Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When a Room is Dark

Although we enjoy living in rooms bathed in warm, natural light, it's not always possible to achieve. Sometimes the light that can be captured indoors is diminished by the orientation of the house, the position of the room at or below grade, trees and shrubs outside the window, or the need to create privacy, or hide an unattractive view.  If you live in a house with dark rooms, what can you do to make them feel comfortable and inviting? 

Here are some things to consider when you look for solutions:

Purpose of the Room

A Home Office/Jewel Box
There's no design law that all rooms must feel sunny and bright. Sometimes the purpose of the room will lead you to decide that, instead of fighting nature, you want to create a cozy space, or a luxurious jewel box. Examples include a room where you watch movies or television, a dining room mainly used at night, or a bedroom. Rather than using light, reflective colors, the color in these rooms could be deep and rich, as in this home office. Notice that the red desk and chair blend with the walls, making the room look larger.


Light Fixtures
In a dark room, especially one used primarily at night, artificial lighting is a key consideration.  Analyze the existing lighting. Does it meet your functional needs and suit the look you want? Each room should have three types:  Basic Types of Lighting 

Light Bulbs
In addition to the light fixtures themselves, you need to be up to date on the types of light bulbs that are available for each one, because they will affect the color of everything in the room. If you haven't already done so, replace old-fashioned bulbs with energy-efficient ones, when possible. For each new light bulb you’re considering, you need to know:
  • wattage in lumens, compared with the bulb you’re replacing.
  • its color temperature (CCT) which shows whether the light cast by the bulb is warm or cool, as measured in degrees Kelvin on a scale from 2700K to 6500K. The lower the number, the warmer or more yellow the light. In darker rooms, it's important that bulbs cast a warm light, or the room will feel cold and gloomy.
  • its CRI (Color Rendering Index) number which tells you on a scale of 1 to 100 how accurately the light renders color. Avoid bulbs that don't do this well. 

Orientation (Exposure) of the Room

If you use the room during the day, analyze the natural light it receives, if any. What direction(s) do the windows face? The exposure determines the color that's cast by natural light, and must be factored in to color decisions. North-facing rooms, for example, have constant blueish light, while rooms that face East and West change color with the position of the sun. Color expert Lori Sawaya offers some excellent guidance:

I second Lori's recommendation to test the colors before you decide. Be sure that the sample is at least 2 x 3 feet. A tiny paint chip won't do. 

Who Will Use the Room?

Will the room be used by one or more family members, or is it a semi-public space, like a dining room, that also will be used for entertaining? If it's a personal space, there's a smaller audience to please, and that makes decisions much easier.

Colors in the Permanent Elements

Smart use of color, especially paint color(s) is a key part of your design solution. To start, determine the following:
  • Color family(ies) of the permanent elements, such as flooring, carpet, woodwork, cabinets, counter tops, etc. Are they warm (red-orange-yellow), cool (green-blue-purple) or neutral (pure white or gray)? Be sure your paint colors are compatible. If you have warm tones, choose warm versions of your colors, such as a yellow red instead of a blue red.
  • Dominant colors of major pieces of furniture and accessories, such as sofas, chairs, area rugs. 
  • Colors used elsewhere in the house. The color you use in the dark room should relate.

Some Ways to Create A Lighter, More Open Impression 

If you want to make the most of every little bit of light, natural or artificial, here are some ideas:
  • Use warm, bright mid-range colors for walls. Whites, and very light colors look dingy because there isn't enough light to render the color accurately. To make the room look and feel sunny, use a rich (not pale) yellow. Colors from the red and orange families also are good choices for a warm impression.
  • Use light to mid range colors for major pieces of furniture.
  • Install adequate, three level lighting, as described above.
  • Choose simple furniture and don't over-furnish.
  • Plan for ample negative space. 
  • Hang window treatments at ceiling height and to fall at or outside the window frame so no light is blocked.
  • Use mirrors on the walls and behind shelves. Place lamps or candles in front so their light is bounced back into the room.
  • Use glass on one or more table tops.
  • Choose reflective finishes for some pieces of furniture and accessories. 
  • Favor light, open accessories over large, dense ones. 
  • Carefully prune any trees or shrubs that are blocking light.

Figuring out how to make the most of a dark room is like putting together a design puzzle, starting with how you want to live in the room. Don't be reluctant to make the room into a dark, cozy nest, if that's what suits you. 

If you need help, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a design/color consultation. If painting is part of the project and we do the work, the consultation is a free part of our services.

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