How to Lighten Paint Color on Walls

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The new house may be freshly painted -- but some rooms are too dark for your taste. You're not ready for wholesale redecorating, but you don't have to live with hunter green in the dining room and gunmetal gray in the bedroom. Bring some light into those gloomy rooms with easy-to-apply faux paint techniques and reflective surfaces. Or, if you discover halfway through a paint job that you've made a huge, dismal mistake, dredge up some high school chemistry to reformulate the topcoat and save the day.

Faux Finish It

Dark wall paint isn't fatal; it's just the beginning of a faux finish that can turn a man cave into the salon of a Renaissance villa. Try any of numerous techniques to lightly cover the too-dark paint:

  • Sponge on a lighter shade sparingly so the undercoat shows through. 
  • Slather on a coat of color-wash -- use a slightly diluted top coat of a lighter color, a tinted glaze or a lot of picking up of the top color with a clean cloth as you paint. 
  • Use a fluffy roller, barely dipped in lighter paint, to delicately roll over the dark wall. This creates a similar, but more even, effect to sponging -- the base color will show through more the lighter your touch. 
  • Stencil a sweeping or repeat design over the dark wall in a light color or white to catch and reflect more of the light that comes into the room. 
  • Get more ambitious with a Bellagio technique, an application of light paint mixed with joint compound and applied over a base color to look like mottled plaster or fine stucco.  

Mix and Match

In a room that gets two coats of a new color on the walls, you get a second chance after the first coat. When you're unsure whether the color will be light enough -- in a north-facing room, for example -- let the first coat dry on the wall. Check out the dry paint color in all light -- daylight and artificial. If it needs lightening, mix white paint with the same undertones -- creamy warm or blue-gray cool -- into the remaining wall paint and cover the base coat with the lighter shade.

When you can wait to buy the second coat of paint, have the paint store make the color with half the amount of pigment in the white base paint. If your paint formula was 10 drops of blue in the white base color, use five drops. Same shade, but a lighter intensity.

White Out

The hyacinth sunroom is kind of purply and you feel more like you've been dropped into a vat of grape drink than a garden. Paint the wall opposite the main windows white or off-white to break up those shadowy walls and reflect light from the window throughout the rest of the room. At night, use hidden uplighting or gallery spots on one or more large pieces of wall-hung art to bounce light off the white wall. The same trick works when you'd rather keep the walls all the same color but brighten up the room. Paint the floor glossy white and keep rugs to a minimum. A white floor and white ceiling bring a lot of light to a space.

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