The Best Neutral Wall Colors to Brighten a Room
Here are the best neutral paint colors that help to create the impression of light and warmth in even the dullest room.
No matter how gorgeous your home is, there is always one room that doesn’t catch the sun. Perhaps it’s a powder room under the stairs, a murky basement, or a spare bedroom facing north.
Choosing the right paint color can transform a dark space, especially if it’s a light, classic neutral shade. Let’s see which neutral paint colors are best for brightening a room.
The best neutral paint colors that brighten a room are yellow, ivory, cream, tan, taupe, blush, greige, and gray. These light colors have a warm undertone and remain bright under artificial light. Choose paint with a high light reflective value (LRV) to make the most of limited natural light.
While paint can’t add light or extend a room, it can reflect light and create the illusion of space. A neutral palette is an excellent choice for an airy, inviting space. Let’s look at the best neutral paint colors that will brighten up a dark or poorly lit room.
(You may also want to read this post on the best neutral paint colors for a living room.)
Choosing the Best Neutral Paint Color to Brighten a Room
Using neutral colors to transform your unappealing room is a wise first step, as they are peaceful, versatile, and functional.
However, not all neutrals are appropriate for dull rooms: they can range from a bright, pure white through crisp grey and golden beige to powerful dark charcoal.
To help you choose the best neutral paint color, consider these questions:
- Is the room dark because it has no natural light at all? This situation would be typical of a basement or windowless room like a passage or hallway.
- Does the room have plenty of windows, but the light is blocked by trees or an outside building? This blocking of light often happens in urban areas.
- Is the room north-facing, so it gets some light but remains cold most of the day? North-facing rooms can be uninviting and chilly.
These are vital questions because paint can’t actually add light but only reflect it. That’s why a room with plenty of sunlight looks fresh and inviting, even if you paint it a more saturated shade: the light bounces around the room, reflecting off the walls.
If you have answered with a resounding “yes!” to one of these questions, it means that your room doesn’t get much sunlight to brighten the room.
You need to look out for two characteristics in the neutral paint color you select.
Warm Under Artificial Light
Choose a neutral that looks warm under artificial light, which means avoiding pure whites and cool colors that appear flat and washed out under harsh lighting.
Any cool undertones in neutrals, such as those with blue or green tones, will look ever cooler, making an already chilly room colder and unwelcoming. Instead, go for neutrals with a warm undertone, yellow, beige, or red.
Reflect Natural Light
If the room has some light, you’ll need a color that reflects as much of the limited light as possible. A stark white won’t get enough sunlight to warm it, while a muddy color won’t be reflective enough to use what light there is.
Choose a lighter neutral with a high LRV (light reflectivity value). A color with O LRV absorbs all light, while a color with an LRV of 100 reflects all light. Lighter shades will always have a higher LRV than darker colors.
Also, consider an eggshell, satin, or gloss finish, as matte paint doesn’t reflect light.
30 Best Neutral Paint Colors to Brighten a Room
Here are my top neutral paint colors that help to create the impression of light and warmth in even the dullest room.
A pure, clear white is ideal for a lovely, light room. However, if your room needs brightening, use other tones of this classic neutral. Ivory or off-white is still white but has a yellow undertone that will infuse your space with warmth.
Ivory is the perfect shade if you love the clean look of white but are faced with a dark, cold room. It’s versatile enough to tone with other warm neutrals in an earthy palette.
I love ivory in an elegant dining room, with crisp linen curtains and richly textured chairs. It’s also perfect for a kitchen with pine or maple cabinets.
These are all beautiful ivory paint colors:
- Wimborne White by Farrow & Ball
- Linen White by Benjamin Moore
- Table Linen by Behr
- Ivory Tusk by Benjamin Moore
A rich, buttery cream that verges on pale yellow is another gorgeous neutral that will warm and brighten your space. It’s got more color than ivory and adds a coziness that pure white can’t.
Choose cream if you want to layer neutrals, adding shades of taupe and brown. It shines with natural finishes like wood, stone, leather, and wicker.
My recommendations for cream paint colors are:
- French Cream by PPG
- Pointing by Farrow & Ball
- Saffron Ivory by Valspar
- Swiss Coffee by Behr
A pale brown tan combines the freshness of white with the warmth of yellow. Shades of tan range from creamy latte to warm toast: choose the lighter browns to brighten a room.
Tan goes wonderfully with yellow and gold, so combine these shades to create a glowing, attractive space. It’s also ideal for texture-rich leather, wood, and canvas schemes.
Choose one of these lush, earthy tan paint colors:
- London Stone by Farrow & Ball
- Spiced Vinegar by Glidden
- Desert Carnation by Valspar
- Ligonier Tan by Sherwin Williams
Interior design’s obsession with gray has pushed taupe a little to the sidelines. But I’m rediscovering this elegant neutral that combines grey and brown. While lighter shades of taupe lean to the cooler side of the spectrum, warmer taupes have a gentle pink or violet undertone.
Taupe is the perfect color if you loved 90s beige but want a contemporary look. Pair taupe with brown if you want a cozy, traditional feel or with pink for a romantic vibe.
Try these gorgeous taupe shades:
- Antiquing by Magnolia Home
- Smokestack by Behr
- Redend Point by Sherwin Williams
- Loggia by Sherwin Williams
My delight in this color knows no bounds. The merging of gray and beige creates a lush, rich color that brightens a room and adds interest.
Like taupe, greige can have a cool or a warm undertone, and it’s the warmer tones that I love when a room needs enlivening. The ones with cool undertone are among the most soothing bedroom paint colors.
Choose greige if you love gray but find it too cold for a windowless or murky room.
These are the warmest, coziest greige paint colors:
- Agreeable Grey by Sherwin Williams
- Sculptor Clay by Behr
- Drop Cloth by Farrow & Ball
- Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore
You can’t go wrong with gentle gray for a serene, peaceful atmosphere. There are so many gray options, so make sure you find one with a warmer undertone to avoid a cold effect.
Choose gray for that chilly north-facing study to make it more inviting or for a kitchen that doesn’t get much sun.
These are my favorite shades of gray:
- Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore
- Knitting Needles by Sherwin Williams
- Pavilion Gray by Farrow & Ball
- Smooth Stone by Glidden
Blush pink is a pale tone that works well as a neutral. This light color isn’t pastel pink: this is a warmer color, which can tend to rose if it has more red in it, or peach, with yellow in it.
Although pink was considered a children’s color in the past, this muted shade has graduated to classic, elegant interiors, charming, romantic bedrooms, and serene, spa-like bathrooms.
These are stunning neutral pink paint colors:
- Calamine by Farrow & Ball
- Sheer Pink by Benjamin Moore
- Ella Rose by Magnolia Home
Yes, I agree that yellow is not strictly speaking neutral like white, black, or brown. However, pale colors function as neutrals if their color creates a background or anchor for a color palette, so pale yellow makes the neutral grade.
In the psychology of color, yellow is regarded as evoking optimism, cheerfulness, and happiness. It is the color of sunshine, flowers, and warm beach sand, so it is perfect for brightening up a room and your mood.
Yellow is a wonderful choice for children’s rooms, kitchens, and home offices, which are busy spaces that need to be inviting. It is bright under artificial light and goes well with modern, minimalist interiors and earthy, rustic schemes.
These are lovely yellow paint colors for a lifeless room:
- Hawthorne Yellow by Benjamin Moore
- Cornmeal by Olympic
- Lemonade by Behr
Final Thoughts on the Best Neutral Wall Colors
Neutral colors create a serene, elegant atmosphere, so you may be surprised that they are excellent choices for brightening dark and poorly lit spaces. Warm tones of yellow, ivory, cream, tan, taupe, pink, greige, and grey make a room look bigger and airier while adding coziness. Check for a high LRV in any paint, as it will reflect light.
Which of the neutral paint colors is your favorite? Leave your comment below.