How to Paint a Room to Make It Look Bigger: Complete Guide


There are many reasons to want to paint a room to look bigger. Whether you’re stuck with a small room you have to make the best of or would like to get as much visual space out of your large room as you can, there’s always a way to use paint to complete the effect.

Can paint be used to make a room look bigger? Yes, and there are several ways to paint a room to make it look bigger:

  • Paint the room in light colors to brighten and expand the space.
  • Paint the room in very dark colors to trick the eye. 
  • Painting on the ceiling to draw the eye upwards.
  • Use cool colors.
  • Paint shelves, bookcases, radiators, or other objects on the wall the same color. 
  • Paint one of the shorter end walls with a light color. 
  • Paint one of the shorter end walls with a darker accent color. 
  • Paint a few wide horizontal stripes around the room. 
  • Use a glossy paint on the ceiling. 
  • Use metallic paints to reflect light. 
  • Paint vertical stripes to give a room height. 
  • Extend the ceiling down the wall by half a foot. 
  • Use a monochromatic color palette. 
  • Use a chair rail to divide wall colors into a lighter upper half and a dark lower half. 
  • Use bright white. 
  • Use a black and white color scheme. 
  • Paint your trim a few shades lighter than your walls. 
  • Choose a paint color as close to 100 on the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) scale
    as possible.

As you can see, there are many different options for using paint to create a sense of a larger space than you actually have in a room. Read on to find out more about how to use paint to make rooms look bigger.

Colors of Paint for Making Rooms Look Bigger

When it comes to using paint to trick the eye and make a room appear larger than it actually is, you can use either light colors or dark colors to your preference. Whether or not they make the room feel large or cramped is determined by use, and not type.

Light colors are generally preferred for making rooms feel airy and spacious, but if darker colors or bright jewel tones are preferred, then there are still ways for using dark colors that don’t make small rooms feel smaller.

Dark paint colors get a bad rap for making rooms look small, and it’s usually due to other design elements in the room that the painter took for granted or didn’t use to full effect.

Used with deliberation and planning, dark colors can be just as effective as light colors in making areas feel big and roomy.

Choosing Paint Type for Creating the Illusion of a Big Room

One major thing to look at when choosing paint for making a room feel bigger is to look at how reflective it is. Wall colors come in a variety of different finishes that are called wall sheen, and these sheens all have different levels of reflectivity when dry.

Here are some of the wall paints available and what their sheens mean:

High gloss: High gloss paints are super shiny, hard to the touch once dry, and reflect the most light out of any of the paint sheens. High gloss paints are a good choice for painting ceilings in trying to make a room look bigger, as they will reflect a lot of lamp light directed upwards.

Semi-gloss: Semi-gloss is a favorite choice for trim work and is almost as durable as high gloss. It is often used in kitchens and other high traffic areas that tend to collect moisture and grease.

Satin: For reflective walls in other parts of the home, satin is a good (if pricey) choice, as it imparts a bright gleam and luster to walls. The downside to satin sheen is that it is bad about showing strokes in the paint, meaning you’ll have to use several coats to get a nice solid look.

Eggshell/flat/matte: Eggshell, flat paint, and matte finishes are the least reflective of all the paint sheens, and while they distribute pigment well, they do not help reinforce the bright look of a room. These are poor choices for making a room look bigger. Go with something shinier.

Paint Color vs. Tone

When you hear people talk about the tone of a color shade, they aren’t talking about the color itself, but rather the color beneath the color.

You can see this theory illustrated if you walk into a home improvement store and look at the paint chips. If you go to the section of white paints, you will see a huge variety of different shades of white, ranging from very warm-toned whites to very cool-toned whites.

These tone variations exist in every color of paint, which is how so many different shades of color are made available for each basic color.

The reason tone is important in painting a room to look bigger is that cool tones recede to the eye and make things look further away, while warm tones draw objects closer in the eye’s perception and make things appear closer together, even when they aren’t.

Different Methods for Painting a Room to Look Bigger

There are many different methods you can take in order to try and paint a room to appear larger than it is. Some of these involve using certain colors of paint on the wall, while others involve combinations of colors or patterns in order to trick the eye.

Since you can’t literally decrease or increase the size of a room by painting it, all attempts to make a room look bigger by painting it involves optical illusion.

Thankfully, the human eye is pretty easy to deceive, which makes changing a person’s perception of the size of the room a snap if you know the right tricks. Adding a few extra interior design elements to reinforce this illusion can help carry off the entire effect well.

Paint the Room in Light Colors

This is one of the oldest interior decorating tricks in the book. Light-colored walls are more reflective of visible light (white light), which takes advantage of any natural light coming into the space and intensifies it.

White paint and shades of white are obviously the most reflective types of paint color out there, but for people who find white walls boring, there are plenty of other options available to add a little color while still maintaining a bright, spacious appearance.

Light-colored neutrals and pastels are the kinds of colors you want to be looking at, rather than earth and jewel tones.

Here are some sample light-colored paints that would do well to make a room appear larger:

Paint the Room in Dark Colors

This may seem counterintuitive since the first piece of advice was to use light colors, but dark colors can trick the eye in a different way using the same general principles of optical illusion.

If you are working with a small room and need to draw attention away from its size, painting the room a dark, moody color will add intrigue and depth.

This doesn’t so much cause the eye to see the room as bigger as it does distract entirely from the size of the room to change the focal point of the design to another element.

The key to using dark paint colors on the wall to make a room look larger is to pair them with light-colored furniture.

Here are some dark colors that would potentially look good in conjunction with light-colored furniture to embolden a smaller space:

Paint on The Ceiling

One way to make a room seem taller and larger is to paint either a light color on the ceiling or some kind of stenciled design. The point of addressing the ceiling is to add something to draw the eye upward, which makes the room seem bigger.

The key in painting a ceiling is to make sure the color you use is at least a few shades lighter than the colors on the wall, in order to create the optical illusion of increasing the room’s height.

When painting a ceiling, be sure to put down protective plastic sheeting on both the floors as well as the adjacent walls, to prevent drips and runs. Ceiling painting is also not very ergonomic, so take frequent breaks along with a roller extension to avoid muscle strain.

We have an article dedicated on how to paint a ceiling. Find it here.

Paint with Cool Colors

As mentioned earlier in this article, color is not just the deciding factor in whether a paint color makes a room look bigger or not. You need to pay attention to the tone of the paint colors as well.

The first thing you should do is pick the color of wall paint you want to use (ex. gray), and then look at all the different shades available for that color.

You’ll notice that some of the gray shades will seem to have an undertone of brown or yellow, while others will have undertones of blue or green instead. Neutral colors are especially influenced by variations in color tone, and these can make neutrals look radically different on the wall.

To use warm tones, choose the following color tones:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow

To use cool tones, choose the following color tones:

  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Green

Warm-toned paints (paints with an undertone of red or yellow, for example) will make a room feel smaller and cozier, whereas cool ones (green and blue) make a room feel spacious. Therefore, when trying to make a room look bigger, always opt for cool tones where you can.

Color tone is completely divorced from the actual color of a paint, and you can typically only tell tone by putting various shades of a color next to each other. A paint can both be blue (a cool color) while also having a warm tone underneath (yellow).

Paint Shelves, Radiators, and Other Wall Objects the Same Color

One of the keys to making a room feel larger is to keep the walls visually uncluttered, and one way of making the eye perceive one continuous space is to remove contrast. You can do this by painting any shelves, fixtures, or other things attached to the wall the same color as the wall.

This effect can be accentuated by painting light switch covers and outlet covers to match your walls as well so that they don’t draw the eye away from the unified whole you’re trying to create when you paint everything the same.

This will help those objects to blend in, and when the eye looks down the wall they won’t stick out as visual clutter and bring attention to the size of the room. Here is a list of things around a room that can be painted to blend in:

  • Radiators
  • Bookshelves
  • Picture frames
  • Artwork (artwork breaks up a unified wall space, but choosing colors of artwork that echo the wall color help lessen that problem)
  • Bed headboards (in bedrooms)

Anything that sticks out visually can potentially serve as a contrast so that the brain can perceive the actual size of the room, so your goal in trying to make a room look bigger is to reduce design elements like this that stand apart and throw off the optical illusion of space.

Paint an End Wall with a Light Color

If you want to create an optical illusion that lengthens a dark-colored room with a short and rectangular shape, you can paint the wall at one of the shorter ends of the room in a light color to contrast the other three walls.

Using multiple wall colors not only creates visual interest, it keeps the eye moving around the room, giving viewers the impression that it is spacious.

This will, in turn, create the optical illusion of making the rectangle shape of the room look longer. The entire room appears more spacious this way. Accent walls are also a good way to introduce a needed pop of brightness into a space that is otherwise painted in a dark way.

This light color in the accent wall can be pulled around the room by echoing it in accessories such as throws, pillows, rugs, and artwork.

Paint an End Wall with a Dark Color

This works in the opposite way as the above advice. If you are working with a light-colored rectangular room and would like to make it look longer, take one of the short end walls and paint it in a darker accent color. Jewel tones work well.

Just like a light accent in a dark room, this dark accent in a light room will trick the eye into thinking the room is longer (and bigger) than it is.

To carry this design element across the entire room, choose accent pieces that echo or complement the color in the accent wall.

You don’t have to choose accent pieces that are identical to the wall color, but you should choose a color that is either complementary or monochromatic (the same color but in a different shade). This will make the design elements look more deliberate and cohesive together.

Paint Wide Horizontal Stripes

Making a room look bigger involves forcing a person’s eye to move continuously, rather than lingering in one space. One way to achieve this is by a couple of painting wide horizontal stripes on the walls (light stripes in a dark room or dark stripes in a light room).

Painted stripes on all four walls can serve as a handy alternative to an accent wall for introducing new wall colors other than your primary wall color into the room and can give you an accent color to build your other design elements into.

When the human eye sees a pattern such as a stripe, it is compelled subconsciously to follow the pattern, drawing the eye around the room. This, in turn, makes the room feel bigger. Take advantage of this by trying to “tour the eye” around the room and bring it to a central focal point.

Use Glossy Paint

One way to make a room look bigger with paint is to use a paint with a high amount of sheen in it, such as a satin, semi-gloss, or gloss paint. These paints are very reflective and help to bounce light around a room.

A particularly effective way to use glossy paint is to use it on the ceiling, rather than the walls. Because most lamplight is projected at the ceiling by lampshades, the ceiling is where you will want to catch and reflect the most light in the room.

Of course, if you’re really looking to make a room seem larger, you may as well just paint the entire room ceiling and all with a glossy paint. Glossy paints tend to be a bit more expensive than eggshell or matte paints.

However, you’ll want to avoid eggshell, matte, or flat paint colors entirely, as these paint colors tend to absorb light rather than reflect it, and this makes a room look smaller.

Use Metallic Paint

Another type of paint that is good at reflecting light and making spaces appear bigger is metallic paint. While some of these paints can be expensive, there is nothing quite as sophisticated as a ceiling of gold, and it catches the light beautifully.

If you use metallic paints to add reflective surfaces to your room, you can double down on that design element by incorporating metallic accents in the room, such as candlesticks and statuary.

Here are some examples of metallic paint you can use to liven up your ceilings:

Use Vertical Stripes for Height

While horizontal stripes can be used to make a room look wider and larger around the edges, you can use vertical stripes to add height to a room with a low ceiling.

Stripes are very effective paired with a painted ceiling used as a room’s focal point, as the stripes can lead the eye upwards to anything you’d like to showcase there, such as a chandelier or skylight.

Vertical stripes on walls are also a good combination when matched as an accent color with other accents in the room design. Remember, the more cohesive and well-designed a space appears, the bigger it appears too.

Raise the Roof – Paint a Ceiling Extension

It’s not as widely known as some interior design advice, but one way to make your low ceiling appear higher is to bring the paint on your ceiling down the wall roughly half a foot.

This gives the eye the illusion that the ceiling is half a foot higher than it actually is. To do this without a crown molding, mark your wall off carefully and be sure to use painter’s tape to avoid bleeding and other aesthetic imperfections. Sharp contrast is key.

Another way to achieve this same trick of the eye is to purchase some crown molding, install it around the edge of the ceiling in the entire room, and then paint it the same color as the ceiling, rather than the walls or the trim.

Use A Monochromatic Color Palette

This tip goes back to the advice about avoiding visual clutter. When everything is painted in varying shades of the same color, it causes the eye to perceive those things as part of a unified whole. To achieve this look, pick a color, then decorate in shades of that color and no other.

By decorating an entire room in a unified scheme, it creates the optical illusion of causing everything that is part of that whole to recede in space, making the space look bigger. This effect is enhanced if the objects are painted with either light colors or cool tones.

While some people can find monochromatic color palettes a little uninspired or flat, they also have the effect of creating a sense of calm and unity in a space, so if you’re trying to take advantage of limited room, a monochromatic scheme can help your room from looking cluttered.

Use A Chair Rail to Divide the Wall

Here’s one trick to make a room look taller than it is: use a chair rail molding around the outside of the room, then paint the upper part of the wall a light color and the bottom part of the wall a darker color.

This painting method tricks the eye by making the wall look taller. It achieves this by drawing the eye upwards from dark to light.

Trim work, in general, can make a room look more built-out and better designed, and this can trick the eye into thinking it is bigger than it is. There are just more interesting things to look at in a good paint scheme, and that keeps the eye moving around the room longer.

Use Bright White Paint

This is a favorite old trick of interior designers and anyone trying to stage a home for sale to make it look bigger, but the easiest thing you can do to make a room appear bigger than it is is to paint all the walls a high-gloss bright white color.

It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the operation and is one of the fastest and simplest tricks for making a room look bigger. It’s a good option for people with small spaces that must be eventually repainted, such as college students in cramped quarters.

Bright white is the most reflective color available because it reflects all colors in the light spectrum. Other colors appear as colors because they only reflect the part of the spectrum of light that we perceive as blue, green, orange, etc..

White light, rather than only reflecting blue light or green, reflects it all, and this leads to an overall sense of spaciousness in the room and a visual sense of space.

Here are some bright white paint choices for doing an entire room in white:

Use A Black and White Color Scheme

It might seem counterintuitive since dark colors make areas seem smaller and black is the darkest color of all, but when you use stark black and white together in a design scheme, it can create an optical illusion of making the room look bigger.

If too much black and white in the room’s design is a problem, you can always reinforce a black and white design by including bright jewel-toned accent colors in the form of small accent pillows or art pieces.

While black and white might seem like a drastic color scheme to some people, it definitely interjects a mysterious and exciting atmosphere to any room, and this appeal can detract greatly from how small the room might be otherwise.

Paint Your Trim a Lighter Shade

If you paint the trim (baseboards and crown molding) around your room a few shades lighter than the rest of the walls, the walls will seem to recede in space as perceived by the eye and makes the entire room look bigger.

For a crisp look to accentuate darker walls, you can paint your trim in a bright white color, but with pastels, off-whites such as bone or ivory tend to look less stark and distracting.

Pay Attention to the Light Reflectance Value (LRV)

One thing to look at when you’re buying paint for a room you want to paint to look larger is to look at what the paint’s labeled Light Reflectance Value (LRV) is. This is a value that should be shown on a scale of 1 to 100.

The closer you get to 100 on the LRV scale, the more light is reflected by the paint color, rather than absorbed. To make a room look bigger, you want to choose paints that have the highest LRV value as possible.

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