Nate Berkus’ Tips for Brightening a Room (Without Painting It White)

published Oct 25, 2023
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Credit: Tessa Cooper

There always seems to be at least one room in your home that feels more like a cave than it does a living space. Maybe it isn’t blessed by natural sunlight, or perhaps it has dark paneling, paint, or wallpaper that you love and don’t want to remove. There are a few easy ways to make this space feel brighter, according to Nate Berkus, and none of them require cracking open a can of white paint.

Add contrast with light furniture and decor.

“Honestly, the easiest way that I found is you need to balance it out with things that are really, really light,” Berkus said in a recent Instagram video. “Even like light ivory linen floor-to-ceiling drapery on a dark, dark paneled wall. What you notice isn’t the darkness of the room any longer. You notice the contrast.”

Another great way to add contrast to a dark room is by bringing in lighter upholstered furniture pieces. Cream-colored couches, armchairs, and area rugs will trick the eye into looking at the light rather than being lost in the dark.

Keep details simple.

“I tend to steer away from pattern [and] a tremendous amount of color,” Berkus adds. I think it’s just a pure move to do something solid and ivory or off-white or bone or chalk against a dark wall.”

Add different light sources. 

Finally, Berkus said that in order to lighten up a space, literally light it up!

“You’ll notice in all of the projects that I do, whether for myself or for clients, there’s always a mix of sconces, floor lamps, and small table lamps basically scattered throughout the room,” he said. “What I like about that is that it allows you to control the mood.”

He noted that it’s sometimes nice to embrace the darkness of the space by drawing attention to the deep wall tones with a sconce or table lamp. Not all rooms have to be light and bright — lean in to the comforting, cave-like vibes.

Before you get ready to repaint your walls, try these Berkus-approved tips instead and watch your space go from a black void to a pinnacle of light-and-dark contrast.