How to Make a Room Bright - Without Going All White

Source:  Mowlem & Co.  (a.p.)

Source: Mowlem & Co. (a.p.)

Frequently, clients comes to the first meeting asking for an all-white kitchen. As we explore exactly why they are drawn to that look, it usually comes down to two things: "I don't want my house to be dark," or "this kitchen looks so clean." We then explain that color is only one element of design and there are many other [more interesting] ways to make their home bright, inviting, and clean. Because, frankly, the all-white look is on its way out for good reason: it's far from practical and boring to boot.

Since this is such a common question, I want to share with you my very best tips for making a room bright without going all white.

Source:  Homes to Love  (a.p.)

Source: Homes to Love (a.p.)


Plenty of it. And natural, if possible. Including enough lighting is the single biggest thing you can do to make your home inviting. A room with white everything will still feel dark if it's not well-lit, while a room with black or navy walls will feel comfortable and welcoming with plenty of light. Large windows are best since we respond to natural light, but a combination of lamps, overhead lighting, and accent lighting will give a room depth.

Another thing to think about is the temperature of your artificial lighting - how warm or cool it is. Light temperature is measured in Kelvin (K); the warmer the light the lower the Kelvin and the cooler the light the higher the Kelvin. To give you an idea of what that even means, direct sunlight is 4800K. But bring that level of Kelvin inside with an LED bulb and it looks blue. Incandescent bulbs should not even be on your radar, but they clock in around 2800K - they produce very yellow light. White to slightly warm artificial lighting looks the best in homes (contemporary homes look good with whiter light, while traditional residences tend to need slightly warmer light). It's a good idea to buy a few different bulb colors and try them out in your house to see what you respond to best.

Source: unknown

Source: unknown


Adding a contrasting or darker element to a light room makes the rest of the room feel brighter while adding comfort or coziness to the space. The contrast actually emphasizes the lightness, rather than making it fade. It seems counterintuative, but look at what top designers are doing (Pinterest) and you'll see it over and over. In the kitchen above, the dark of the floor, cabinets, and ceiling really set off the white of the rest of the space, grounding it while making the room feel expansive. You can look out onto the garden (and feel connected) from a comfortable place of shelter.

Source: unknown

Source: unknown


Visual clutter, whether it is too much on the walls or too many patterns, leaves your eye bouncing from thing to thing with no where to rest. It can subconsciously make you feel anxious or uneasy. When you intentionally make space in your home for your eye to rest, you feel calmer and your home feels cleaner. This doesn't mean making things boring! It means that you create a focal point (so your eye knows where to go) and allow the rest of the design to showcase and support it.

The Japanese do this very well. After visiting Japan and seeing how visual space allows you to appreciate more subtle beauty - like shadows on the floor - I applied this principle in our home. I planned for specific walls to be bare to allow us mental space. With less inside to distract us, the view has become our art. My favorite spot is our breakfast nook where I can see the light and shadow shift and change throughout the day.

Source: unknown

Source: unknown


Texture is a designer's best friend. It can take your home from boring to spectacular very quickly; it's what brings warmth and dimension to a space. Think brick walls, wood beams, dimensional tile, decorative moldings, handmade ceramics, leather vs cotton vs rattan... Add several different textures in your home that capture your interest and enliven your senses. Sounds weird, but I know when I've made a good material selection for a home when everyone wants to touch it. Interesting texture draws us in; we can't help ourselves. A lack of texture sends us the other way - spaces without texture feel cold (not enough texture is why some contemporary design is seen as sterile).

The type of texture you use sets the scene for where you are. Imagine a farmhouse. What kind of fabrics are on the bed? What type of dishes are used? I'm thinking checked cotton, plain muslin or linen, maybe some matte ceramic or tin dishes. Now think of an apartment in New York. What would it look like? Exposed brick walls, shiny chrome fixtures, polished porcelain dishes. Completely different textures give a completely different sense of place. And the textures in your home can be any color. You can stick with a light color scheme or vary the colors, both need great texture.