A Huge Paint Color Myth About Small Spaces


We’re not sure where it started, but it’s time to set the record straight about one big misconception…

Painting a room a dark color does not make that room feel smaller. It’s an idea you’ve heard on countless HGTV shows growing up, or maybe on shows like Trading Spaces and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, so it’s kind of ingrained in our way of thinking when deciding on a paint color.

You’ve seen the scenario play out 100 times: there’s a small room, maybe a bathroom or living room, and it’s dark and they want to brighten and freshen it up; they want to make it feel larger and more open. The designer/host says they’re going to paint it a light color, and that’s because painting the walls dark will make the whole room feel like it’s closing in on you. Bright colors = open and spacious, dark colors = closed and cramped, right? Not exactly.

We’re currently painting a small bathroom (like, tiny small. There’s only room for a toilet, a skinny vanity, and a corner shower!) a very dark, moody green color, a color so dark it almost looks black until you squint hard enough. We’ve received a ton of messages warning us against the color choice, that usually go along the lines of “that color will make that room feel so small!” “you should have painted it a lighter color so it feels bigger” etc etc etc. The thing is, that room is already small. There’s no way around it, and painting it a dark color or a light one isn’t going to change the fact that it’s just plain tiny.

We think the myth caught on in the early 2000’s and for some reason people just ran with it. Take this 12 year old article that discusses the topic and says, “It is a generally known fact that light colors make a room look bigger and brighter. Light and bright walls are more reflective, making a space feel open and airy, which helps maximize the effect created by natural light. Dark colors, on the other hand, tend to absorb light, making a room look smaller.” Sounds familiar, right?

On the flip side, an article featured on SherwinWilliams.com explores the opposite: “Psychological studies on human perception and distance (the earliest study I found dates to 1898) have consistently found that observers perceive bright objects to be nearer than the same objects in darker colors. Additionally, bright objects appear larger than dark objects. In design textbooks, this finding has been converted into the mantra ‘light colors advance and dark colors recede.’” Basically explaining how, in fact, dark colors can trick the eye into making a room appear larger, with the darker tones seemingly pushing the walls further back and pulling you in. This article and this one make other great points on the subject, with the latter discussing how it’s not the color on the walls that determine your perception of its size, but rather the amount of light it gets throughout the day. So interesting!

So there you have it. While it’s easy and makes us feel like we know a thing or two about design, saying that painting an already small room a dark color will make it feel even smaller, is simply not true. We’re almost finished with our small bathroom renovation and we are loving it so far! Can’t wait to show y’all when it’s finished, hopefully in the next week or two.

What do you think? Have you heard about this popular myth, too?

(image via here)