Here’s how to brighten a low-light room with and without spending a lot of money

Let’s be clear: even in a dark room, “low light” rarely means “no light.” Natural light usually filters into every room of a typical house except closets and laundry rooms. But if you’re in a situation with no ambient light at all, we’ve got some options to consider so you can brighten a dark room without breaking the bank.

Take every advantage of all available natural light with mirrors

First, recognize the best way to brighten a dark room is to use every ounce of natural light. Even a small window that receives natural sunlight for a few hours of the day can double the amount of output using mirrors. Consider placing decorative mirrors propped up against the wall or hanging on the mirror opposite (no pun intended) wall.

Placed correctly, the light reflection will bounce around the room, creating a natural effect that’s hard to replicate with light bulbs. Plus, it has a neat Indiana Jones vibe that makes the room look bigger. 

If you can afford it, don’t be afraid to spend $400 on a big, high-quality, uniquely-framed floor-length mirror. Avoid the cheap ones for the back of bathroom doors — they’re not real glass and don’t reflect as much or as well.

Ideas and ways to brighten a dark room with accessories

Accessories can include pillows and comforters, but when dealing with dark rooms, sometimes a pillow isn’t going to cut it. Try these options:

  • Use light furniture, either by replacing it slowly as budget allows or, if you’re starting fresh, making sure you pick all light fabrics. Don’t just lean into white or light gray, either. Bright colors brighten a dark room. Even a red couch, which would absorb and reflect less light than, say, a yellow couch, would still create an interesting interior design that feels brighter.
  • Metallic elements and chrome reflect a little light in interesting ways. Just don’t rely on stainless steel everywhere.
  • Make sure your curtains and window treatments aren’t covering too much. This happens a lot in bedrooms where people want big, thick, floor-to-ceiling curtains to cut out light at night. But during the day, it can make an otherwise dim room even dimmer. Roll-up vertical blinds are handy for controlling natural light without hanging extreme blackout curtains on the wall.
  • Not everything has to be stark white. White surfaces are better at reflecting light, but at the cost of personality and seeming a little sterile. Interior designers know you should mix and match patterns, colors, and themes.
  • Bright artwork is a trick hotels use to bring more light into a dark space, even if it’s not actually emitting anything but good vibes. Young renters and first-time homebuyers often don’t have a sense of what kind of artwork they like, so take the time to experiment and think about what suits you. Is it abstract? Nature and wildlife paintings or photos? Something else? Wall art is one mark of a person’s maturity, style, and taste. Plus it’s a good conversation starter.
  • Picture lights — the kind you load photos onto from your phone or computer — are an interesting way to add a little more light to a corner table. Plus, they make you feel bright and cheery when you see your favorite pet or friends.
  • Rugs have almost no reflective qualities, but they are a great, cheap way of changing a room rapidly. Especially if you have dark color carpets or wood flooring. They also help quiet a room down, too, but absorbing echoes.

Reflect light where possible, use bulbs everywhere else

Probably the fastest, cheapest, and easiest option to changing how a dark space looks is in bulbs. Combine this with our mirror trick and you can pump a lot of visual interest and light into a room that you never thought possible.

  • Use overhead lights where possible. Ceilings fans are the most common overhead light fixture, but they tend to have harsh, exposed bulbs. Look for fans or overhead lighting with domes or glass coverings that diffuse light, not beam it around.
  • Remove large obstructions, like large French doors or heavy window treatments that block light.
  • Recessed lighting, if possible, is a great option, too. And if possible, use reverse domes that reflect light up and away toward the ceiling. This sounds counter-intuitive, but most ceilings, even a dreary space, are white. And white paint will redirect light back down to the floor more diffusely, which feels nicer.
  • Make sure your lamps are spaced correctly with ample space, but something appropriate for the whole room. Use a table lamp, floor lamp, and a desk lamp in conjunction with an overhead lighting fixture for maximum results and don’t crowd them all together in the same corner. If outlets are a concern, don’t use extension cords (they’re not meant for permanent long-term use). Instead, pick up a power or surge strip with a long cord.
  • Perhaps the biggest 21st-century in livening up low-light spaces are LED smart bulbs. Use them to create and control multiple light sources that adjust to your mood, time of day, or season. Use the ones with colors (not just pure white that dim) to create fun and interesting combinations of light colors and dark. You can put them in just about any outlet or table lamp and opt for warm or cool light. It makes a huge difference in how the room feels and how you feel, too.
  • They may be out of style by the time you read this, but those hanging Edison bulbs and pendant lights are en vogue right now. They’re quirky, cheap, and as easy to hang as Christmas lights. They don’t add as much light as you think, but they create a sort of “warm light texture” that at least makes a dark room look inviting.

The ultimate options to brighten a dark room: painting and renovations

A floor lamp will only go so far in a dark room. If you’ve got a poorly lit room, you can make it more bright and airy with more extreme options:

  • Add a window or skylight, if possible
  • Repaint the room a lighter color temperature
  • Hang new light fixtures
  • Buy light furniture
  • Choose light wood flooring or new carpeting if you can afford to replace them

All of these options require money, skill, and time. Renters and people looking to make a dark room brighter on the quick and cheap obviously won’t be able to do this well or at all. But if your entire space is in your control and you have the budget, these ideas will certainly bring in more natural light and light up a dark room.

Among those options, hanging new light fixtures is potentially the cheapest hardware option, if you already have light fixtures in the ceiling. Buying new furniture can be affordable depending on the size of the space. And painting the room is arguably the best option for the most dramatic change with the least amount of money or time involved compared to flooring and window replacements.

If you’re ready to get started with a new paint color, or aren’t sure what color tone works for you, give us a call at (925) 595-3081, email, or send us a message online. We work around the East Bay area of California and can provide a high-quality estimate and fresh coat of paint.