North-facing rooms are always a challenge to decorate, because they get little or no direct sunlight, and any little natural light they do get is cold.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid cold colours like grey and stick to warm ones; go for yellows and creamy neutrals to make the room feel lighter and brighter. If you want a bit more colour, you can also embrace darker ones as long as they are warm, perhaps choose a moody, dramatic colour like purple.
Of course though, it’s not just north-facing rooms that can feel dark and cold, perhaps the size or window size can affect that too. Whites, off-whites and creamy neutrals come in so many different shades, and there’s one for every type of room, whatever direction it’s facing.
Any room can be made to feel lighter simply by painting the ceiling white, so it reflects light instead of absorbing it. The problem with some pure brilliant white emulsions is that they’re really creamy off-white, which is not what you expect, or want, from a product called ‘pure brilliant white’. Dulux Ultra White Matt emulsion (from £24.99 for 2.5ltr, www.dulux.co.uk) is not only a really ‘white’ white that covers well and looks great, it’s also 20 times tougher than standard Dulux emulsion. Most importantly, Ultra White contains special light-reflective particles to make rooms feel brighter and more spacious (see my Product of the Week for more light-reflective emulsions).
Painting the walls and ceiling white can go a long way to making a room feel lighter, but there is more to it than just paint. One of the best ways to brighten up a kitchen is with pale - preferably white - high-gloss unit doors, as these bounce light around the room. High-gloss kitchens never seem to go out of fashion, so glossy doors are a good way to update the room and needn’t be expensive - a standard 597mm-wide IT Kitchens Gloss White Slab Full Height Door is just £27 in B&Q, for example. In the bedroom, fit pale high-gloss doors to built-in wardrobes.
You could also invest in glossy or mirrored furniture, and mirrors for the walls - hang one opposite the window to maximise the light coming in and make the room feel bigger. And don’t forget the floor - white-painted floorboards, or shiny white floor tiles in kitchens and bathrooms, will help to bounce light around too.
Replacing, enlarging or adding windows can make a big difference to how light a room is, but it’s an expensive and disruptive solution to the problem, and planning rules can restrict what you do. More realistic is changing the window treatment - swap fussy curtains for sleek roller blinds, for example, and you’ll instantly let in more light.
Another radical solution is to remove a wall. Knocking two rooms into one gives the resulting room more windows and it may then benefit from sunlight for most of the day if, say, it’s now both east facing (morning sun) and west facing (evening sun).
For all rooms, but especially those short of natural light, good artificial light is key. “Don’t leave lighting until last,” says Hector Finch, owner of lighting store Hector Finch (www.hectorfinch.com). “It’s a vitally important part of any room scheme and deserves to be considered as much as the colour of the walls and the fabric for the curtains.
“Where does the natural light come in and where are the dark corners that may need further illumination? Think about how the room will be used and at what time of day, as this affects whether the lighting should be overhead, localised for reading, or purely for atmosphere.”