How Natural Light Affects Interior Paint Colors

When choosing interior paint colors, it’s important to understand how the direction of the natural light, or exposure, can affect your perception. Natural light tends to vary in color and intensity depending on where it’s coming from. If the beige paint that looked great in your last house now looks pinkish or the gray you love seems more purple in your bedroom, it could be because you’re comparing rooms with different exposures.

In this article, I’ll teach you how natural light affects interior paint colors (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway). I’ve also included a few suggestions for neutral paint colors that play well with the lighting in those rooms. But before we get started on specifics, let’s review a few important pointers when selecting interior paint colors…

Additional Considerations When Selecting Paint Color

Besides exposure, there are a few other factors your should evaluate when selecting paint color:

  • Make sure you have the right light bulbs before choosing an interior paint color. It will make a BIG difference in the way your color appears at night.
  • How much natural light does the room actually get? A room that has large windows unobstructed by greenery will be more affected by natural light. A room with with small windows, large outside overhangs, or lots of shrubbery covering the windows may be less affected.
  • Evaluate how the fixed elements (wood, tile, cabinets, appliances, flooring) of the home play into your color scheme. It’s not all about lighting.
  • Stick with neutrals if you’re planning to sell soon.
  • Observe your paint samples in the room at different times of the day. Also think about when you use the room the most. Light changes throughout the day so make sure you like what you’re seeing.

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And Now…on to the Paint Colors!

Natural Light in North-Facing Rooms

Rooms with windows that face north tend to have a cooler, grayer light with just a faint touch of blue-ness. Even with a lot of windows and plenty of sun, the color of the light will still be on the cool side. This means cool-toned paints (blues, grays, greens, and certain shades of white) will feel icier in a north-facing room. Painting north-facing rooms a warm color or even warm neutral can offset this chilly effect.

Neutral Paint Colors for North-Facing Rooms

natural light interior paint colors north facing

Edgecomb Gray is a nice creamy greige for homeowners who want more of gray hue without feeling too cold.

natural light interior paint colors north facing

Navajo White is a light cream paint. The bluish light in a north-facing room counteracts the yellow in this paint color giving it a nice balance.

natural light interior paint colors north facing

Grant Beige, a popular color, is a cool tan that leans just a bit gray. It looks great in well-lit north-facing room.

Natural Light in South-Facing Rooms

Rooms that have south-facing windows are awash in warm, yellowish light as the afternoon progresses. During the morning, these rooms can be shadowy, making color in this space look a bit flat. If your south-facing room is very bright in the afternoon, a cool tone or gray can help offset all the warm light. Using warm colors in this space will make the visual warmth of the room appear more intense.

Neutral Paint Colors for South-Facing Rooms

natural light interior paint colors south facing

Balanced Beige is a beautiful warm taupe and one of my personal favorites. The mix of gray and brown makes it less toasty than a more traditional beige. Works great in a room that gets a lot of afternoon sunlight from south-facing windows.

natural light interior paint colors south facing

Gray Owl is a soft gray that’s not icy. It has a very subtle blue-green undertone that will be a bit more subdued in a room that doesn’t get much direct sunlight

natural light interior paint colors south facing

Ballet White is a light, creamy greige that leans a bit warm. This color can bring a lot of light and warmth into a space, but may be too neutral for south-facing rooms that don’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

Natural Light in East-Facing Rooms

East (and west) facing rooms are trickier to analyze because the light is less consistent. Mornings in east-facing rooms have bright, soft light that’s a bit warm. As the sun rises, light in east-facing rooms brightens, and by midday, paint colors may look a bit lackluster. After noon, rooms with east-facing windows will look a bit grayer and dimmer. These spaces tend to work best with warm colors. Cooler tones may feel a bit drab during afternoon hours.

Neutral Paint Colors for East-Facing Rooms

natural light interior paint colors east facing

Macadamia is light-medium neutral with a golden beige hue that won’t fall flat in the afternoon.

natural light interior paint colors east facing

Creamy is one of the few off-whites that can hold its own in an east-facing room. It warms up the space without being overly yellow.

natural light interior paint colors east facing

Techno Gray is a warm greige. With just a hint of green undertone, this color will hold its warmth in the cool afternoon light of an east-facing room.

Natural Light in West-Facing Rooms

Mornings in west-facing rooms have a more subdued light. After noon, the light gradually appears warmer and brighter, increasing in intensity later in the day. Rooms with western exposures work well with both cool and warm colors, but bear in mind that afternoon sun will emphasize the strength and depth of warmer tones.

Neutral Paint Colors for West-Facing Rooms

natural light interior paint colors west facing

SW 7531 Canvas Tan is more brown without being too yellow.

natural light interior paint colors west facing

Gentle Cream is a versatile neutral that doesn’t lean too golden in western sunlight.

natural light interior paint colors west facing

Stonington Gray is a cooler neutral that offers some counterbalance to the afternoon sunlight.

Rooms with 2 or More Exposures

If you’ve got windows on multiple walls, then you’re dealing with multiple exposures (yikes!) Consider which window lets in the most unobstructed light. Generally speaking, you’ll want to pay more attention to the dominant exposure in the room. The good news is that you’ll have a bit more flexibility when it comes to your personal color preference.

A room with southern-western exposure will have warm, bright light that gets increasingly brighter after midday, whereas a northern-eastern exposure will have cool, gray light throughout the day. A room with southern-eastern windows tends have a soft, warm glow throughout the day, bright in the morning, a bit washed out at noon, with the intensity of the afternoon sun mellowed out by the eastern exposure. Rooms with a northern-western exposure tend to be cool and gray all day, with just a bit of warm light in the afternoon.

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