6 Tips on How to Brighten a Poorly Lit Space (A Before & After look)

So if you've been following a long with me you may be thinking how I revealed our living room in our brand new house just a couple months ago. Well, after living in the space for a few weeks I realized I had two problems 

A) The design just wasn't "me" enough, I liked it but I didn't love it. I want to just oogle over my space. Especially one we spend so much time in. I actually found myself avoiding that room at all costs. It's hard when you first move in and you are in such a rush to just get the house livable and presentable. I rushed through that room and my design suffered for it. So, I knew it was something I wanted to come back to as soon as I could.

B) The lighting- ugh (insert ugh faced emoji) We have this amazing backyard and covered patio which is so so great with three littles but the patio covers the only window to the living room and the light funnels through the brown painted roofing creating shadows, ombre walls, and distorting colors. Between the grey walls, mostly grey furniture, dark floors, and not a lot of natural light it was awful. The photos from my first shoot are highly edited and severely lacking in quality because of it. 

SO, I made it my mission to improve the lighting in this poor space. I researched, I studied, I reached out to design friends and I complied a list of  ways to do it. 

Here is a link to the BEFORE and like I said the photos were highly edited (brightened) and there were so many shots I just couldn't get because it was so dark.

(PS. We are not done with this space but I just couldn't wait to share my findings with you! We are still planning on re-finishing the chair legs, completing the wall panels, getting a bigger jute area rug, fixing that silly hole above the mantle and mounting the TV, painting the ceilings, and re-vamping the entryway too!)


Okay think BIG, what are the largest scales in the room? Answer: The walls, floor, and ceiling. This is the first thing you need to do. If you are ready to just go all in then you can choose to paint your walls white. I truly believe this made the biggest difference. White has always been my favorite color so for me it really wasn't a big plunge but I know it's not for everyone. You are probably thinking seriously, what is the difference between light grey and white. I know, it sounds ridiculous but there really is one. I realized this during our time in Colorado. Our house had a ton of natural light but when a blanket of glistening snow covered the ground, the light that poured in was a truly glorious sight. This works because light can be reflected. 

Okay, so maybe white isn't your favorite color or you just really don't want white walls. I get that, so if you do have colored ceiling like ours you could paint those white. Or, maybe you just have really dark floors, you can use large and light colored area rugs to cover most of your dark wood. I still need to paint the ceiling and getting a larger rug which I believe will help even more!



Using white or at least light furniture and textiles where ever possible will help as well. If you have a room filled with brown leather couches and dark wood pieces of course it will "feel" darker. So maybe you can't get a new couch right now or maybe your Mr. says absolutely NO white couch (I get this a lot from my design clients). Create a collection of white pillows and throw blankets to take some of that darkness down a notch and give the illusion of a lighter piece. Most of the pillows you see here are inexpensive covers from H&M. I get my pillow inserts from Royal Pillow. Target has these amazing, knitted, bright white, throws right now and we have a few of them. 

Also, if you still want to keep your space warm, use light colored natural woods where ever possible. I love the way all the wood accents pop so perfectly off all the white. 

Our fireplace was a pattern of grey and beige stones, it was terrible but I just didn't love it so it got painted as well!


Again, light can be reflected. There are two spaces in the room that get the most light so I strategically placed wall mirrors to reflect as much of that light as possible. The larger the mirror, the better!

We decided to do the wainscoting panels so the walls wouldn't be just plain white and boring. This tiny architectural addition makes a huge impact in the design. It brings sophistication and sort of ties it all up in a bow. It really didn't take long and the cost is anywhere between $70-$100 per wall depending on size and if you have a miter saw a very simple DIY. 

We opted for large floor to ceiling panels instead of chair rail and frames for three reasons:
COST- It's cheaper without the extra wood and chair rail pieces needed.
TIME- Obviously this design is a lot less time consuming because there are less pieces and cuts.
DESIGN- Most importantly, design style. I love the look of chair rail wainscoting but it is a much more traditional look. I love a mix of traditional, elegance, with a hint of sophistication and a clean, simple, modern look. I believe the large panels combine these both. 



Although it may not seem like it, furniture placement is a big part of the lighting as well. This back corner where this dresser is now gets the worst lighting in the whole room. This is originally where the sectional was pushed into. That created a problem, I put the darkest piece of furniture in the darkest spot of the room....well duh Rachel, of course that is going to create an even darker appearance. So I moved the sectional to the middle of the room closer to the window allowing the light to pour through and onto the couch. Then for that corner I used this extremely bright white painted dresser, I see a really big difference in this once almost un photograph-able corner! 

(SN: The couch does block some of the light coming in from the window onto this back wall but the benefit of the overall space out weigh that con. You will need to take that into account when arranging your furniture however)


So normally when photographing I never turn the lights on, they always create a yellowish glow and reflections. All natural light gives you a much better image. However, since this isn't a kitchen or bathroom (which usually have a lot more reflective surfaces like counter tops, appliance, and faucets) and there was a decent amount of natural light I was able to keep the lights on, giving me more lighting in the darker areas but where you really can't tell it's not all natural. 

Make sure you get DAYLIGHT bulbs, not yellow and not even white. Here is a little picture of the difference:


Originally, I wanted white, floor to ceiling, velvet, pleated, drapes because I love the sophistication they bring. I could only find grey in my price range so I ordered them. While the were gorgeous, in this poorly light space they had such a large dark presence. You may think since the drapes, when open, only cover a small part of the window that this would be no big deal, but that's wrong. When you have a room lacking in natural light every square inch of it counts. So, I took the velvet beauties down and used them in my office which gets better lighting. I put up white sheers and it really does allow a lot more light in and also makes the window feel less "heavy". 

I see a TREMENDOUS improvement and I hope this helps you if you are dealing with the same unfortunate circumstances!

1 comment

  1. Very informative post. All great ideas. I especially love the molding on the wall and that coffee table. Did you purchase the coffee table or DIY?


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