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Choosing Room Colour Based On Natural Light | A Guide for North, South, West & East-Facing Rooms

a living room with a white colour palette and natural light streaming in through big windows

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Why is it that some rooms look great no matter what colour you paint them, while others remain dingy and lifeless even with the "perfect" wall colour? It could be that you haven't considered the direction in which the room is facing. Before deciding on a paint colour, assessing whether the room faces north, south, west, or east can prove to be a useful exercise.

To make a room feel brighter and more spacious, it's crucial to choose colours that complement the amount of natural light the room receives and the colour and intensity of that light. It's also important to consider the time of day when natural light hits the room and when you spend the most time in it.

All of these considerations can drastically change the "ideal" room colour, so we've put together a guide to help you evaluate the room you want to decorate so you can create a sense of brightness and a balanced atmosphere in any room.

Maximising Natural Light

a chair and end table in a bedroom next to a window

Before you start decorating a room, make sure to optimise the natural light, as it can affect the ideal room colour.

While the amount of natural light a room receives depends on factors such as the room's direction, external obstructions, and the time of day, there are simple techniques you can use to maximise the incoming light. 

For instance, you can use sheer curtains instead of opaque ones, place reflective surfaces like mirrors opposite windows to help bounce light around the room, and choose light wall colours for walls, ceilings, and floors to create a sense of openness and brightness.

Choosing Room Colour Based On Natural Light | A Guide for North, South, West & East-Facing Rooms

Please note that the suggestions mentioned here are specific to homes located in the northern hemisphere, like the US and UK. If you live in the southern hemisphere, these suggestions may not be as relevant, but they could still be useful. The most important factor to consider is the position of the room in relation to the rising and setting of the sun.

North-Facing Rooms:

a north-facing living room with a blush pink colour palette
North-facing rooms receive the least amount of natural light due to the angle of the sun throughout the day. The light they do receive can be colder because it is typically morning light that gets through the windows.

North-facing rooms can be troublesome when it comes to selecting the right room colour. With the sun rising in the east and making its journey south and then west, north-facing rooms typically only receive a small amount of cool light.

If you have a north-facing room that feels dark and dingy, you can make it feel brighter and lighter by using colours with warm undertones and choosing lighter shades. This can help create a warm and welcoming feel in your space. 

It's best to avoid extra dark shades or cold hues as these can exacerbate the dark nature of north-facing rooms. 

Colour ideas for north-facing rooms:

  • Warm colours with undertones of yellow, peach, or beige.

  • Pale colours that counteract the cool, dim nature of north-facing rooms e.g. warm white, creamy ivory, soft peach, light tan, or warm grey.

South-Facing Rooms: 

a south-facing living room with a light sage green colour palette
South-facing rooms get more natural daylight and warm-toned sunlight as they receive most of the midday rays.

On the other end of the spectrum, south-facing rooms can be a delight to decorate. Seeing as they are flooded with more natural daylight than any other room, you have more freedom in deciding which colour to choose. 

Any colour works, but those with cool undertones, such as blue or green, can be favourable in south-facing rooms to help balance the warmth and brightness that is often present thanks to the abundance of sunlight. That being said, warm colours still work beautifully, as they complement the warmth of the sunlight.

South-facing rooms are also more forgiving of dark shades, as the bright light they receive will help balance intense shades.

Colour ideas for south-facing rooms:

  • Colours with cool undertones to neutralise warmth, e.g. soft grey, pale lavender, aqua, mint green, or dusty rose. 

  • Colours that complement warm-toned sunlight, e.g. light yellow or pale peach.

West-Facing Rooms:

a west-facing living room with a terracotta colour scheme
West-facing rooms receive late afternoon and evening light, which tends to be warmer in colour temperature. In the summer months, west-facing rooms receive more light, while in the winter months, they receive less.

West-facing rooms are not as straightforward as south-facing rooms because the level of light they receive depends on the time of day. They tend to feel dimmer in the morning when the sun is in the east and receive the bulk of their light in the late afternoon and evening. 

So it's important to consider the time of day you plan to use the room when choosing the colour scheme. If you spend most of your time in the room in the morning, opt for warm undertones to offset the coolness. If you plan to use the room in the evening, consider cool undertones to balance the sun's intensity. For a room that's used all day, it's best to find a middle-ground shade that balances both.

The special thing about west-facing rooms is that they receive a lot of sunset light, especially during summer months. As a result, the light that enters these rooms during the later parts of the day is usually warm and intense, so it is recommended to use cooler or darker colours in these rooms to balance the intensity.

Colour ideas for west-facing rooms:

  • If the room is used mostly in the morning when natural light is lower, consider shades like soft yellows, warm beiges, sandy neutrals, or even light shades of orange or terracotta to enhance warmth. 

  • If the room is mostly used in the late afternoon or evening when the light is bright and warm, consider colours with cooler tones or neutrals, e.g. cool blues, soft greens, or pale greys. 

East-Facing Rooms:

an east-facing bedroom with a warm beige colour palette
Rooms that face east receive the most morning light, however, they typically receive less direct sunlight compared to south-facing rooms. It's worth noting that the colour temperature of morning light is usually colder.

Like west-facing rooms, the amount of light east-facing rooms receive depends on the time of day. They tend to receive more light in the morning, and less as the sun makes its way towards the west throughout the day. 

While it's still helpful to consider what time of day you usually use the room, as a general rule, it's best to stick with lighter, warmer colours in east-facing rooms. This is because the morning light, although bright, is likely to be cool, and in the evening when the light is low, the room will feel darker. So with both of these points in mind, you'll want to infuse warmth and lightness to offset the lack of natural light.

Colour ideas for east-facing rooms:

  • Light, warm neutrals like beige or taupe, soft yellows, or light shades of pink or peach to add warmth.

Keeping Freedom When Choosing Colours

Some rooms are easy to choose a colour for, such as south-facing, and others are more tricky (we're looking at your north-facing rooms). 

Sometimes it's not as simple as choosing a single colour, shade or tone, so if you're struggling to find the right balance, think of other ways to decorate.

Consider accent walls to infuse vibrant colours without overwhelming the whole room. Accent walls are also a great way to create a focal point in a room and can serve as the perfect backdrop for central furniture items like a couch or a bed.

Another way to create balance is with beadboards or wainscoting. These create a beautiful, finished look and allow you to add textural interest with elements such as wood panelling or embossed wallpaper, resulting in a rich and layered design.

For rooms that feel big and echoey, consider using the colour drenching technique with a dark shade to create a cocooning effect and make the room feel cosier. If a room feels small and confined, the colour drenching technique can also make rooms feel more spacious and seamless when a light shade is used.

Neutralise Dimness with Artificial Light

a close-up shot of a pendant light with a wicker lampshade over a bedside table

While natural light does wonders for how a room feels, we don't always get control over the level at which it comes into our homes. Artificial light can be a handy tool in illuminating dark corners.

When choosing lightbulbs for your home, consider their colour temperature. Natural morning light tends to have a cooler colour temperature, while later afternoon and evening light can have a warmer temperature. 

This is another time when it's helpful to consider when you're going to be using the room. To help illuminate rooms with a lack of natural light (such as north-facing rooms), cool white lightbulbs can mimic natural morning and afternoon light. This is ideal if you're using the room in the morning or early afternoon.

On the other hand, warm white lightbulbs can mimic evening light, which is ideal for rooms you use later in the day. 

When it's dark outside, you can go a step further and consider warm ambient lighting to create a soothing atmosphere and aid relaxation. 

Layering light is a great way to create balanced illumination in rooms that lack natural light, or in the evening. 

Light layering is essentially placing multiple small light sources around a room, spreading an evenly balanced glow which is gentle on your eyes and achieves a relaxing atmosphere. Focus on incorporating multiple light sources, such as table lamps, floor lamps, string lights and candles at different heights and angles, rather than depending on overhead lights which can feel clinical on their own.

Now you've got some ways to enhance the room you're decorating, remember every room is different, and will require a unique set of techniques to really make it shine. 

Whether the room faces north, south, west or east, remember to think carefully about not only the colour hue but also the shade and intensity of the colour, as this can make a big difference too. 

Experiment and make plans before making permanent changes to wall colour, play with artificial light in rooms that lack natural light and think outside the box in rooms with troublesome lighting by implementing things like beadboards or accent walls. No matter what type of room you're decorating, you can make it beautiful with some thoughtful planning.


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