How to make light floors and dark furnishings work?
December 20, 2013 10:22 AM   Subscribe

It's time to paint the living room. Problem: we have light wood floors with dark furnishings and my SO wants to keep the room "light and airy" whereas I would do anything to avoid white or eggshell walls and keep pushing for colors he says are "too dark and claustrophobic". What color scheme can we both agree on to really tie the room together?

Photos of the unpainted living room here. Were also not adverse to wallpaper as we plan on staying here (and with these furnishings) for a Long Time.
posted by The Whelk to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What about a light grey? That's been my default in our last few places for the living room - it's neutral and not too dark, but makes it obvious you didn't just leave the room whatever color it was when you moved in.
posted by something something at 10:27 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another color that is neutral, yet still a color is cantaloupe. Keep the trim white, that will add to the airy feel of the room.
posted by JujuB at 10:30 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The room has some nice architectural details (the exposed joist-y things and such... could you maybe do the walls in Behr Navajo White (I have painted literally DOZENS of rooms with this shit and it's magic), but do the ceiling joists and/or the other "non-standard" parts of the room in something darker but complimentary?
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:31 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Was going to suggest what julthumbscrew just said. Painted ceilings with light walls are a nice way to add colour.
posted by yawper at 10:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding a light grey. When I painted my decent-sized bathroom I was concerned that it would take away the airy feeling - instead, it enhanced it. Eggshell or satin finishes will keep a glowy look (I think I went with satin). Turned out that the light grey I chose had the faintest undertones of lavender, which helps it feel a bit warmer (instead of clinical). The paint also had the surprising (to me) effect of making the walls seem taller. It helped that I left the white ceiling and trim intact-- the contrast makes the room remind me of fresh linens. I have light and dark items in the room and it seems to work well together.
posted by mireille at 10:35 AM on December 20, 2013

Benjamin Moore Silver Fox would look great. It's a grey, but warm grey. It changes color throughout the day with different lighting and looks great at night - cozy but not stiffling.

Abalone is the next lightest shade on that strip and is also a beautiful color, though more subtle.

We painted our living room in Silver Fox, and since then, about 8 or 9 friends have repainted their living room/den/bedroom in the same color. We painted our dining room (adjacent to the living room) in Abalone and it's a gorgeous combo.
posted by barnone at 10:36 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

The key to a good grey, IMHO, is a that hint of warmth -- if it is green-grey, it can make you look a bit sallow or reduce the coziness factor. The touch of lavender or warmth is a slightly red undertone that makes everyone look sexy and catches the light throughout the day. A yellow-green undertone has the opposite effect. It can be great in certain applications but for most homes, I'd recommend a warm grey!
posted by barnone at 10:40 AM on December 20, 2013

I have maple floors and went with Benjamin Moore Powell Buff. This is a nice medium buff gold that reads as both a neutral and a color. Anything in the yellow/gold spectrum is incredibly tricky as the yellowness intensifies like crazy as it goes on the walls. But not this one, it's sort of a "dirty" gold and just works. I thought about selling our house a couple of years ago and all the real estate agents wanted to know what color it was because it's emphatically NOT white or eggshell, it's a real color, but it's not too assertive.
posted by HotToddy at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could also do light colors but an interesting treatment, like a tonal stripe where you use the same or nearly the same color in different sheens. It gives the walls some dimension and makes the color look deliberate and not like you just defaulted to white.
posted by payoto at 10:48 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I vote for painting the ceiling. I often actually like white rooms (I think of it as sort of a late fifties early sixties Serious Modernism style) but you're right, that particular room does look unfocused.

Although I recently painted my room, which is a quite large rectangle, and I did three of the walls in a very light blue and one - where the bed is - in a deep blue in the same range, and it looks really really nice. I had initially planned to paint a big star-map mural on that wall (hence the dark color) but I've left it plain since it looks so good.
posted by Frowner at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2013

Your furnishings are all fairly heavy (and various colors of wood), and unless you replace a good amount of them, you're not toing to really see the "light and airy" effect your SO wants. I would suggest you start by taking down the blinds, and getting sheer/lightflitering curtains and then painting the walls a strong color... ala this google search:

I'd go for a strong navy blue walls, white trim, and ceiling, and light curtains... it'll work with your traditional furnishings, and still feel lighter than any other warm color. I'd leave your bookshelf white, and really make sure to set the curtains high.

something like this perhaps has really awesome drama, but you can still keep it light and airy. Think old stately home (ie your furnishings) and then light and airy modern to work with your beams. Additing a huge white trimmed mirror would help reflect light around as well...
posted by larthegreat at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Warm medium gray on the walls with a buttery yellow on the ceiling.
posted by janell at 10:57 AM on December 20, 2013

Also If you were willing to splurge I'd go for a wall of this wallpaper in your little hallway (or is that entrance?). It would look AMAZING and add some intense drama (then maybe you'd be happy with the white everywhere else)

(mostly I just want it for myself)
posted by larthegreat at 11:03 AM on December 20, 2013

Warm light gray with white trim and a white ceiling—that's a popular look right now.
posted by limeonaire at 11:24 AM on December 20, 2013

I'd go for some shade of yellow, or maybe a mustard. I think that a gray is likely to look cold--too Restoration Hardwarey for my tastes, personally.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:27 AM on December 20, 2013

I did a room in a buttery yellow and I totally love it.
posted by kathrynm at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you could use Adobe Kuler to walk around, take pictures, and explore different color arrangements (triad, complementary, your own, etc.). It will very quickly help you explore what works and doesn't work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Greys, especially with plum tones.
posted by kavasa at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2013

Pale blue walls, white trimmings and ceilings - also, paint the visible part of the kitchen counter white. (Actually, I'd paint the whole kitchen white, but that might be to much for you?)
If the room is very sunny, you could go for the buttery yellow, but that can turn out bad in a room with mostly northern light or where you mainly use artificial light. (Think institutional yellow).
posted by mumimor at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2013

I would avoid yellow tones that will make your light floor look even more yellow than it is. I think your room will also look more dimensional with a ceiling that is a different color than the walls. Perhaps Elephant's Breath or Setting Plaster which will work with the warm tones in the floor and furnishings. Scroll down for suggested combinations.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2013

Sage green would look nice in that room. Maybe light enough for your SO, dark enough for you?
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you watch this last week's episode of Revenge, they feature Lydia's hotel room which has a very similar look in furniture to yours. It's teamed with (IIRC) a pale greeney blue wall and the effect is stunning. Very classic, very elegant. I remember thinking if I had dark furniture, that's exactly how I would paint my walls. I mainly watch that show for the interior design if you can't tell, it's just done so well! You could very easily achieve this look with what you already have. I really recommend checking it out, my description does it no justice. I've looked for a screen grab of the scene online but can't find any, I think you'll just have to watch the episode.
posted by Jubey at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2013

Green! No, hear me out. Everyone tells me my place is airy and I have light floors and very dark furniture.

I have very light bamboo floors and dark chocolate leather furniture and black accents (I'm looking at you, TV stand and bar stools at the breakfast bar). My walls are a light warm leaf green and my windows are white trimmed. I think the key is that my window coverings are a white wide Venetian blind and that's it. Also: plants!
posted by floweredfish at 3:09 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came in to say a very light, creamy yellow would be beautiful. Something like this or this.

I also think another very soft pastel like blue or, given the lovely shades in the rug, pink would work.

Nothing wrong with wallpaper in any of those shades either.
posted by bearwife at 4:11 PM on December 20, 2013

I know you say you'll be there for the long term, but please think long and harm before going the wallpaper route. Much easier to change paint on a whim, and you never know if the mood will strike you. Then again, I think wallpaper is a tool of the devil, so I may be biased.
posted by ratherbethedevil at 7:20 PM on December 20, 2013

You could do one wall a darker/more dramatic accent color and have the other walls light. Win-win.
posted by medusa at 7:45 PM on December 20, 2013

I would love to offer more helpful advice, but it seems to me that this is a difficult compromise. FWIW, my thoughts are that I agree with you that a dark (or darker) color would look better, and some (non-expert!) observations: it looks like a) the ceiling is not even (a bit of a slant?), and not particularly high, and c) without molding (because beams), and all these things make me think that a different color (from the wall color) on the ceiling may not look very good, visually chopping things up too much.

I do think that the furnishings would look best against a dark wall/ceiling color, and the light floor would work fine with that, and a whole lot of attention to great lighting would make it all pretty gorgeous, but, again, it's not really a compromise. I understand the urge toward light and airy, but it seems like most of your furnishings lend themselves more toward a deeper, cozier, more intimate palette. I'd love to know what you decide! And after-pics!
posted by taz at 11:21 AM on December 21, 2013

What about choosing a pair of colours from the carpets?
posted by salix at 10:03 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like a medium warm gray. It's neutral and tends to enhance other colors. You have lots of light, so it will still be light. It can be very cozy, too.
posted by theora55 at 7:34 AM on December 22, 2013

I'd be inclined to go dark as well, so that's not much help. BUT if you haven't already, take a poke around the Farrow & Ball website. They do really amazing colors in kind of a traditional with a twist way that could work really well for you.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:41 PM on December 22, 2013

White walls with a feature wall in a dark colour. :)
posted by shazzam! at 10:27 PM on December 22, 2013

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