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Brighten A Dark Room:
Small Changes To Brighten Up Room Colors!

How to brighten a dark room: Melanie was looking to "lift" her dining room colors from gloomy to bright & upbeat, but without having to replace any of her furniture. Here's what she said:

Hi Renate,

I have tiles that are reminiscent of Tuscany, a period style 8' x 4' timber table that looks like it's hewn from a giant forest, and sadly I bought all my furniture to match the set ... and it looks so matchy.

I want to remake its look, and I'm not into the 'rustic Tuscan' thing.

My lounge, which connects to the dining room, was done in soft teals and beige.

What colour would I do my table, and other timbers to suit?

P.S. My home is quite dark!


Melanie sent some photos of the room in question:

dining room in natural colors

dining room in natural colors

dining room in natural colors

seaglass color swatches on brown stone floor

living room in neutrals with turquoise accents

And she explained what kind of dining room color and mood she had in mind:

I love seascapes. I live in the mountains. I hate dark wood.

We get a lot of stormy, gloomy weather. These pics were taken in early morning light (around 8am) on a very, very good day. It is mostly grey and overcast (bring on summer please!!)

This home is very open-plan with open half walls, and loft-style with exposed rustic beams and rustic flooring.

Personally I dont like rustic and will not do my furniture to match it (although it would look uniform throughout), because it is a rental.

I have just repainted the entire home in Skin (beige with red undertones).

I was thinking of doing the chairs a fantastic azure blue and upholstering them and perhaps taking the table back to raw and then just doing a waxed type surface.

But I hesitate - due to the quality of the furniture - albeit hating the colours!

Thanks a lot for your reply :-)

Hi Melanie,

Thanks for sending the pictures! I can see what the problem is now. You have similar brown dining room colors all around the room, in

  • flooring,
  • window frames,
  • panelling under the eaves / roof beams
  • table/chairs
  • 'trunk'
  • open hutch (love that hutch :-)
  • open bookshelf, and
  • the kitchen, and
  • the floor.

Which makes the space very easy on the eye, but the wood is relatively dark & apart from general gloom during foul weather periods, anything dark will also stand out against light surroundings & a light background color and take up visual space.

I don't think I would change the whole table/chair ensemble, though, because that might not sit easy with the rest of the furniture - it could look like a foreign entity: awkward, rather than interesting. (I find mixing woods & styles can be incredibly hard to pull off!)

However, I do think changing the look of the tabletop could make a big difference. (Leaving the base frame untouched will visually integrate the table with the rest of the furniture).

1. Brighten a dark room by changing the
color/material of the tabletop

You could ...

  • Take off the tabletop, sell it to the highest bidder, and replace it by a smooth piece of 'driftwood'-style top: completely matte, & of the same or a similar color as the sofas.
  • Strip the tabletop of varnish & stain (I agree, it seems sacrilegious) and treat it, or have it treated by an expert, so as to make it look very light and maybe somewhat grainy by either
    a) scrubbing & liming or
    b) painting & wiping the paint off while still wet, to expose some of the grain (I'm not an expert in these techniques & don't know which types of wood respond well to this treatment and which ones don't, so I suggest you contact a local furnituremaker or carpenter & get their take on it.)
  • Experiment with color before you strip the tabletop: get a length of oilcloth & pull it tight over the top, tucking the sides in underneath & stapling them into place, but leaving the base frame visible.
  • I really like the blue color strip against the flagstones in one of your pictures - a perfect, quasi-complementary color scheme. One of the tints would probably look lovely as a tabletop color, also great against the pinkish walls. However,
    a) you'd have to make sure it really goes with the azure/turquoisey colors you have already chosen for adjoining spaces & accessories, and
    b) this kind of blue tends to look great in sunshine, but pretty drab in murky weather (so make sure you test thoroughly!)
  • Rather than replacing, stripping or painting the tabletop, here's one more way to brighten a dark room: get a carpenter to make you a (thinner) layer on top of our current table, in exactly the right, light color and finish. This will physically heighten the table, of course, but as long as your kids can still reach their dinner plates you might be okay.

2. Brighten a dark room by
slipcovering the chairs

I'm not sure I would paint the chairs. A less 'final' method to brighten a dark room would be to ...

  • Slipcover the lot, e.g. in related but subtly different colors, with a few neutrals mixed in & maybe one patterned slipcover, for good measure. (This needn't look 'country' or 'Tuscan', you could give it a very clean, breezy, seasidey look.)
  • Upholster the seats & add cushions to the backs.  Alternatively,
  • You could replace two or three of the chairs by modern, clean-lined 'beach house' style wicker chairs - as long as they complement the other furniture well & don't look stylistically out of place. It would have to be relatively chunky, pale, bleached-looking wicker (or water hyacinth), and you could add cushions in some of the fabrics you've used for the slipcovers as well.

There - my two cents' worth, Melanie! I can only suggest you take your time; these things usually develop slowly, and sometimes the right idea pops up way into the process.

Good Luck!

Here's part of Melanie's reply:

Thanks for your response!

It's a huge deal but I know I like the beachy, fresh, clean, streamlined and light feel of an airy home. So, I will give it some thought and get back to you.

I appreciate your thorough response, very well laid out and with a keen eye. I was thrilled. So kind of you to take the time.

I had in the past contacted other designers who were cool and impractical.

  • One desiger said to paint the chairs yellow and stick a lamp in every corner of the room.... (ew)
  • Another said, start again and buy all new furniture (ouch).
  • Another said, your couch is all wrong, that is the problem. (?!)

When I found your site, I loved it, it was thorough and well written.

I will keep you in touch and hope that it will turn out fabulous!

All best,

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