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.
Always sample paint color in the space you intend to use it before you start putting it on your walls and trim! (We mail 8″ x 10″ paint swatches of our recommendations to our Virtual Color Consultation clients.)
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. 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) may 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
Edgecomb Gray HC-173 is a nice creamy greige for homeowners who want more of a gray hue without feeling too cold.
Navajo White OC-95 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.
Grant Beige HC-83, a popular color, is a cool tan that leans just a bit gray. It looks great in a 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
Balanced Beige SW 7037 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.
Gray Owl OC-52 is a soft, warm gray that’s not icy. Its color will be a bit more subdued in a room that doesn’t get much direct sunlight
Ballet White OC-9 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
Macadamia SW 6142 is light-medium neutral with a golden beige hue that won’t fall flat in the afternoon.
Creamy SW 7012 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.
Techno Gray SW 6170 is a warm greige. With just a tiny hint of green hue bias, 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 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 the afternoon sunlight will emphasize the strength and depth of warmer tones.
Neutral Paint Colors for West-Facing Rooms
SW 7531 Canvas Tan is browner without being too yellow.
Gentle Cream OC-96 is a versatile neutral that doesn’t lean too golden in western sunlight.
Stonington Gray HC-170 is a slightly cooler near-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 a 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 to 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.
Need help figuring out how natural light affects your interior paint colors? Or do you need assistance choosing exterior colors? We can help with both! Watch this quick video to learn more about our Virtual Color Consultation Reports, then click below to get started!
One Room Paint Color Report | Virtual
Need help choosing the best paint colors for your room? Then this is the (virtual) service for you! Based on your on your questionnaire responses and uploaded photos, we’ll create a personalized digital Paint Color Report just for you. We’ll also send you paint swatches! Click below to learn how it works or to get started!
Exterior Paint Color Report | Virtual
Ready to give your home exterior a fresh new look, but feeling overwhelmed with the decision? Get a little virtual help from the color experts at Three Bears Home Staging! Based on your on your questionnaire responses and uploaded photos, we’ll create a personalized digital Paint Color Report just for your home’s exterior. We’ll also send you paint swatches! Click below to learn how it works…