How to Use Color in Small Rooms

Modern interior design small living room with gray walls

 Jacek Kadaj / Getty Images

When you are decorating a small room, it's important to learn the rules that have been around for decades. Then, forget those rules. In the past, it was common knowledge that all small rooms should be painted in light colors to make the room appear larger. Another rule is that you should avoid warm colors, as they advance toward you as you sit in the room. But there are some rules that can stifle creativity, and keep you from creating the room of your dreams. 

Do You Need to Make the Room Look Larger? 

When you read that you should decorate small rooms in light neutrals to make the room appear larger, it makes perfect sense in theory. A lighter color can make a room feel airy and spacious. Before you decide to create a neutral color scheme for the room, ask yourself if making the room larger is really your decorating goal. If you are standing in the room and thinking to yourself that you need to find some way to make that room look larger, then perhaps pale neutrals are a good choice. If you are standing the small room thinking that you'd like to create a beautiful room, and see no need to make the room look larger, then you are more open to creating a palette based on your own style. 

Unless a room is abnormally small and possibly windowless, you have much more freedom in choosing colors than you may have been led to believe. Choose neutral paint colors if you love the look of a neutral color scheme. With that neutral palette, you can also add an accent wall in a darker or more vibrant color, or add those colors as accents in your decor or window treatments. 

Monochromatic Color Scheme

If you'd like to be more daring with your color choices in a small space, then a monochromatic color scheme is a great way to rev up your color, while keeping the look orderly. A monochromatic color scheme is easily achieved by choosing shades of the same color to use throughout the room. This is a sophisticated look that is very relaxing with a variety of decorating styles. 

Dark Colors in a Small Space

Dark colors can be used successfully in a small space if you keep the color palette simple. Dining rooms and powder rooms are popular choices for dark wall color, regardless of the size of the room. Dark walls make a stunning backdrop for decorating with artwork, especially with painted metallic or white frames. 

Warm vs. Cool Colors

Using cool colors in a small room is another popular decorating rule. In color theory, we learn that warm colors advance and cool colors retreat. It's a valid point to consider in decorating a small space, but it doesn't mean that you must use pale blue or beige in every small room of your home. Using cool colors in a small space should be a guideline and a consideration, not an iron-clad rule. 

If you would like warm colors in your small room, you can choose light shades of those colors on your walls without fear that they will close in on you. You can also choose warm colors for a small room if you keep your accents colors and trim light or white, to break up the intense color. Most successful color palettes include a mix of warm and cool colors, with one color temperature dominating. For a small space, you could choose a dominant warm color, but sprinkle the room with cool accents, and air accessories. 

As with most decorating rules, it is great to know them as they can help you avoid decorating pitfalls that others have encountered before you. When decorating your own small spaces, know the rules, but let your own personal style be your guide.