How to Choose Colour for a North Facing Room

I received a brilliant question this week from one of my on-line clients. Before he hired me to help him with furniture layout and colour selection in Palo Alto California, he asked this question:

Interior Design by Glen Gissler

“I’ve enjoyed reading some of your articles, and came across your website by doing a google search to confirm my suspicion that you can’t get away with white in a north facing, single windowed room (with an overhanging balcony above). Beyond avoiding white though, I’m somewhat at a loss as to the best colour to choose and I feel like I’m getting some conflicting info from Donald Kaufman’s book Color and Light.

As you referenced ‘A light colour will never come to life in a dark room’ which makes sense to me yet, in the chapter titled Central Park on page 196, he talks about the need to eliminate the dark paneling that was soaking up all the available light (it only had north facing windows), proceeds to paint everything in beige and then praises the beige for allowing the light to penetrate the space. . .Confused!”

One thing I have learned in my years of design is that we’re always looking for the ‘rules’ that pin colour down to where we can understand it and master it finally, right?  Hooray? Is this the answer? Unfortunately, the answer is still no.

When I received this question it made me realize that a post explaining how dark colours generally work better in dark rooms is still not the answer in so many different scenarios. Plus how dark is dark? Red, navy blue, rust? Or does a light to medium tone still qualify as a darker colour. The answer is yes.

Donald Kaufman No. 29 via Things that Inspire

My client was in a townhouse (like me) with a balcony overhead (like mine) and north facing. If you are in a room with northern exposure and you have large windows, a room can still be quite bright (even without direct sunlight).

So that is why a room with heavy panelling would indeed suck the colour out of a space and would therefore look a lot brighter painted out. Ahem, for the record, notice that I did not suggest this painting out of wood—Kaufman himself did in this case 🙂

Color by Donald Kaufman Photo by Simon Upton

My clients room had been painted white (with one dark and long accent wall) and when I suggested a lamp or two at the other side of the living room that could be on the whole time he was home to make it feel like a window was there, he noted that with the white room, having a lamp on just looked sad instead of inviting. A great point. The last three images in this post are rooms that clearly have a lot of light and so the pale colours work really well and even appear ethereal.

White by Donald Kaufman

So to thoroughly answer the question of colour in a north facing room here it is; if you have a north facing room with a small, insignificant window then yes, paint it a rich, dark colour; however if you still have brightness in the room, keeping the colour even a light beige or grey will still add way more warmth and personality to the room over white.

Over to you, what colour is your north facing room?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me for on-line or in-person decorating and colour.

Related posts:

Happiness is. . . A Happy Wife
Why Does Comfortable have to be Ugly?
The Enchanting World of Atmosphere
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  1. I have a north facing condo, growing plants is nearly impossible, but my living room is painted RAIN by SW, Love the depth of the slightly teal green color. It is painted in flat finish and I have ugly orange wood trim. The color compliments the wood. I have light furniture with a lot of contrast between dark grey, teal and ivory/whites. I think the biggest thing in interest in the space, with my room it is texture. Great site, thanks

  2. I have a little secret. I use swatches from a very high end suede paint and get regular paint mixed to those swatches. I pick very dark colors for all my small spaces like bathrooms and bedrooms usually painting the ceiling too. I pick medium muddy tones for living/ dining spaces. Then use lighter colors for the brightest areas leaving white ceilings. It’s opposite of what most people paint and it works every time!