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How to brighten a dark room in a rental

Rentals can be a true challenge when it comes to staying true to your aesthetics and creating a space that is personal as you are usually limited in changes you are allowed to make. Here are a few tips on how to make a dark room appear to be full of light without making any structural changes. I am using our current home as an illustration for each method I am suggesting here. Most of them don’t require too much spending or time to implement.

Our current residence is a partially furnished rental property. Originally, the house was staged and used by the builder as a model so with the house came all kinds of things like art, accent pillows, curtains, a few big pieces of furniture, light fixtures, hardware and even plants. So there I was - a big desire to make this new space our home and a little room for change. Here I am sharing the easy steps I took to achieve the desired atmosphere in the loft that was fully furnished - we are going from lots of brown and red with industrial elements to airy, full of light, with a slight nod to Californian coast and, most importantly, cozy.

Here is how we went from this:

To this:

1. Textiles:

Add light colored textiles such as curtains, pillows & throws.

Our loft was fully furnished and mainly serves as a secondary living room/game room. There is a chocolate-colored sectional on a solid base that can look dark and heavy. In order to brighten up the space without changing the furniture, flooring or wall paint I added cream-colored throw pillows with various textures and a large knit throw in the same color family which added light, texture and visual interest to the space.

2. Change the flooring without changing the flooring:

Correctly picked rug can absolutely transform the vibe of any room and even define zones in spaces with open flow concept.

We have dark short pile carpets upstairs, so we added an ivory high pile moroccan-style rug that serves three purposes at the same time: it “lifts up” the heavy look of the couch on a solid base, reflects the natural light and adds to the coziness and warmth of the space that was bound to become a more intimate version of a living room mainly used for girls nights, cozying up with a book, playing video games or working on a puzzle.

3. Wall art and photos:

Be mindful of the frames and color palette of your wall art and photos you choose to display. Look at them as another support mechanism here - especially if you are, like me, limited in the number of structural changes you can perform. For the full-of-light effect choose white or blonde wood frames. Go for the artwork and photos in a lighter color scheme. Another great option would be mirrors as they are great at enlaging the space visually and multiplying natural light.

We changed the red photo frames to blonde wood ones and even the selected family photos support the bright-and-airy coastal vibe.

Extra tip: if you have art pieces or photos to display that do not necessarily contribute to the desired color scheme, consider bigger frames with wider matts in the desired color family. This method of displaying smaller pictures will not only add light but also will make your pieces stand out and look more sophisticated and modern.

4. Lighting:

Floor and table lamps can beautifully contribute to the room in the most delicate of ways: a touch of brass on the handles of the dresser can be complimented by a brassy leg of a floor lamp, warm toned wooden curtain rods can “talk” to the base of a table lamp if picked right. In a nutshell, properly selected light sources can make the space look more cohesive and put together without screaming “matchy-matchy”.

The warm hues of acacia, oak, teak and other timbers alike can bring in airiness and a touch of beachy outdoors to your space. These light wood finishes absolutely “bloom” when paired with whites and creams. And when you cannot structurally change the room, remove the large furniture or flooring, lamps can be an impactful compromise.

In our loft I substituted the black metal industrial style floor lamp for a mid-century one with warmer texture of unfinished oak and a white linen lampshade.

The table lamp that “came with the house” also had a metal base that was clashing with the aesthetics I was pursuing, so I substituted it with the one on a wooden base.

Extra tip: Don’t forget about the type of light your bulbs produce: for a more intimate space, choose dimmable warm light bulbs, for open space floor plans that need more natural light go for bulbs producing neutral white light. Stay away from bright cold white tones (unless it's for a workshop) as it can create a sterile feel.

5. Pay special attention to details:

Small things with big but inconspicuous impact like planters, bowls and trays can create a strong support for larger, move obvious pieces of your interior.

I swapped the original dark brown planters for light woven baskets and added cream colored storage jars and trays for snacks and other miscellaneous items. The rattan handles of the tray and wooden lid handle on the jar are gently mirroring indirect costal sub-theme.

Even the sandstone coasters contribute to the light and airy atmosphere and indirectly pay tribute to the coast of California.

These are a few small but impactful steps you can take to make your room appear brighter and make it more personal even when you are renting. If you decide to implement any of them at home, please, tag @fluidbykate in your photos on Instagram - we would love to see your take on it!

And remember to keep it fluid and have fun!


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