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9 ways to brighten a dark room

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Try these tips out and watch your room light right up

In a photo stylist’s Minneapolis home, an intimate den brightens up with two kinds of floor lamps (one more focused and another more ambient), a vibrant wall, and large framed artwork that’s reflective like a low-key mirror.
Photo by Wing Ta

Whether you have a basement guest bedroom, a thumbnail-sized bathroom, or an apartment in the city with windows facing another building, having a space with little to no natural light can equal gloom and doom. But with some clever planning and decor choices, you can make the space feel homey and inviting rather than like an underground bunker.

From using far-reaching arc lamps to getting strategic with mirrors, ahead are the best hacks to drag the light in.

1. Go big. If your room isn’t the size of a matchbox and can handle a larger fixture, go all in with a big chandelier or statement pendant to bring in not only a lot of light, but also impact to a seemingly drab room.

2. Be selective about bathroom lighting. There’s nothing more frustrating than a dimly lit bathroom, especially when it’s time to get ready. For greater illumination, install light fixtures close to the mirror and opt for designs with bare bulbs to beat back the dimness.

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3. Get strategic about placement. In addition to your main ceiling light, add some extra lamps in strategic spots around the room to make it feel brighter where it counts. Instead of sticking a floor lamp in a corner you never sit in, try adding a swing arm lamp by your couch.

4. Try arc lamps. If you don’t want to drill holes in your wall for sconces, use an arc lamp to bring the light closer to you and make the overall space feel brighter.

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5. And fixtures without shades. You’ll get more light into the room if a shade isn’t blocking it and concentrating the brightness down to one spot. Fabric shades will give you moody lighting, but sconces and pendants featuring glass or wire will brighten things up.

6. Hang large mirrors. Not all lighting hacks have to do with bulbs. According to Olga Ratajski, a Chicago-based designer, hanging mirrors in a dim room can work wonders. “Mirrors reflect light and also create an illusion of depth to the room, which tricks the eye into thinking the room is larger and more open than it actually is,” she says. If there’s a small window in the room, try hanging the mirror on the opposite wall so the light directly bounces off.

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7. Paint the ceiling in a gloss finish, rather than matte. Make your room work double time to bring in more light by choosing the right paint finish. “Choosing gloss allows light to bounce off the surface which opens up the room,” Ratajski says.

8. Embrace loud accents. One way to make a dark room feel less gloomy is to amp up your decorating. “Incorporating architectural details or color is one trick I rely on to create interest in a space lacking natural light,” says designer Edyta Czajkowska of Edyta & Co. “Faux ceiling beams or woodwork panels painted in a rich color is a great way to add impact. Similarly, a colorful patterned wallpaper will add a fun element while cozying up a space.”

9. Mix it up. Don’t limit yourself to just a pendant in the room— the more lighting fixtures you have, the cozier the space will feel. “If you want to embrace the moodiness, add ambiance through a variety of light sources: sconces, floor lamps, table lamps, and candlelight,” Czajkowska says.

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