6 Colors You Should Never Paint a Small Space
Here’s what to try instead.
Published May 27, 2019 7:00 AM
Forget the gallery wall. Eschew big furniture. Adopt a minimalist lifestyle. There are tons of myths pegged around small-space living—the majority of which seem to involve the idea that the only color that should be adorning the walls of any tiny apartment is white. We hear it over and over again, and while the right shade of white can be stunning, a lack of square footage doesn’t necessitate throwing color out the (likely tiny) window.
However, it does mean that you might have to be more conscientious with your paint decisions. Obviously, there’s no “wrong” color to use in your home; your space is personal and should therefore be a celebration of your personal style. But there are certain hues that may make navigating a smaller residence a little trickier, so if you want to make the most of your living situation, we’re here to help.
We tapped leading paint experts to get their advice on the colors least suited for small spaces—plus what to try instead. We promise, there’s not a shade of white in sight.
Avoid: Stark White Try: Black
Yes, you read that right. Turn every small-space rule you think you know on its head, and eschew the much-heralded white for a cool matte black hue. “A lot of people default to white because they want to create a bright and open space, but if you’re working with a room that doesn’t get a lot of natural light, the wrong undertone can make a small room feel dull and dingy,” explains Sherwin-Williams’s director of color marketing, Sue Wadden. Take home one of the trendiest colors of the moment and test it out in a bathroom or even hallway. It may seem counterintuitive, but it can foster a cozy, charming space. Just be sure you use a good primer if you’re in a rental and planning to get your security deposit back.
Avoid: Bright Citron Try: Pale Yellow
It may be the color of the summer, but this perennially cheery favorite definitely has a place in small rooms year-round—just maybe not in as bold of a way as you might think. “Bright yellows are often too bold for use on all four walls and can easily end up overpowering a small room,” explains Dee Schlotter, senior color marketing manager at PPG Paint. “Go two or three colors lighter on the strip card to avoid this. Otherwise, the yellow that you loved on a color card can end up looking like Big Bird when applied to all four walls!”
Try out a sunny yellow in your dining room or, if you don’t have one, in your kitchen. Schlotter recommends taking the paler color up a notch, continuing the paint job onto your ceiling. “One unified color fades defining lines, which enhances the coziness of the space and makes it feel larger,” she continues. Be sure to draw out the yellow elsewhere, in accents such as a rug or your table linens, for further consistency. A tonal look is always in style, irregardless of square footage.
Avoid: Royal Blue Try: Soft Gray
“Royal blue can be used for a classic regal look, but it’s best left to the grand mansions,” says Jolie founder Lisa Rickert. Keep the Klein Blue to punchy decorative accents, and zhoozh up your walls with a more subdued gray that has blue-green undertones instead. “This gives you the right amount of color, while still making your space feel larger by reflecting lots of light,” she explains.
Given its versatility, this near-neutral tone works well in any room of the home, but it would do best in an area like the living room, where you have a bit more freedom to bring in punchy colors via statement seating options and artwork. The gray will anchor the space and give you all the creative license you need.
Avoid: Red Try: Blush Pink
Bright red may be a trending color, but it’s quite tricky to use at home, even in the largest of houses. In a small space, the saturated, vibrant tone can overwhelm the eye. Instead, opt for a similarly warm hue in a subtler shade. Wadden recommends a soft pink. “We’ve seen millennial pink become a staple, neutral-like hue in rooms both big and small,” she explains. “Peachy colors add warmth to a space, and a fair shade makes a tight space feel light and airy.” Use it in your tiny rental kitchen for an unexpected pop of color.
Avoid: Orange Try: Cool Blues
In that same vein, it may be best to avoid saturated colors (like red, oranges, and even some yellows) in a smaller space altogether—or at least in terms of wall paint. Benjamin Moore’s color and design manager, Hannah Yeo, recommends choosing a breezier blue for your bedroom or bathroom. Consider it an upgrade on the classic white paint: “Whites and off-whites are always a good choice to maximize the light in the room, but they will also show shadows and dark corners,” she warns. “For a naturally breezy room, opt for lighter, cooler hues.”
Avoid: Chocolate Brown Try: Light Beige
We’re in the midst of a beige renaissance, and the once-tired color is proving anything but. Clare founder Nicole Gibbons is also a fan, choosing this shade over a deeper brown, which she says can make a room feel heavy. “If you like the traditional look of a rich chocolate brown but want to make your space seem larger, I would recommend opting for a modern beige, while going bolder with accessories, patterns, and textures,” she says. A simple, almost eggshell-like hue is perfect for creating a crisp backdrop that won’t feel dated. Be sure to layer in natural materials like linen, concrete, and terracotta throughout your decor for a contemporary take on beige.