A House Divided: Light Colors vs. Dark Colors

Dark Colors
Source: Elle Decor


Do black walls make you cringe or sing? For some people, black walls embody sophistication and glamour. For others, black walls make them want to run for the hills. When it comes to design, neither group is right or wrong.


We all have preferences. Usually we are all very accepting of this truth, except when you have to live day in and day out with a person whose preferences do not align with yours. In my case, my husband prefers a darker color palette, while I prefer a lighter one. Unfortunately for me, I actually begin to feel sad and gloomy when I am in very dark spaces for an extended period of time.


Our previous home (which was void of a lot of artificial lighting) taught me that I don’t like being in dark spaces (except for the movie theater of course). In our current home, we have light colored gray walls, off white furniture and lots of recessed lighting in our home. Meanwhile, our kitchen cabinets are a dark espresso color because that is more in line with what my husband likes.


More often than not, couples do not singularly agree on design choices. As a designer, it is my job to ensure that both parties are happy in the end. After all, they both have to live there! Avoid a lover’s brawl by implementing my 5 design tips for making the best out of a dark vs. light tug of war.


Tip #1: Paint a Dark Accent Wall

Dark Colors
Source: Pinterest


If you and your spouse are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to color, accent walls are a great opportunity to introduce dark colors in small doses. Navy, black, emerald green and dark gray are excellent colors to pair with lighter gray, greige or taupe hues. Even though one of you clearly lost the war, at least you won a battle.

Tip #2: Mix Dark and Light

Dark Colors
Source: Har.com


Have to have dark blue walls? If dark walls resonate with you but not your other half, pair them with light colored flooring, rugs, furniture and drapery. In the room above, almost all of the furnishings are off white in color. Disclaimer: Be sure to use performance fabrics on any light colored upholstered furniture.


If your coin toss results in light colored walls (believe it or not I do know of couples who make major decisions with a coin toss and it works), pair those faint walls with darker furnishings and flooring. You’ll get the best of both worlds.


Tip #3: Add Molding to Dark Walls


Dark Colors
Source: Czmcam.org


White molding like wainscoting or beadboard is a great way to offset the boldness of dark walls. Wainscoting is an architectural feature that adds charm, a touch of luxury and often appeals to future homebuyers. Beadboard tends to feel more casual or rustic in a space. To further, break up the dark paint, use crown molding to frame the walls at the top as well.

As we can see in the photo above, the dining room doesn’t seem so dark with the addition of beautiful wainscoting and crown molding.


Tip #4: Darken Your Ceiling 

Dark Colors
Source: Pinterest


When all else fails, use your fifth wall – the ceiling – to bring in a dark color. A dark ceiling above lighter walls can help a room feel cozy. Ceilings are often neglected in design, but they are great ways to make a statement. In this photograph, the ceiling becomes the showstopper in an otherwise mostly neutral room.


Tip #5: Cook Up Some Visual Interest

Dark Colors
Source: Pinterest


There is no rule that says that all of your kitchen cabinetry has to be the same color. In fact, some of the most amazing kitchens are made up of different colors. When we were building our home, I wanted white cabinets and my husband wanted dark cabinets. I ultimately lost that battle big time.


One resolution for this difference in opinion is to make the island a different color, such as white cabinets with a dark wood island. Or you can make all of the upper cabinets one color and the lower cabinets another color. If the thought of splitting colors freaks you out, have a 3-D modeling company render it for you. This way you will be able to see exactly what you’re getting in the end.

Final Thoughts


Theoretically lighter colors reflect light, which gives the illusion that the space is larger. Meanwhile, darker colors absorb light, giving the illusion that the space is smaller. No matter what you decide to do in the end, be sure to have adequate lighting in all of your spaces. If a room receives a lot of natural light, you may be even more inclined to pull the trigger on dark walls or dark cabinetry.

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