Being in a room that’s giving off total dungeon vibes isn’t exactly welcoming to guests or great for your own mental health (there’s a reason for happy lights and light therapy, folks). Whether it’s a basement room, an apartment facing another building, or a windowless space with no natural light to speak of, a dark space in your home can present a design conundrum. Because without sunshine pouring in, the vibe can feel depressing and doesn’t do your mental health any favors. But, light or dark, an empty room is a blank canvas of sorts, nonetheless.
Interior designer Mikel Welch has seen his fair share of dim rooms during his time on the Trading Spaces team, TLC’s cult-favorite room-makeover show. But you don’t need a whole production crew to make your own transformation happen. Here, Welch provides key tips for transforming a dreary space to look bright and airy.
1. Choose a light wall color. “If you have a dark space you want to brighten up, light colors are going to be your best friends,” Welch says. Instead of moody blues or merlots, colors like white, cream, or sunny yellow will give the illusion of more natural light.
2. Add a floor mirror. Once you have your wall color finalized, reflect it everywhere. “You have to create an optical illusion, and one of the best ways to do that is by putting a floor mirror against a light-colored wall,” he says. “This will really open up the space and make it seem bigger than it actually is.” The mirror reflects the bright wall colors throughout the room, making a dark space seem less claustrophobic. Also, bonus: These pieces tend to look ultra-luxe.
3. Use shelving to create structure and room flow. Welch’s favorite way to create room flow, which he says is a means of clarifying a specific space’s purpose, is by using open bookshelves as both (wait for it) bookshelves and also room dividers. Because they don’t have backs, they still allow for a feel of openness and for light to pass through. “For example, you can use the shelving to divide the room up to have different functions, like a dining space in one area and an entertainment zone with a TV in another,” he says.
4. Pick furniture on the smaller side. Since dimly lit rooms tend to feel more claustrophobic than spaces with more light, Welch recommends furnishing them with apartment-size furniture. For instance, think loveseat, not sectional. “That way, you’re not feeling as constricted in the space,” he says.
5. Decorate using pieces you really love. “Every piece of furniture or design element evokes a feeling,” Welch says. “When you fill a room with things that make you happy, it’s a game-changer. It really does transform the feeling of the entire room.” Since dimly lit rooms are already apt to feel dreary, if you look around and see items that don’t excite you, those negative vibes only pile on. So, working within your budget, consider replacing pieces of the room that don’t spark Marie Kondo levels of joy. And, pro tip: Opting for items that boost the bright-factor of your room—like an LED installation to “daylight” your space—may be adept at boosting your happiness factor from the inside out.
One place to find some wellness-inspired decor? Home Depot. And take this quiz to learn more about your specific aesthetic.