My Top Ten Interior Design Tips #6


image by Pia Ulin
image by Pia Ulin

Sometimes painting a small dark room in a coat of white paint will give you just that; a small dark room painted white. If white is to work as a brightener and lightener, it needs natural light to bounce off and create that illuminating effect. If you don’t have that then white can end up looking rather drab. Instead you need to find a colour.

Sometimes you need to embrace what the builder and the mortgage lender gave you. A small dark room? Embrace that. Paint it dark. Then it’s a small, dark, dramatic room. A cosy room. A room that isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t. You can, if you’re feeling really brave use gloss paint which will also reflect any light back rather than absorbing it back into itself.

keep the peace by valspar a blue black shade of paint image by simon browning
keep the peace by valspar a blue black shade of paint image by simon browning

The other thing is that dark walls will make all your artwork really pop and look amazing. And, it looks great under electric light, which, if it’s a small dark room, is probably on most of the time anyway. If this is a room with a television in it then the telly will disappear on a dark wall, which is a good thing as you don’t really want that to be the focal point of the room, and gives a slightly cinematic effect when turned on.

This room above belongs to the BBC journalist Simon Browning. He posted it on instagram and tagged me saying after reading about me wanging on about dark paint for so long he had decided to give it a go. Now before you all start shouting, he is going to do the skirting boards just as soon as he has a minute and I’m sure he will show us the result. Will which be amazing by the way.

Two things to note about this – one if it wasn’t for the reflection from the window you would totally not even see the telly. Result! And two the paint is Valspar Keep The Peace in case you were wondering. Simon says is a deep blue black sort of colour – it can be hard to tell on a computer so I am writing it down as well.

So what do you think? If it’s a small dark room you’ve got problems with then the chances are it’s not the one you are spending the most time in so you can afford to be bold. Although dark walls work brilliantly in large rooms too. My sitting room (featured the other day) has charcoal walls and it looks great in both natural and electric light. Remember my other tips about metallics, colour from your wardrobe, personal touches and unexpected details and you will totally be able to rock a dark room.

Who’s going to give it a go?

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I did it a few months ago. In a large dark room. My bedroom. Paint and Paper Library Sea Blue (discontinued, I think). Walls, picture rail, skirtings, doors, built-in cupboard door and drawer fronts. Ceiling a slightly lighter shade (which I haven’t got right). And then I found Abigail Ahern’s Bowery Blue which has extra depth and a bit of a lift and one day soon, when I have the energy, I’ll paint it all over again. I love it. You are so right about dark colours bringing out the colours of a painting. I have one gorgeous painting that looked brilliant in my previous home, in a yellow painted bedroom. It looks AMAZING against this dark blue. Small chandelier with brass leaves. Brass bed. Brass elephant string lights above the wall of cupboards. Planning to buy a brass/gold framed mirror to go above the bed as I need the light to reflect a bit more. My sitting room is also dark; walls are now Paint and Paper Library Caravan (also discontinued …); skirtings and picture rail, doors etc to be done soon. I’ve never been scared of colour …

  2. Hi Kate
    What paint colour is your living room? I’m slightly scared but excited about embracing the dark side. Love your blog. Happy Christmas.

    1. Hi Kate, it’s Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball – it’s the most delicious colour imaginable and it’s not that dark. Keep the ceiling and window frame white and use pale rugs if you’re nervous. Also a large mirror – or two or three in a group to bounce the light around. Also read my lighting tips – you might need more – wall, floor, table and task. XK

  3. I am thinking about going dark in my study – smallest room in the house and used only by me. Just need to find a dark colour that I can work with – the upside is that my study has the most disproportionately large window compared to the room. So this should mean that a dark colour should work?…… yes.

  4. Thanks for these tips, Kate. We have just painted our small dark living room in Abigail Ahern’s Madison Grey. It needs lots more in the way of lighting, art and pops of colour but loving it already. It’s a relief as it took four coats with plenty of time for doubts to creep in!

  5. We have just bought a small, old city flat in Göteborg and I am planning to go dark here even though the rooms are small. We only plan to use it when we feel we miss city living as our house is by a lake in a forest. I have a dark grey wall in a bathroom in our house and a Beautiful dark blue wall (Nordic sea – isn’t that a Lovely name for a paint colour?) behind the bed. I am slowly getting there. .. Thanks for all of your tips. They are much appreciated.

  6. Yes, love the dark side. New year project is painting our bedroom a Little Greene Basalt, including all wood work, just not sure what to do about ceiling?? It’s a beautiful tall room with 2 floor to ceiling sash windows. Any suggestions?
    Happy Christmas

    1. I’m so sorry – I missed this comment over Christmas and am just having a catch up now. I love Basalt it’s a great colour. Some would suggest doing the cieling as well as it’s a bedroom and will be very cocooning like that. It’s it’s too much then I would try and go with a chalky white which will be a bit softer than plain white – Farrow and ball wimborne or little greene Shallows might be the thing. Let me know how you get on.

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