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DIY: Painting a North & East Facing Room

Writing is not the only thing that sends me down the rabbit hole of inquiry. Home improvement projects do as well.

I live in an old house, which means, my husband and I are avid do-it-yourselfers. Some years ago we did some major remodeling to our house, and to save money, we said we’d do all the finish work. (And mostly we have, though having a baby along the way left us with little time and energy for the things “we can live with”—i.e. window trim in the laundry room, etc.)

After the contractors were done, leaving behind bare plaster walls, my husband cut and put up moldings and trims, and I followed behind painting it all. In addition, I became quite adept at tile work—tiling our kitchen counter and two showers.

So when I walked into our home office one day and decided I just couldn’t take the color any longer, I knew it was a project I could handle. I thought repainting would be easy. And the actual application of paint to walls was easy (or as easy as it ever is after you take all the prep work into consideration!).

What ended up being hard was deciding on a paint color.

You see, our office is in the north-east corner of our house, so it doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight despite having two windows. In addition, the north facing window is under a large avocado tree, and the east facing window is under the porch roof, so there’s even less light than there might otherwise be.

As a result of this natural dimness of light and the fact that the house is too old to have insulation in the walls (it was built, we’ve been told, in the mid-1880s), this room always feels cold—both physically and psychologically.

Because of this, I had originally painted the room yellow, hoping the warmth and brightness of the yellow would counteract the chill of the room. It did not. Somehow that yellow ended up feeling cold and dull. So it was time for a change.

I wanted the room to feel cozy and warm, at least psychologically even if not physically. So at first I looked at warm pinks, pale blues, greens and lavenders. I bought sample size colors of each of those and put them on the wall.

I hated them. In that room, they did’t look warm and inviting. At worst they looked dull and at best they looked better suited to a nursery than an office. And for sure they did not look warm and cozy.

Now I was stuck. I had always assumed that in a dark room one should use light colors, but they weren’t working. It was time to hit the internet.

What I discovered at first felt counter-intuitive: in a dark room, you can use richer colors. This has to do with the lighting.

The article “How Light Affects Color,” on the Farrow&Ball website, explained that in rooms with north facing windows, the light tends to be cooler and to pull out the bluish tones in paint. Which meant the yellow I had used previously must have been too cool a yellow. The northern light enhanced the coolness. So no matter if the color you choose is light or dark, in a room on the north side of your place, you should use paint with warm undertones to counteract the cool light.

In rooms that get little natural light, the shadows have a similar effect. Only in this case, the colors will tend towards grey. So in dark rooms, pale colors have a tendency to look grayish no matter how cheerful they looked on the paint chip.

According to “Choosing Paint Colors for Dark Rooms” on the House Painting Tutorials website, the best colors for a room that doesn’t get enough light are mid-tone colors, i.e. the ones in the middle of the paint chips. And an article on Apartment Therapy’s site suggested jewel-toned colors because they can retain their impact in low lights.

Armed with this information, and my husband’s opinion that we should go for purple because we didn’t have a purple room yet, I set out looking for the perfect purple. And it took a while. Thank goodness you can get sample size jars of paint these days because I ended up buying twelve of them before I found what I was looking for!

Along the way, I learned one more interesting fact—how flat or glossy the paint is also affects how light or dark the color appears. I ended up choosing flat paint because the color I liked best was just a little too dark with a glossy sheen, and the paint store couldn’t lighten it enough without lightening it too much. But just choosing it in flat made it the perfect color. (Generally I avoid flat colors because flat paints are harder to keep clean, but for our office I thought it’d be okay).

For the trim color, I used the same one we have throughout the rest of the house. When we had to do so much painting after the remodel, we decided to use the same trim color throughout to make life a bit easier. And it has turned out to be a good idea for another reason, too—it limits our choices when deciding on wall colors since we have to chose a color that looks good with Behr’s Linen White.

I’m sure a deep, rich purple is not everyone’s idea of perfection, but I love the way it turned out. When I walk into the room now, I feel happy. It’s a little like walking into a hug—just as warm and cozy. I now want to spend time in the office, whereas before, I dreaded going into it.

Another successful trip down the rabbit hole!

Links I referred to and/or found helpful are here:

“Living Style: Bringing Colors out of the Shadow”:

“How To Pick a Perfect Paint Color for a Low Light Room”:

“Choosing Paint Colors for Dark Rooms”:

“How Light Affects Color”:

One thought on “DIY: Painting a North & East Facing Room

  1. The purple is gorgeous!!! And it looks so much better than the yellow. Just looking at your picture of the room when it was yellow I could tell it was not a warm and cheery feeling, which I would have thought yellow would automatically provide. Its super cool all that stuff you found out about colors and light though! Who knew there was so much science behind paint colors!! Your office looks awesome and I’m glad you like it better now 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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