Can I paint my Walls White even if the Room is Dark?

I can count on one hand (okay maybe two) how many times someone has hired me to actually choose a white for their walls.

White cabinets? Every day. White cabinets are fabulous anytime.

But walls?  I mean most people can pretty much pick white on their own. However, since gray became the new beige and white replaced cream, suddenly more and more of my readers and clients are asking for white walls.

Pretty room and with the light source coming from one side you can see the grayish ceilings. source

I received this question from a reader and thought I’d turn it into a post so everyone could benefit. “After reading your post about light colors will not come to life in a dark room, I keep revisiting in my mind how then would someone who loves a beachy or California Casual look (often with that white on white look) pull it off in a room that doesn’t get a lot of light? If you can’t go light/white…what do you do instead?”


This room appears to have so much natural light the walls are barely there. source

This is a great question and the answer is, if you don’t have enough light streaming in your house for most parts of the day, then white is not the best idea. What will happen instead is your walls will look gray and dingy because the shadows all on their own will simply cause your white walls to appear gray.

This room only has one set of windows and the effect is grayer walls. source

So what do you do instead? Well, if you still want ‘neutral’ you intentionally choose a gray that is dark enough so that it looks. . . gray not dingy.  If you want white should you choose a plain white?  Yes.  Because if you go too creamy your walls will simply start to look like apartment beige.

Notice once again, that white walls look the best with clean colours in general as well as either high contrast floors like in the first image, or painted white floors or pale maple.  If you have beige wall to wall carpeting or even worse pink beige, and your walls are white as well?  They will start to look like some kind of apartment beige because a crisp white on your walls just makes your carpet look more dirty.

Where you can get away with bad or a less than ideal colour in carpeting is in smaller bedrooms where the bed/s visually takes up all the space (above).

This room above, is an example of walls that need colour.  The sectional and artwork is too earthy to work with the clean white walls. This room needs a greeny/brown beige like BM HC-80 Bleeker Beige to truly pull it together. White walls are like any other colour. They should be visually pulling together all the other ‘white’ in the room. Three toss cushions in white to try and pull in it will not cut it!

Another space with tons of light and fresh colour to go with white (Jonathan Adler)

So before you commit to white, check out my White is a Snob post and my Bright Colours Need a Healthy Dose of White and proceed with caution.  It will not look fabulous in every space.

How do you feel about white?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

6 Rules for Painting Trim; Light or Dark
What is Beauty? 3 Ways to Know
How to Choose Colour for a North Facing Room
How to Make your Brown Sofa Sing a Happy Tune

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  1. Despite reading this and other articles, I have yet to find one that explains WHY you shouldn’t paint a dark room white. Why not? Wouldn’t it reflect the most photons? I mean its white because it doesn’t absorb any colors in the visible spectrum, right? They bounce off it. Ergo, maximum photon deflection. So why does puke orange or tasteless-fool-lime-green work better? Can anyone actually *quantify* why???

    Or is there no actual reason besides “artistic preference”? The walls in my finished basement level are a recommended cream -beige color… and it sucks. It’s so dim. The walls seem to drink the light of the incandescent bulbs.

    • This post clearly explains WHY. That’s WHY it’s in the headline. Your paint colour probably doesn’t bother you as much as the room that may be lacking a look and a feel. My best advice is stop stressing about your paint colour and start decorating or hire someone to help you, if you weren’t born with that gift. . that’s my best advice, If I had to choose between painting my walls and styling the room, I would choose decorating hands down, every time. Paint cannot do all the heavy lifting. Hope that helps. Maria