Good design is all about the art of illusion, and there’s no better time to put visual trickery to the test than in a tiny room. Living clutter-free and opting for slimmer furniture are two known ways to maximize your space, but did you know that a fresh coat of paint can also make a room seem infinitely larger, no KonMari required?
Most of us believe darker colors tend to make a room seem smaller, but we’re here to remind you that that’s not always the case. While a flat white will almost always visually expand a room, there’s a whole color wheel of ocean blues and earthy lilacs out there waiting to be explored. That’s why we asked a few of our go-to designers to share the breezy colors they swear by for small spaces. The six tried-and-true hues below were the clear winners.
A Soothing White
The most reliable pick? “I hate to say it, but white!” says San Francisco–based designer Susan Work. The reigning queen of whitewashed spaces, Leanne Ford, and artist–turned–desert-dweller Lindsay Hollinger couldn’t agree more. While painting a room white might seem like a straightforward undertaking, mastering the look is harder than you’d think. With so many brands and shades out there, there are a slew of factors—from sheen to undertones—to consider before picking the right white for your space.
While some designers prefer pure, flat whites like Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, other pros tend to go for swatches with understated hints of gray and yellow. “I enjoy White Tie by Farrow & Ball,” Whitney Leigh Morris, the creative behind The Tiny Canal Cottage, tells Domino. “It can brighten and enlarge a room while making it feel warm and welcoming.” For all things white paint, check out our comprehensive guide to the top nine shades on the market right now.
A Warm Gray
Much like white, softer grays can introduce a sense of ease and openness to a less-than-spacious dwelling. “I’m on Team Gray Paint,” notes small-space living expert and California-based blogger Katrina Blair Sullivan. “My favorite gray paint color is Designer Grey—it’s the perfect shade.”
When offset by a colorful palette (say, one that incorporates dusty pinks and nautical blues), a gray room can feel timeless, elegant, and modern. Katrina Hernandez, one half of the design duo behind NYC-based studio Hernandez Greene, swears by Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath for its lilac undertones and earthy appeal.
A Crisp Greige
Other pros, however, are all about greige, a forgiving combination of gray and beige. When paired with saturated oranges for contrast or surrounded by layers of creamy whites, the trendy option shines.
“We had our room painted Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray for three years. It was moody and cozy, but we needed a breath of fresh air,” explains Julia Marcum of the award-winning reno blog Chris Loves Julia. “We repainted it Benjamin Moore Olympic Mountains, a light, warm greige, and it’s fantastic. Our room feels like it can breathe now.”
A Cool Blue
“I always love any shade of blue. Cool colors expand the eye,” notes Ashlina Kaposta of The Decorista. Contrary to popular belief, darker, saturated hues can add instant depth to a room. By filling your space with furniture and accessories that match or pick up on the overall tonal attitude of your walls, it effectively creates the illusion of added square footage.
If the idea of washing your walls in a bold shade still has you second-guessing, consider drawing the eye up instead. “We love to paint the ceiling in a dark, rich color, which gives it depth like the deep sea or the night sky,” says Atlanta-based interior designer Stephanie Andrews. Give your statement ceiling some depth with a classic dark blue like Sherwin-Williams’s Georgian Bay.
A Delicate Lavender
Want to sneak a happy hue into your teeny abode? Go all in on lavender—one of spring’s trendiest colors. Bold enough to imply a statement yet quiet enough to not overwhelm a room, the pale purple is an idyllic choice for those who can’t live without color.
“One paint color that straightaway makes a room bigger is Lavender Secret by Benjamin Moore,” dishes Domino’s 2017 Best New Design Blog award winner, Anita Yokota. “A light, pale purple color visually brightens the room and provides a subtle contrasting depth for the walls and backdrop. In this case, the gray undertones make it much more sophisticated—versus a pastel look—and it’s easy to add accent colors such as brass metal, pops of teal, yellow, or black.”
A Sun-Kissed Yellow
No matter which room-changing color you go with in the end, it’s all about what you do afterward that really counts. “I think any color can make a room feel bigger, honestly,” says Shavonda Gardner, the blogger behind SG Style. “It’s all about how you use it and what you do with space planning.”
Yellow can be a great outlet for color lovers looking for a punchy wall statement. Julie Massucco Kleiner and Melissa Warner Rothblum of Massucco Warner Miller suggest going with a paler shade in quiet spaces like the bedroom and bathroom. A swatch such as Farrow & Ball’s Dayroom Yellow has just the right kick.
This story was originally published on May 25, 2018. It has been updated with new information.