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Try these Practical Tips When Painting a Dark Hallway

Dark hallways that lack natural light can easily be elevated using rich, dark paint colours

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By House & Garden | November 22, 2023 | Interiors

Typical hallways, with their narrow footprint and lack of natural light, are a perennial design conundrum. We sought the help of paint specialists to find out the best colours to paint them to show them off to their best advantage

‘I think you should always paint the space with the lowest light level in a dark colour,' says designer Nicola Harding, who painted this hallway in a beautiful 18th-century house in Bath in ‘Squid Ink’ by Paint & Paper Library.

Whenever we ask our readers for their most pressing decorating questions, hallways always come up. What is about them that makes them so difficult to decorate? The lack of natural light in most hallways is one answer: hallways (at least in typical UK urban houses) tend not to have their own windows, so choosing a colour that doesn't make them feel drab and depressing can be problematic. Hallways are also transitional spaces; we don't spend much time in them, so there's not much urgency in decorating them, and they tend to get neglected. So if you've got a boring white hallway that doesn't do the rest of your house justice, we've asked three paint specialists for their best recommendations. With ideas that cover the spectrum from dark to bright, you're sure to find something in here that suits your house.

Go dark

The first approach to a narrow hallway without much light is to embrace those natural qualities and go dark. A deep blue or even black can work beautifully, especially if you enliven it with a white ceiling and well-chosen accents (metallic wall sconces, perhaps, or a colourful piece of art), as the two hallways below demonstrate.

The first approach to a narrow hallway without much light is to embrace those natural qualities and go dark. Image via Pexels.

"Once intimidating and mildly controversial, these last few years have seen a huge embrace to bolder, darker colours," says Patrick O'Donnell, brand ambassador and colour consultant at Farrow & Ball. “It might seem counter-intuitive, but they should be on the options list for these rather dark and unpromising spaces. As our friends in the US would say, “lean in” to the limitations of your space. Dark colours will often be empathetic to problematic dark halls. Inchyra Blue is a dream option and never feels too chilly thanks to a subtle hint of green through it and our classic Railings will suit the most urbane of tastes!”

Betsy Smith, colour consultant at Graphenstone, agrees: “Embracing the lack of light and opting for dark shades such as Brunswick or Indigo will create a theatrical and confident first impression of your home. If you don’t wish to envelop the entire space in a low chromatic colour, then an alternative solution is to introduce dark shades such as Graphene or Imperial on the woodwork & doors and combine with a light neutral on the walls such as Pale Walnut & White Pepper. This will ground the space, and the contrast will prevent the environment from feeling murky.”

Rachel Chudley went for another deep and inky blue-black (a bespoke shade) in the hallway of a Highbury house project (above) explaining her choice thus: “It worked to enhance the beautifully light rooms leading off the corridor, which benefit from their south-facing position. The dark hallway acted as a sort of portal to take you from the street and drop you off in a sanctuary. Its ceiling is an identical height to the one in the sitting room beyond, but because we painted the corridor walls and ceiling in the same inky shade, by contrast, the sitting room seems higher and brighter. This contrast might sound jarring, but it feels like walking through a deep, overgrown wood and emerging into a clearing flooded with daylight.” Designer Pandora Taylor echoes the same idea in speaking of the hallway in her own London house. ""I always had the idea that I wanted the hallway to be a dark tunnel that takes you off into all these bright lovely rooms, and that there should be a transformational feeling, as if you are stepping into a different world."

Go rich

If this all feels a bit gloomy, dark hallways can benefit from the complete opposite approach. If you choose a sufficiently warm and saturated colour, it will have the power to combat a dark space. “Bright tones are for the braver of heart,” admits Patrick, but who hasn’t walked into a sunshine yellow or jewel-toned green hall and been utterly uplifted by the sheer joy or vitality? Try Sudbury Yellow (which has enough black pigment to stop the colour screaming) or Yeabridge Green for a full verdant hit. These colours would suit a period hall of great proportions."

North-facing spaces or those with little natural light will want warmer mid-toned shades. Image via Pexels.

Betsy also recommends that you “incorporate a punchy saturated colour to give dark hallways a much-needed lift. Colour juxtaposition works brilliantly in a hallway to create a sense of drama and depth–reds and pinks through to greens and blues, for example, as above. Transitioning from a commanding hallway will make adjacent rooms feel brighter and act like a spine to the house - connecting other rooms. Lighting the coloured wall will reflect the hue creating a luminosity that will make hallways more infinite and intriguing, whilst guiding the eye into your home.”

Steer down the middle

Most of us are naturally drawn to mid-tone colours, which feel like less of a commitment than deep darks or rich brights. “Mid-toned colours will add more ‘character’ as you’re upping the chromatic ante," says Patrick, “but any natural lighting will dictate the direction of travel for your choice. North-facing spaces or those with little natural light will want warmer mid-toned shades. If you happen to be facing east, the hallway will respond rather well to a gentle eau de nil such as Pale Powder or the silvery blue of Light Blue, while south-facing will love the saturation of an earthy pink such as Templeton Pink.”

You can elongate a long narrow hallway by using a lighter, warmer colour at the end of the space, with a slightly darker shade of a similar tone on the walls to create depth. Image via Pexels.

Ruth Mottishead of Little Greene also notes that ‘drenching’ a hallway in colour is a good way to make a statement in a hallway. “I like an all-over approach to colour such as using mid-tones like ‘Garden’, ’Tea with Florence’ or ‘Pale Lupin’ on walls, ceilings and woodwork or combining an all over pattern such as beautiful leafy pattern such as our ‘Beech Nut’ wallpaper design. The contemporary, cohesive approach of ‘colour drenching’ delivers high impact by painting woodwork, radiators, the ceiling and doors the same colour as the walls. This will create a complete scheme, treating each element similarly, and will deliver a design statement when entering or viewing the hallway from other rooms within your home. Whilst, you can't make a hallway larger you can embrace the size of what can often be an awkward space to create something that feels really engaging, inviting and contemporary.”

Tricks to fool the eye

If you want to be really clever, there are certain painting tricks that can fool the eye into thinking there's more light than there is. Ruth advises that you can 'elongate a long narrow hallway by using a lighter, warmer colour at the end of the space, with a slightly darker shade of a similar tone on the walls to create depth.  Consider using lighter pastel tones such as ‘Bone China Blue’, together with ‘Bone China Blue Mid’ and ‘Bone China Blue Deep’ which will help to create a sense of space and draw light and height into a hallway."

Betsy's preferred trick is to “unify the space, keeping walls and doors to the same pale neutral or white, then carefully position pop of colour that you see when you open the door. Cool colours recede, adding depth to small hallways, while warm hues will jump forward and instantly catch the eye.”

And if you must go neutral…

Neutrals can be tricky in a dark hallway, leading to the dreaded gloomy look, but it can be done if you choose your colours carefully. “If light is an issue then choose a white or neutral that has an essence of warmth through it,” explains Patrick. “Think yellow or red-based whites and neutrals as a guide here. Most paint companies will point you in the right direction via their websites.”

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.