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4 simple designer tips to make any room feel brighter

Make your living space more livable

Woman tending to a plant in a bright living room Credit: Getty Images / Yuri_Arcurs

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When a spot in your home feels down and dismal, your mood can follow suit. But hang out in a well-lit and cheerful space, and you can actually feel a boost.

With spring in full swing and our houses serving as literal home bases for everything from work to school (and every Netflix binge in between), how you view your space is more important than ever for your well-being.

We asked Mike Witt of Boston-based Mike Witt Design how to bring light and brightness to your home.

1. Have a “light bulb” moment—literally

Credit: Getty Images / BenAkiba

A floor lamp can help illuminate a space by directing light upward toward the ceiling.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. Need more light? Add more light. But brighter isn’t always better. Witt warns that it’s important to make sure you have the right type of light for the right applications.

“A room should have a balance of ambient (general illumination) and task (a particular area) lighting where needed without having every inch of the room lit,” Witt says.

For most living spaces, he uses soft/warm white (generally 2700 to 3500 Kelvin). For task lighting, he adds the crisp light of a Bright White or Daylight bulb (4000 to 5000 Kelvin).

And what you do with that light also matters. “Uplighting (or light directed up) is the perfect solution for adding light to a corner or a part of a room where it's too dark and it's not dependent upon having a piece of furniture for placement,” he explains, noting that subtle spotlights are perfect for such a look.

“It can be discreet focused light highlighting a particular architectural detail or object or one that provides a large swath of light washing across a wall accentuating the color and texture.”

When you have a dim and awkward corner, you can easily transform the space by adding a floor lamp in a finish and material that complements the surrounding area. Suddenly, a lost nook becomes a bright aspect of the overall design.

When your budget is what’s gloomy, you can't go wrong with battery-operated LED puck lights for both cost and flexibility. Available in almost any hardware store, Witt suggests choosing these tiny stick-ons in warm light around 3000K or lower. Place in dark corners for pops of brightness.

2. A fresh coat of paint does wonders

paint swatches
Credit: Getty Images / sturti

White paint may be bright, but it's not always the most inviting. Try out a warmer tone instead.

“Brightening up a room can be about bringing in as much light as possible, but often it is more about making the room warm and inviting,” says Witt. “I have seen many all white rooms that are definitely bright but left me cold.”

Paint is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make a big impact on your room’s brightness and choosing a deeper warm neutral adds both brilliance and warmth. Think colors like Benjamin Moore’s Tapestry Beige, Stingray, Balboa Mist, and Stonington Gray.

In some instances, you can create a warmer and cozier interior by painting the ceiling darker than the walls—it visually makes it appear lower. If you use a satin or semi-gloss paint, you have the added benefit of light reflecting off the ceiling.

3. Reflect the light you do have

Credit: Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

A mirror can help reflect light back into your room.

Mirrors are another easy way to bring light into a room, according to Witt.
“Placing a large mirror opposite a light source (think lamps or window) not only adds reflected light, but it will make the room feel bigger,” he says.
“Layering mirrors on the wall behind table lamps next to your bed or on either side of a sofa is a good way to increase the light in the room without having to add lighting.”

He suggests choosing gilt or bright metal finish framed mirrors for an extra touch of brightness.

Get the Octagon Mirror at CB2 for $149

4. Use plants—both real and fake

Credit: Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Whether real or artificial, plants can brighten up a space while they double as décor.

Brightening a space can also be an emotional response, not just a vision. Houseplants add more than just eye-catching greenery to life indoors. A piece in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found being around plants helps lower stress and brighten moods.

“Plants make people happier and calmer,” says Witt. You don't have to fill up the room with plants but consider a few statement plants, like a sizable tree (for example, a Fiddle Leaf Fig) or large low planter filled with succulents. And don’t be afraid of artificial options.

“Something I never thought I would say to a client, is to consider a fake plant," he says, noting the quality for which has improved measurably and faux greens have been shown to have some of the positive effects on emotions as real ones. “If you're not willing to water and don't have a green thumb, it's a terrific option with the caveat that you will have to dust it.”

At night, a tree lit from below can be a dramatic and inviting focal point to a room as a pleasing organic interruption to the hard edges of a room.

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