommendation cards as I have painted one too many rooms a really garish color (flourescent green bedroom anyone?) :) good luck!

Megan B

Ok. So maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think your house is dark! The pictures make it seem darker than it is maybe, but I love that blue in your living room. The gray in the DR could be lighter- maybe the celery green everyone is suggesting would be nice in there- tie in with the trees outside both of your windows. And I do think the hutch behind the couch might be a bit large- though gorgeous- you could remove the top right, and maybe a mirror above?


I like the colors with all the red and orange you have. I’m not sure what other color to paint other than a warm white. My sister used to have a fantastic pale pinky-peach color in her living room that absolutely glowed in evening light–it was much more neutral than it sounded. But I don’t think it would go with your place. I think your issue is you need better lighting! Also I think the hutch in the living room soaks up a lot of the brightness–can you move it?


OK, I am still pondering the issue at hand here, but in the meantime, where’d you get that beautiful sofa?!

Tiffany S.

As you know, I’m a big fan of both green and the accent wall. I’m madly in love with Behr Hazelnut Creme lately but it’s doesn’t really pop unless you have white next to it. Maybe you should go neutral with a tannish creme and let the art speak for itself. Then you can do an accent wall somewhere for a little bit of fun and keep the bedrooms colorful.

Mary T

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the input from everyone! (I’m torn between being frightened — we only occasionally get this many comments! — and wanting to invite you all to my house for a painting party!) I haven’t read all comments yet, but rebeccab, the sofa was originally purchased from Contemporary Galleries in Cincinnati. I actually bought it when it was a few months old from a photographer who was using it in his studio but then got downsize. I’m afraid I can’t remember the maker, but I do love it! Even if it’s black! : ) Plus my cats are much less likely to scratch up leather, so it was kind of necessary at the time.

Sorry I’m a bit late to the party…

The light in Seattle is very similar to the light in England and Scandinavia so I would look at colours which work in those countries – blues and greys actually work well, but they tend to be a little bit lighter and softer than the blue you have and mixed in with lots of ivory, cream and ecru and light woods.

I also read somewhere once that the colours of flowers in their natural light is also a clue as to which colours which work well, as flowers need to stand out in their natural habitat. That’s why you get very hot bright coloured flowers where the light is harsh and very white and more subtle softer colours where the light is softer – so think heathers, lavenders, buttercup yellow, pea, mint and celery green and dusty pinks (though you don’t strike me as a pink sort of person).

Personally I like the contrast of the blue with the orange artwork, so I’d just make the blue a little lighter, softer and more knocked back, and also, and I hate to say it, replace the sofa, which is tremendously fab, but also, from these photos at any rate, seems to suck light out of the room like a black hole…

Check out Farrow & Ball paint colours for ones which traditionally work in the UK.

Oh and the people you bought that coffee table from must have impeccable taste :)

Tiffany S.

I agree with Dorian, and the more I think about it I think you should go with a neutral (in the tan family) and let the art and accents be the “color.”

You can scan a photo of your room and the photoshop in the neutrals so you can preview it. Neutral doesn’t have to be white.

Maybe pull a neutral color from your NEW PUPPY!

I will probably regret this later, but what about pink?

Oh, yay! I see I’m not the first to mention pink, so I stand a little taller on this.

A nice soft pink — another hard color to get right so I would swatch first — in either the warm or cold family. You have the perfect furniture and art to pull it off. Pink in those rooms wouldn’t come off as precious at all. More bright and neutral, without being too neutral. You know?

I have a little house in Seattle too, and have a few weird dark spots. I don’t know if this is a solution for you, but I’ve been considering a solatube.

They have them at the ecohaus, and at home depot


I was just going to say the same thing! I’m considering getting one, and perhaps putting an etched glass filter in the mix, so my upholstery does not get bleached by the sun.

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My first idea is that I am reading all these people say green and I say no to green. I think you like the blue/gray, but you don’t have the furnishings for it. A lighter blue in aqua would be cheery. I agree with everyone who says you’ve got to sample first. It’s a pain but it’s easier than painting the whole wall again and finding out it looks a little too much like circus peanuts or chalk, etc. Take down some of your art so you can paint adjacent to it, rehang and see how you like the direct contrast.

Right now, I think your walls are just the wrong color for your art, and really, all of your furniture. Too cool and dreary. If you like blue, a warmer blue, some kind of aqua; if you like gray, a warmer gray, a very light warm dove gray. If you want to make a drastic reactive change, I liked the suggestion for the brown. I don’t know what hue of brown was suggested, but I think a warmer cream in coffee color would look nice with the hot reds and golds of your art.

Other suggestions: I liked the idea for pink but I think it’s also kind of out there – always sample these things. Prepare to phase out any of your black furniture. Take some books about lighting re: decor out of the library. I’m not sure how the blue you have now is “too dark.” It’s keeping all your light, but I think any darker paint color will. I’m not sure you have adequate lighting. Can you do sconces at all? More table lamps, etc. Depending on the direction to your windows, it may take extreme lighting to overcome the lack of sun, even with white walls. I would also take some time and rearrange a lot of stuff, furniture and art. You have nice things, but I don’t think they’re exposed where they look like they should be. You don’t need new furniture, for the most part, but rearranging is a free fix-up.

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[…] 1. When exploring new colors for your walls, always try out a test swatch first. As DJ wrote: “… Get several colors that you think might work, paint large squares of them on various walls, and see how they look over a period of several days at different times. It’s a lot of work, and I’m essentially lazy, but I REALLY wish I’d done that with our living room, which is a lovely buff color in daylight, but turns olive green at night under artificial lights.” Click here to color advice on see more in How Do I Make My Living Space Brighter. […]

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How about Valspar’s Churchill Hotel Wheat for the Dining Room. It will give the room a warm anchored feeling without bringing it down. This color will also make those orange chairs pop. It’s a great warm neutral that will be a great backdrop for your amazing artwork – which I love!

For the living room you could try Lunar Tide which is a soft warm neutral green. Again, the warm colors in your artwork will look great against this. Having the two spaces painted in slightly different colors will also create expansion while still holding the two rooms together. Good luck!

Chris F.

I don’t know if you have already painted and this is too late, but I thought I might share a couple of ideas. If you have already painted, I would love to see what you decided to do. I think that you should do some accent walls. What I would do is move that big red picture with a face in it and move it to the right. Then take the two pictures that are currently on the right and move to the left of that picture and stack on top of each other.

Then, I would take the yellow that is in that big picture and paint the two walls with windows in your dining with that color yellow. Then, I would take the red that’s in that picture and paint the wall with the fireplace and the wall to the left with the window in it the same color red. Then, I would pick a corrdinating neutral color to paint the rest of your walls.

It also seems like the light wood hutch by the door is way out of place for the contemporary pieces found in the rest of the spaces. I would take that out of the room and possibly move the black cabinet that is to the right of the fireplace and put it next to the door and then put the TV to the right of the fireplace. I would also consider finding a black TV stand that matches your other furniture. You also could use more color in the pillows on your couch.

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[…] awhile back, I asked for some suggestions on brightening up my home. I’m happy to report that we’ve made some progress — […]