Paint Ideas That Make Small Spaces Look Bigger

Updated: Jan. 30, 2024

Whether it's a reflection of light or trick of the eye, these paint colors and ideas can help cramped quarters appear larger.

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If you’ve got cramped or dark spaces, chances are you’re looking to make them feel brighter and airier. What’s more, the solution can vary from room to room. We spoke with the experts to learn customized tips and tricks for figuring out how to make your small bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms look and feel bigger with color. Here are some inspiring small space paint ideas.

Paint Ideas for Small Bedrooms

A small bedroom can feel stifling and claustrophobic, but with the right paint colors it can become a cozy sanctuary. Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Eiseman Center for Color Information & Training and author of The Complete Color Harmony: Pantone Edition, says she once got great advice from a designer who worked on New York City apartments: Paint the ceiling like the sky.

“If you emulate the sky, you can keep your walls darker,” she says. “In a bedroom, you may want something cozy — then you create the illusion of the sky in the ceiling so you don’t feel claustrophobic with drama of color on walls.” For the small bedroom ceiling, consider calming blues such as Prelude by Behr or Scandinavian Sky from Olympic.

Michelle Harrison-McAllister of Michelle Harrison Design says adding an angle detail on a wall in a bedroom — creating a diagonal across a wall, cutting in from an angle from the corner of a ceiling, or creating a fun geometric distraction — can open up the space considerably too, especially if you use a bold contrast color like bright, sunshiny yellow. “This type of treatment moves your eye in an unusual pattern, tricking you and making the room feel so much bigger and interesting,” she says.

Paint Ideas for Small Living Rooms

Living rooms are often a hub of activity and serve multiple household uses. To cut down on visual clutter and clashing textures or furnishings that can make the space feel smaller, consider clean, neutral colors for your small living room, such as Sherwin-Williams’ Agreeable Gray or Canvas Tan, says Cate Griffing, West Magnolia Charm color consultant and paint blogger.

You could also consider painting the whole shebang one calming color, including the ceiling and trim. This monochromatic treatment draws the eye upward and avoids the visual roadblocks that can hem you in.

Paint Ideas for Small Kitchens

Small kitchen? Buck the matte paint trend and consider something shiny.

“Absolutely anything with a glossier finish creates more light reflection, more light bouncing around, as opposed to matte surface which absorb light,” says Eiseman. “A shinier effect will create the illusion of more space.” Griffing adds that the higher the sheen, the more reflective the paint color will be, so stick to paint colors with a Light Reflectance Value (LRV) of 63 or higher.

And while many would be tempted to go with a white kitchen these days, Griffing says if you’re suffering from a lack of natural light, white can look dull. Consider an alternative neutral such as classic gray.

Paint Ideas for Small Dining Rooms

The trend of having an accent wall waxes and wanes. But it can always help create a dramatic backdrop or depth and draw the eye up, counteracting low ceilings or low light. Give even small dining spaces color and drama this way. “Adding an accent paint color three-quarters of the way up the wall adds so much interest,” says Harrison.

In this case, apply to all walls, like a paint version of wainscoting. Complete this small space paint idea by choosing an accent color that shines against a neutral such as white, gray or beige. A complementary color could work as well, as long as you like a lot of color. A surprising pick, such as Pink Vibernum from Sherwin-Williams, “adds a whole new personality and life to your space,” she adds. Bonus: This would glow beautifully by candlelight.

Not ready to commit to color in your dining area? Griffing suggests Collingwood, a complex greige from Benjamin Moore. It’s a clean, neutral choice that is soothing to the eye and lets you unwind, thanks to the airy feeling it creates.