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How Lighting Affects Paint Color in Home Decor and Your Mood

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

I learned my FIRST TIP the hard way.

And it happened to be on that 84-foot long green wall in the photograph above. Last spring when we still owned the gallery, before refreshing that mid-section shown in photo to a lively rose color, I painted that wall GREEN several winters ago. Back then, I decided we needed pizzazz so I picked a fresh spring green.

Starting pre-dawn, I rolled away.

While I painted the wall, Larry, my husband, was off purchasing fluorescent light bulbs for the big switch from the traditional halogen bulbs. With hundreds of feet of track lighting this was a BIG initial $$$$ investment. Larry assured me the savings in our electric bill would be worth it.

Hours later, I was covered in paint spatter and my knees ached from climbing up and down the ladder to trim the 13-foot ceiling edge. I was exhausted, but delighted with the fresh green color. It felt like I could smell the summer lawn!

As dusk settle in, I rolled the last stroke of the second coat.

Then it happened.

Larry flicked the light switch.

The new florescent bulbs hummed, slowly becoming brighter.

“Oh! No!” I shrieked.

Lighting Affects Paint Colors

My happy green wall instantly turned the color of split-pea soup.

The cost of the new lights won over the cost of a few gallons of paint so the next day I was back at the paint store testing a new shade of green.

I learned lights do matter. Today you can buy warm and cool florescent bulbs, but back then, I was re-rolling that mighty long 84 foot wall.

5 Tips How Lighting Affects Paint Color in home decor and art

1. The obvious tip:

The light bulb.

I can't write fast enough to keep up with the improvements of the light bulb. They seem to change daily. There is even “smart” LED bulbs whose color you can control wirelessly! My word of advise, have your lighting in place before painting and picking your wall color.

2. Consider both: overhead and accent lighting.

My story above focused on overhead lighting. Give some thought to the light swishes you'll be turning on in the room. Will you need overall light for cooking like in a kitchen or will you be using an cozy lamp for reading?

3. Paint Characteristic:

The gloss level of a paint will affect how it reflects light. The higher the gloss level, the higher the sheen – more light will bounce off a surface painted with a high gloss paint than one with a matte finish. As a rule, higher gloss paints tend to enrich and brighten color.

For this reason, they are often used in areas such as the kitchen. Glossy paints work best with lighter colors and are easy to renew with a new coat of paint.

Satin and eggshell finishes are a little less glossy.

Satin is durable and used in high-traffic areas such as a family room. Eggshell finishes are a little more delicate and can be used in low-traffic areas like your dining room.

Flat or matte finishes have no shine at all.

This type of paint works well with dark paint, particularly in quiet areas like bedrooms.

4. Consider sunlight: 

Natural light changes throughout the day and is affected by a room’s location. As the amount and angle of the sun changes, so will the color values of your room. Pay attention to the time of day you plan to use this room. Also consider your hemisphere location. For me, in Michigan, summer verses winter day lengths will affect the mood of the room. 

Kate Moynihan mini birch original oil in decor setting with natural light from southern windows
Depending on time of day, natural light casts various shadows, sometimes illuminating birch painting on table, sometimes not. ( Birch original by Kate)

Lighting affects paint color in home decor and art

5. Consider room location:

North-facing rooms: Since little sunlight will penetrate this room you may want to choose a lighter, bolder, warmer color. The lack of sunlight generally makes colors feel cooler and bluish. 

East-facing rooms: East light is warm and yellowy before noon, then turns bluer later in the day. These are great rooms for reds, oranges and yellows.

West facing rooms: Evening light in these rooms is beautiful and warm, while scant morning light can produce shadows and make colors look dull.

South-facing rooms: The most powerful affects of the sun will be seen in this room. Lots of natural light brings out the best in both cool and warm colors. Dark colors will look brighter; lighter colors will virtually glow

Lighting affects paint color in home decor and art

When selecting a paint color and decorating a space, some things are controllable, while others are not. I encourage you to consider light, location, and how you plan to enjoy your space. Good luck and have fun.

Click link for another paint and light story: Decorate with Yellow, Part 3 Color Series

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