How to Use Paint Colors to Change the Feeling of a Room

Paint is an Inexpensive Way to Alter Our Perceptions of a Room

Kristine Weilert / Stocksy United

Paint colors can make the difference in enjoying or feeling uncomfortable in a room. The color is even more exciting when we realize how it affects the way we see a space. Color can alter our perception of a room's size and shape. Are you trying to determine how long to paint a room? Take a look at these tips to assist you in your painting project.

how paint changes the feel of a room
Illustration: Hugo Lin. © The Spruce, 2018

Paint colors can create different moods and perceptions

Different paint colors and even different values of the same color have different effects. Overall, lighter and cooler colors tend to recede; they appear farther away. Darker colors and warmer colors advance; they appear to move towards us. We can use this concept to make space look larger or smaller; change the shape of a space; draw attention to focal points and positive aspects of a space, and hide or minimize the not-so-attractive features. Here are just a few examples:

Painting the ceiling can make a room feel larger or smaller: 

If a room is very large and doesn't feel comfortable, paint the ceiling a darker color than the walls to make it appear lower, thereby making the room feel cozier. Conversely, if space makes you feel claustrophobic, paint the ceiling a lighter color, which will raise the apparent height of the ceiling. As a result, the room will feel more spacious. You can also paint the ceilings of exterior spaces, such as the porch. A soft blue will give the illusion of the sky above.

To enlarge a room use lighter paint colors: 

Enlarging a room with lighter colors enables your eye to travel continuously around the space, making the room appear more spacious. When you use different colors, your eye stops at the line where the color changes. This makes the edges, and therefore the size of the room, more apparent. You see the boundaries. With the same color, you don't see boundaries and space seem to continue.

Use darker colors to create a cozy room:

Darker colors can make a room feel cozy and personable. Don't make these painting mistakes and assume dark colors will always make your room feel like a cave. When walls are a deep color and trim is white or another light color, the eye notices the borders of a space. If the room is small, this will accentuate the feeling of enclosure. However, if the trim does not stand out because it's painted a deeper color as well, the eye does not stop at the edges or borders but continues around the room. Because the eye doesn't register the borders, space feels like it continues on, so it feels more expansive.

How to use paint to alter the shape of a room:

If you have a long, narrow space, paint both end walls (the shorter ones) a shade or two darker than the other walls so the end walls feel closer to you. As a result, the room appears to be more of a square shape. If you have very large, bare walls, break up the space with molding; paint different colors above and below. Use a darker color on the bottom to ground the space.

Painting stripes can add visual interest:

Painting vertical stripes will make a room space feel taller. Conversely, horizontal stripes make the space feel longer.

  • In a small home, paint adjoining rooms the same color. By doing this, the eye keeps moving from room to room and judges the space as being larger than it is.
  • Use paint color to disguise unattractive items. Sometimes there are features in a room we hate looking at but can't get rid of, such as heating or AC vents. Paint these and other "eyesores" the same color as the walls so they blend in and become less noticeable.
  • If you have lots of angles and other architectural features you want to downplay, paint all surfaces the same color. This is common in attic rooms. Sometimes these features are attractive. To highlight a unique ceiling or decorative trim, paint the walls a different color than whatever feature you want to highlight.

There are so many ways to use color when staging a home to accentuate the positive features and downplay or eliminate those that are less than desirable. Determine what your goal is when staging your home with color. Take into account how many windows let in natural light and play up your home's best features with these simple paint color tips.