Before & After: How to Brighten a Dark Room

No matter how big or small your budget it, it’s easy to brighten a dark room with few styling magic tricks.

Today I’m sharing another one-day transformation with you. Y’all know how much I love the instant gratification that styling brings to a room!

Laura and Craig on their wedding day

My personal trainer Laura works at Innovative Fitness (owned by my sister Elizabeth and her husband Bill).  Laura’s husband Craig, is currently in California studying to be a Chiropractor. Laura and Craig were married for less than a year before Craig moved there to go to school.

Money is tight, but when her husband completes his education in the Fall, they will live in Laura’s one bedroom suite for a while longer and she wanted it to feel a little more like home.

Since I can create the look of a magazine in just a few short hours, I offered to help.

Laura sent me a few before pictures and Saturday morning we went out to our favourite store. 90 minutes later, we were done and by 1:30 pm we had installed everything, and  I left her house to get my camera .

How to brighten a dark living room BEFORE

How to Brighten a Dark Living Room

This is a small one-bedroom basement suite. Since the kitchen, dining and living area is all in one room, a normal rectangular carpet would not work here because it would define the living area from the dining table in the middle of the room and make it look even smaller.

That is where an unstructured faux hide came to the rescue.

I loved their colourful art (above)! This is an original piece the couple had purchased together. But as you can see it was a little lonely on the wall above the sofa. Also, if you introduce art with this much colour into your decor, it doesn’t truly come to life in a room this neutral.

Also, the biggest decor item missing from this space was table lamps. There were four little 3-spot track lights in the ceiling and the lighting from them was terrible. If you have a dark space, recessed lighting or spotlights in the ceiling is the VERY LAST light you should install.

So here’s the plan:

How to brighten a dark living room

Before

After

Hang a grouping rather than just one lonely piece of art.

We found some coordinating pieces of art and also added two more that Laura already owned. It’s amazing how a wall of artwork can brighten up a room, it can even be your kids drawings in inexpensive frames.  A wall without art is a dead and lonely space.

If you have a sofa with a chaise, place the throw at the end of the chaise (above), it makes it look less lumpy and since you’re putting your feet up, it protects it too.

I have an oversize leopard print blanket on mine that is folded in half and then again, so when I sit down at night, I slip my legs into the folded blanket and it’s sooo cozy. And it looks good too, animal prints go with everything.

Install table lamps (not overhead lights) and keep one on at all times.

See the new white lamp in the corner? If you have a dark space like Laura does, keep this light on 24/7. It’s much more inviting to walk into a dark room, even if you are not there when there’s a lamp on in the corner.

We did not add anything new to her bookshelf (above). I just re-arranged her treasured antique books and accessories.

I kept moving around a book called ‘How Soccer changed the World’ as I stood there arranging her shelves, and finally I asked her about it. She said “Well that’s my husbands book”, “Oh right”, I laughed, “I forgot his stuff is here too!”

How did soccer change the world? Inquiring minds need to know, haha.

How to brighten a dark living room

After (Coffee table, West Elm, similar here)

Add a contrasting rug to your hardwood floor.

The faux hide truly makes this space if I do say so myself! And it was only $99. It’s a fake, so make sure you install a rug pad so it doesn’t slide around on your hardwood floors. I wouldn’t use a faux hide anywhere but a small space like this with low traffic. It wouldn’t be great under a dining room table, for example.  Here’s some at Amazon

If you have dark hardwood floors, make sure you choose a lighter area rug.

HOT TIP: A cream rug works even if you’re decorating with white everywhere else.

Her front door is located to the left of the sofa, so now she has a mirror nearby in the new picture wall. And the reclaimed wood frame repeats the wood stain of the coffee table and picks up the browns in Laura’s original art.

After

Bring your coffee table to life with a new tablescape.

I loved the copper accents we included in this room.

Copper seems to look the best with pink or orange.

Laura was surprised when I whipped out three green balls (above) from a bag that I happened to have floating around in my car. I told her I buy green balls whenever I see them for a good price, they are expensive.

Related post: Tablescapes for Dummies, A Beginners Guide

Before

Laura had already created some great vignettes on her kitchen countertops. She said she rarely used her microwave (above) so I suggested she move it into her large pantry which had an outlet. It was not pretty enough to be the focal point of the kitchen.

We bought a lamp for the corner of the kitchen (below). This creates way better atmosphere and soft lighting than the existing overhead track lights which I told her to never use again unless she lost a contact and needed to look for it, haha.

After

Laura had originally found this oak kitchen dining set at a garage sale and painted it black (above).

I really like the way wood cutting boards warm up a white kitchen. I also like the hardware in this kitchen and that the knob was used on ALL the cabinets doors and drawers. I usually prefer a combination of knobs and handles but if you have to choose ONLY ONE, and you’re on a budget, knobs look better than standard looking ‘big box store’ generic handles.

Also, notice the placement of the knobs. They are positioned approximately 3/4 or one inch from the ‘rail’ of the door.

Related post: Ask Maria, Will my White Kitchen be Cold?

Laura found the grey cannisters to coordinate with the existing backsplash at Target. If you have a backsplash you don’t love, it’s still always better to decorate around it if you can.

I loved her existing wood tray, and when we added the cups and saucers, it turned it into a little coffee station.

Here’s the before picture again:

Before

And the after (photos by Maria Killam)

And here’s another picture of Laura and Craig on their wedding day (below).


Wedding photos by Sharalee Prang

Laura sent me this note yesterday:

Good morning miss Maria ? so I was literally gone from my house yesterday from 6:30am until 10:pm and didn’t even have a chance to sit and really take in everything. 

I’m sitting at my kitchen table and I am just in complete amazement. Everything is so beautiful and I feel so lucky to have had your hands touch my life in such a special way! 

I have been going through some really hard things the last few months and this has brightened my life and lifted me up. Thank you so much for your kindness! I will never forget it! It was so much fun watching you do what you are so amazing at!

Whether you have a small budget or a big budget, beauty can be created anywhere with the magic of styling.

If you would like your living room to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door, you can purchase our ‘Get me Started’ eDesign package here.

If you are local and would like to hire me for the same kind of ‘instant gratification’ kind of day, email us here.

Related posts:

How to Bring a Charcoal Sofa to Life: Before & After

How Styling Saved this Kitchen; Before & After

Style your Home Like the Pros by Using the Triangle Principle

The Barbara Barry Guide to Instagram (Through my Living Room)

How to Brighten a Dark Room with Styling

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  1. Maria, I LOVE this mini-makeover! It is so amazing what you did with some lighting and accessories. GORGEOUS! Please keep doing these posts, they are so helpful to us amateurs.

  2. I have to ask: why didn’t they move the large screen TV , blocking the window? Wondered why it wasn’t addressed…everything looks so lovely and you are right about styling around something you dislike…more posts on that would be great!!!!!!

    • Haha, great question Gilda! THAT is obviously her husbands TV. This is a tiny space, there’s no other place to put it. The countertops are right beside the TV on the right and the entry/hallway into the room is on the other side. Maria

  3. Maria,. You really turned this small space into a beautiful haven. Love all of the pops of co!or floating around the room. It is so important to take color from a special piece as a starting point. Everything is so bright and cheerful now! You have totally changed her outlook. Good job as usual!

  4. Holy cow!!! This is wonderful! I’m not surprised (because it’s Maria,) but I am in awe at the transformation! 🙂
    You have created a beautiful nest for this darling couple, and I can’t help but think the TLC will help what has to be a challenging time for them being apart. Brava chica, brava!!

  5. You are amazing and what you do is so much more than decorating. Your client has said it all in her comments when she beautifully replied with ‘…..you brightened my life and lifted me up’.

  6. Another awesome job, Maria! And I have to admit, the testimonial at the end made me a little weepy in a good way. Too many people think of design as frivolous but your post demonstrates how a beautiful environment can lighten one’s spirit.

  7. Great post, Maria! Always love a good before and after and so full of tips! That copper goes with pink – genius!

  8. Wow…fresh, yet cozy! This is a lovely update on tight money and time budgets. I, too, have one of those “husband’s TVs,” and even though our living room is actually quite large, our open concept house and the gift of many windows mean we have to partially block a window. Even though it’s one of many in the room, I hate seeing the stupid TV in front of a window. But you know, I didn’t even notice that the TV was partly blocking the window in the After pics of Laura’s place: all I saw was a lovely spot to call home.

  9. So fantastic. I love seeing this- a reminder that it doesn’t have to be a big budget or a major renovation to get something so lovely and put together.

  10. Wow! You don’t even notice how small the room is now. It looks so inviting. I wonder if a small circular rug could also work?

    Love the lamp suggestions. My living room sofa floats because we have no wall for it, and we cannot drill into our slab floor to put floor plugs next to the sofa, so I am planning to put an overhead bowl light, probably alabaster, to avoid floating lamps with trip cords next to the sofa, and instead of harsh recessed lights. I also want to put picture light wall washers. Would love to hear any other solutions to the floating lamp problem. Thank you for a great post Maria.

  11. This is another example of why style in your home is important. If you don’t have it, you don’t realize what you’re missing out on. The tweeks & changes you performed have had a profound effect on how Laura feels at home. It’s like a magic pill. Great job, Maria!

  12. Looks great! I’m sure this did brighten her life and help her through missing her husband–not his TV, lol–while he’s gone.

    Copper also can look great with blue and turquoise colors as well.

    The knobs are in the right place, and that is a pet peeve of mine when they are in the wrong place. We never put knobs or pulls on without the actual knobs or pull, and I see a lot of pictures on pinterest where it’s in the corner like an amateur drilled the holes and ruined every single cabinet door.

  13. Seriously, that turned out so cute! It is truly amazing how just a few well placed accessories can make all the difference!

  14. Love the before and afters. 🙂 I was wondering why people put TVs in front of large windows – or any windows. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the window and also make the brightness interfere with watching the TV? I suppose if there’s no where else to put the TV, then you would have to put it in front of the window. 🙂

    Thanks for all the tips!

  15. How wonderful and uplifting for her! What an amazing new look! You are very talented Maria!!
    So encouraging to see what a little can do rather than a complete walls down, multi-thousands of dollar renovation.
    Thank you for sharing?

  16. So fun! It looks great, I’m sure they are thrilled! Although I liked the Our Home and Native Land pillow 😀

  17. It’s amazing what a huge impact can be made from such quick and simple changes, beautiful! Thank you for sharing yet another helpful post!

  18. Everything looks much brighter and I especially like the kitchen makeover! When I saw the befores, I tried mentally to test myself on what I would do. My first thought in the living room, especially, was to add light curtains down the sides to give texture and lightness to the room. Or maybe a simple white/off white roman shade in the living room and kitchen. Just curious why you didn’t do anything there. Am I off track?

    • Hi Tanya, because the budget did not extend to curtains! You’re not off-track, curtains almost always add softness and totally transform the room another level. Thanks for your comment. Maria

  19. I love to see a before and after transformation. What a good job you did in her space. It must brighten Laura’s lonely days till her husband comes home. Great job!

  20. Hi Maria. I totally enjoyed this post. I never fail to learn something new from you. Such a transformation! Light and bright. Cheerful. Can’t wait to get home from vaca and oust “stuff” from my counters and replace with beautiful, usable “items” lol. Has been on my to do list for awhile. Reading this has rekindled my interest. Thanks.

  21. That was MAGIC! What a gift you have given us all in sharing the thought process and the photos. A wonderful spot to call home!.

  22. You are a miracle-worker! Love, love, love the makeover and the post itself -all the explanations about how and why you’ve done things and why it works. I truly believe you are a teacher as well as decorator, and am still chuckling that you “happened to have” green balls “floating around your car”.

  23. Miss Maria, what a great transformation. It is Amazing how simple small changes can give a room new life. Thanks for another great post.