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How Lighting Affects Your Home’s Paint Color (and therefore how you perceive your home)

February 21, 2024
Lighting Expert, @lightsdotcom

Why do your navy blue walls look black at certain times of day? And why does a normally white room appear yellow in the evenings? If you’ve ever experienced these perplexities, you can attest to how much light can affect our perception of color.

In fact, the direction that light hits a wall and the positioning of the sun can have an influence on what color that wall appears to be to the naked eye.

So how do you gauge paint colors and select lighting that will give you the color you want? There’s a lot that goes into it, so here’s a breakdown.

Natural Lighting

  • Natural light plays an integral part in how we perceive paint colors in our home. A general rule of thumb is that if your room is North facing it will let in soft light, producing a warm effect. This means dark paints will look darker and light paints will be more dim.
  • On the other hand, if the room receives South facing light exposure, it will have much more intense light. Dark colors will appear brighter and light colors (particularly white) can make the room look washed out.
  • Rooms on the West side of your home will receive warm light in the evenings and shadows in the mornings, and rooms with exposure from the East can brighten up your room before noon and make it cooler in the evenings.

It’s a lot to consider, but luckily by using the right artificial lighting you can control the colors and hues of your home at any time of day, regardless of natural light exposure. Here’s how!

Artificial Lighting

  • Standard soft white incandescent or LED lights bulbs provide warm, natural lighting. These lights will make bright colors (red/orange/yellow) appear slightly more intense, and cooler paints (green/blue/gray) will appear a little duller.
  • Even warmer than incandescent bulbs are vintage “Edison” bulbs. Vintage bulbs are known to add a warm, sometimes yellow, and occasionally amber hue to a room. Many people use vintage lighting options to warm up a room that doesn’t get much natural sunlight, or to complement warm paint colors.
  • On the contrary, fluorescent lights are known for giving off a blue-ish, cooler light. Fluorescents pair well with cooler paints such as those in the blue/green/gray family. Usually these cool lights are used in workspaces or kitchens.

Light Positioning

  • Also keep in mind the many different effects that can be created through how you position your lighting. Chandeliers and ceiling fixtures offer a lot of light to a room, and they distribute that light really well throughout the space.
  • Table lamps and floor lamps are a great option if your room doesn’t quite get enough natural light so you want to make it a touch brighter, but you don’t want to affect the wall colors very much. By restricting the light source to one spot in the room you can limit the impact of lighting on the paint color.
  • Items like string lights and flameless LED candles are also perfect for adding a warm and cozy vibe to a room. They work great for warming up bright/light paint colors, and they also have a beautiful contrasting effect in rooms with darkly painted walls.

Final Tips

  • When painting, it’s highly recommended that you always do a test area on your walls! Simply holding up the paint swatch to a wall won’t give you an accurate idea of what the effect will be. Test the paint on each wall in the room by doing a patch with two coats, and pay attention to how it is affected by natural light at different times of the day.
  • If one wall receives much more light than others, you could even go a shade lighter or darker on that wall just so that it fits more appropriately with the other walls in the room. Use the experts at your paint store for assistance and advice.
  • Lastly, don’t forget that objects also play a part in the overall perception of a room! Furniture, decor, and wall hangings all affect how light is reflected and absorbed. Be mindful of the fact that if you’re painting and testing lighting in an empty room, the room might feel slightly different once you load in the furniture.

Q&A: Submit your question

All questions are answered within 24 hours.

  • My bathroom overhead LED light is casting yellow on my white walls. What wall colour should I go to cancel out the yellow tones? The room doesn’t get much sunlight as the window is south facing (I live in Australia) and is very small.

    If you are getting a yellow cast, we would recommend finding a cooler temperature bulb(s), 3000K to 5500k is on the cooler range. 

  • I painted may bathroom a forest green and love it, but miss the bright morning feel of when the walls were white. Is there a lightbulb that can give my bathroom more vibrancy and life now that it's green?

    Thanks for your question -- in this situation, you may enjoy a brighter 'day light' colored bulb, something 3500 - 5000 Kelvins. With darker paint colors, like forest greens, you can go brighter in lumens as well -- look for bulbs that are 800 lumens or greater. 

  • I purchased a large piece of furniture, similar to an entertainment center in a classic navy color but it looks black in my room. What type of light could I use to make it look more blue, which outside it does look more blue? Thanks.

    If your furniture piece looks more blue outdoors in natural daylight, we would recommend going with 'day light' colored bulbs indoors. Look for a bulb in the 3500-5000 Kelvins range. If you want more overall brightness as well, look for a higher lumen bulb, 800 lumens or above. These ' day light' colored bulbs will bring out the blue tones.

  • Hi. I have just painted 2 of my living room walls a deep red. I have a lamp in the corner where the walls meet but it looks dull rather than cosy. What sort of lamp/shade/bulb do I need? Many thanks

    Dull-looking light usually comes from the bulb not being bright enough. Look for a bulb with brighter lumens, something that is 600 or higher. Lamp shades are great for softening and diffusing the light for a cozy feel, but if your bulb is not bright enough, it can feel dreary. For a cozy feel, we would recommend choosing a "soft white" colored bulb, which would be between 2700K and 3000K, but not going over 3000K - "Daylight" bulbs often feel cold and institutional at nighttime. 

  • We just painted our wall BM October Mist. The color is reading more mint green. How do I tone down the minty green and make it look grayer?

    In this case, with Benjamin Moore October Mist, my best suggestion would be to try a warmer toned bulb(s) in your room, look for 'soft white' or 'warm white' with a color temperature of less than 3000 Kelvin. A cooler color bulb, higher than 3000K will add bluer tones to the space, possibly making your paint feel more minty-green. 

  • Hello, I just painted my cabinets SW Snow bound. It’s supposed to be a warm white color, however, I’m my kitchen it looks crisp white. What kind of lighting do you recommend to tone down the color and make it look more creamy?

    We would recommend a warmer bulb, Soft White or Warm White, look for 3000k or lower on the temperature scale.

  • I have really bright daylight bulbs in my garage space where I work out. I want to paint the walls a dark color and make it feel a lot cozier but I don’t want to have it feel really cold. I was thinking a really dark gray, teal or charcoal, gray color, but I don’t want to make a mistake. Any recommendations?

    I would recommend a dark grey with warmer undertones if you go grey. Deep teal will be hard to warm up under cooler lights, but a dark navy or emerald green could work instead and may lean a bit more teal under your lights. It's a good idea to buy a few sample colors and put them up in your space to test them out first! Make sure you paint a large enough area, at least 12" x 12" to get a feel for the color. Hope this helps! 

  • Hi, I painted my wall a true warm white and they are reading mint green in the natural light from all our trees. What kind of lighting should I use to make the walls look white?

    If the natural light from the trees is making your walls appear green, you can try adjusting the lighting in your room to balance out the colors. One option is to use a warmer light bulb with a color temperature of around 2700K to 3000K, which will emit a warm light that can counteract the green tint. Another option would be to diffuse the natural light by adding sheer curtains, in an ivory or beige color. The sheerness of the curtains will allow some natural light to filter through while softening the overall light in the room.

  • I just painted walls in grey however walls look blue . Which lights and cri should I look to buy.

    Thanks for your question - a higher CRI will show actual paint color better than a lower CRI. That being said, a warmer toned lightbulb should help tone down the blue tones in your paint. Look for a bulb that is 2700k or below, anything above 3000k will start to feel colder, and may enhance the blue tones. 

  • I have a grey and white porcelain tile that is darker than I expected. How can I tone down the grey and accentuate the white color?

    A high-lumen daylight bulb could help! Look for something at least 800 lumens and 3000-5000k in temperature.

  • Hello, will my tan paint with gold undertones be cooled down with a daylight or cool bulb?

    Yes, a cooler toned daylight bulb should make your tan walls appear less yellow gold, while a warmer toned bulb will bring out those warm gold undertones. 

  • Hi, I just painted my house what a light gray color.. however in my hallway it looks light blue.. what light bulbs should I use to cancel those blue tones as my desire was a more gray/beige color..

    Thank for your question! Assuming your hallway is not getting a lot of natural light, you'll want to use warmer toned lightbulbs. Select a bulb in the 2700-3000K range to help eliminate the blue tones. 

  • I have just painted my living room and kitchen a warm white (cream) which looks bright yellow in certain lights. What kind of light bulb will tone it down?

    Thanks for your question. A cooler, more daylight-colored bulb will tone down the warm tones, while a warmer, amber-colored bulb will do the opposite. Look for bulbs described as "Cool" or "Bright" white, or "Daylight." Kelvins describe the temperature or color of the light - anything over 3500K should do the trick. Hope that helps! 

  • I'm trying to bring out more green in a blue green paint on my walls. The room is north & west facing. Any suggestions on lighting?

    To tone down blue tones and enhance green tones, you'll want to use warmer, amber colored bulbs. Look for "Warm" or "Soft" White bulbs, with a kelvin temperature of lower than 3000K for your flush mount fixtures and task lighting. Vintage-style or "Edison" bulbs will also give you a warm glow, but they are generally less bright and are great for creating a cozy, relaxing vibe. Shope our Edison styled bulbs here. Hope that helps! 

  • I have all "daylight" color bulbs and a lot of neutral to cool white accents on trim and cabinets. Suddenly I want more warmer whites. Rather than repaint...can certain lighting take the edge off this crisp white?

    Thanks for your question - I understand, as I also find that "daylight" color bulbs feel a little too cold for me. Look for "Soft White" or "Warm White"  colored bulbs, which would help! 

  • I have a north facing dining room with white walls. I want to make an accent wall to put focus on the dining table and dining table lamp. The lamp gives off an amber colored light. Which wall colors would be complimentet by the amber light?

    Many colors look great with amber colored light, but colors on the warmer end of the spectrum will be complimented best by amber light. Personally, I love a warm earth tone for a dining room, like a terracotta. I would stay away from cooler colors, like lavender, or light blue. It's always a good idea to paint a sample on the actual accent wall, and view it at all times of day. Have fun choosing your new color! 

  • I just painted my walls black with no blue undertones during the day. The lighting I currently have at night makes it look navy blue. Would I want bright white or warm white to make it look more black?

    We recommend trying warm white lighting, but it depends on the brand and composition of the paint, as well as the position of your light fixture. 

  • We are about to move into a house which has light blue walls, however most of my furniture and decorations have quite an earthy feel and won’t go with the light blue. Will using orange lights give the blue paint a browner look?

    Yes, warm lights tend to dull blue tones. We recommend using soft white bulbs.

  • Hi I realized that the gray marble-look porcelain tiles I got for my bathroom wall has a brown tone in it. How can I get rid of the brown tone? Can I use cold/bright white LED lightings to make the wall tiles look more of a neutral gray instead of brownish gray? Thanks so much!

    Hi there - Yes, using a cooler white light will help tone down the brownish tones in your marble. A "daylight" balanced bulb will be a cooler white, but not too harsh. 

  • I have tile for a bathroom that in some light it appears washed out gray and then other types of light it appears more blue. I’m wanting the more blue look to it and wanted to know what type of light should I use in my new bathroom so that you see blue instead of gray? Oh also the white designs on the tile become gray and I’m wanting them white. Thank you for your help

    When you notice the tile is looking the way you want it to, you should note the color temperatureand the CRIof the bulbs you are using. You can then buy your lighting based on that information to make your tiles look just the way you want them.