Lights, Colors, Action: How to Pick Paint Colors to Match Your Lighting Goals

Written by Lauren

We’ve all done it: painted a room our new favorite color, fallen in love with it, then flipped on the light switch to find…the color looks completely different. How does this happen? As it turns out, light plays an enormous role in our perception of color. Whether it’s shining from natural light or your favorite desk lamp, light will change how a color looks on your walls. To make matters even more confusing, as the sun rises and sets, the quality of light changes, shifting colors into tones you might not even recognize from the can of paint you bought at the local hardware store.

It’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities of light and color; however, there are some easy strategies homeowners and designers alike can use to create their ideal space, with colors that enhance their lighting goals. In fact, one of the best strategies for creating a room with color and light is to start with considering how you want the room to feel. Are you looking to create a bright space with lots of light, or is a dimmer, romantic atmosphere more more your style?

Once you know what you want the room to feel like, you can think about color and lighting to fit your goals and space. Even selecting different light bulbs can help play into your room’s color scheme and lighting look. Incandescent and halogen bulbs enhance red and yellow and can distract from blues and greens, whereas fluorescent and most LED bulbs maximize the cool tones, but can mute warm colors.

Whatever your design intention, it’s possible to achieve your look with a mix of color and great lighting. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite and trending looks, along with the tips and tools you can use to create effortless style with only a few elements: lighting and a can of paint.

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Airy and Bright

Contemporary design seems taken with bright white, minimalist spaces at the moment. It’s easier to get in on this trend than you might think: a combination of paint and strong overhead lighting can give your room a quick, trending makeover in no time. First, select your shade… of white. If you’re imagining a bright, warm space, head toward a golden undertone. Want a more sleek look? A bluer tone will keep the walls cool and understated. If you’re having trouble selecting on your own shade of white, you can always ask for help! Many paint and home stores have collections to fit a certain aesthetic, and even white tones are selected specifically for these ranges.

Once you’ve picked your paint, selecting great ceiling lighting is a necessity for these bright spaces. Choose fixtures that will flood your space with light, like oversized pendants and ceiling fixtures that pack a punch. These light sources can be used with bluer fluorescent or LED bulbs for cooler walls, and incandescent or halogen bulbs for warmer white tones.

Calm, Cool, and Collected

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For a sophisticated take on a neutral room, turn to cool blues and grays for your paint color. These tones create a naturally relaxing environment perfect for a bedroom or living room. Remember: undertones matter when picking out a paint color; even blues can have a warm tint to them. If you choose a warmer blue, utilize halogen bulbs to help enhance the color. The same will be true for a warmer gray. For a cooler blue or gray, much like white paint, LED bulbs will enhance and provide depth.

With this palette, a mix of floor lamps and ceiling lighting creates a comfortable, familiar feel without the use of warm colors. Try pairing a table lamp with a floor lamp to create a variety of light sources.

Warm and Cozy

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For a room with traditional warmth and comfort, warm tones rule the color wheel. Sunny-hued beiges, yellows, and even bold reds can create a cozy environment, if lighting is picked to match. Use a mix of smaller lighting sources, like floor and table lamps or a single hanging pendant, to create pockets of light that will brighten up warm colors. Incandescent bulbs, with their orangey coloring, will enhance warm tones, as will halogens. Be sure to provide enough light sources in a cozy space, so that the room doesn’t become overwhelming with color, or too dark to see properly.

Whatever your aesthetic, you can use color to your advantage in a space once you understand your lighting. Soft and romantic tabletop lamps with lavender-toned walls will make almost any guest swoon, while a peppy yellow kitchen with bright warm light is almost certain to start mornings with a bright mood. All you have to do is remember to visualize your lighting desires, then add paint, then pick the perfect fixtures and bulbs to enhance your colors. You’ll be touching up your dream room in no time.

About the author



Lauren Walters is a freelance writer and marketer who lives in Sacramento. She loves good design, cooking, and antique stores. When she's not writing or moving her furniture around her house, you can find her out hiking Northern California's amazing trails.

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