GOOD COLORS FOR DARK HALLWAYS & STAIRCASES
If there’s one space in a home that has the potential to be dismal, it’s the hallway. Most hallways are narrow and gloomy and leave little room for visual interest and excitement – the same goes for staircases.
And we WILL get to the visual interest and excitement…another day. Today, we’re talking about paint colors because if your walls aren’t the right color, there’s no visual interest that will save you. But before I introduce the actual colors, let’s talk about some meat n’ potatoes stuff.
LRV & DARK HALLWAYS & STAIRCASES
LRV matters a lot in a dark rooms.
Well, with many hallways and stairs having very little natural light, paint colors need to work overtime, reflecting or absorbing whatever light they can. Every paint color has an LRV number, which refers to how much light it reflects or absorbs. Trust me, this little number could save your life and your marriage, so if you don’t know much about it, I suggest you read Paint Colors and LRV: The Ultimate Guide You Need to Read.
Now, there are lighter and brighter colors than the ones listed below, in other words, WHITES, but I don’t want to bore you to death with various versions of those (I’ll let this post do that). And I’m not going to lie and say that these colors will BLOW YOUR MIND with personality – they won’t. However, they might be a happy medium between a white paint color with a high LRV (that might ultimately bore the hecka-doody out of you) and shades too intense and heavy to toss down a typical stairwell or hallway.
This dreary staircase doesn’t make ME want to see what’s at the bottom…
LIGHT FIXTURES & HALLWAYS
Unless you have a row of pot lights, there shouldn’t be any fixtures in your hallway that hold only one bulb. ONE STINKIN’ BULB, what do you expect it to do – work miracles? Seriously, if you have only one fixture, it should hold three – 60w bulbs. If you have two fixtures, they should each hold at least two – 60w bulbs (but the more, the merrier, as you can always reduce the wattage if you find it too much). However, if your hallway has three+ fixtures, one bulb will do (as shown below).
If you don’t have enough light, NO paint color will save you – don’t expect your paint to be a miracle worker.
One of the best ways to get adequate lighting is with a flush mount or semi-flush mount light fixture. There are more exciting lights, but for cost and availability, sometimes a simple flush mount does the trick!
So, before spending money on paint, spend SMART money on lighting first.
CONTRAST IN A DARK HALLWAY – TRIM & PAINT COLOR
This is a trickier one. Some of you have white (or off-white trim), whereas others have wood trim – so this changes things slightly.
Damn you for making me think beyond the reach of my wine glass…
A DARK HALLWAY WITH WHITE TRIM
Whereas staircases usually have less vertical trim, hallways with multiple doorways can have A LOT of trim. White trim with a light paint color is low contrast. This keeps things not only brighter but also bigger looking (wider). A brighter shade of white with a medium or dark paint color creates a high-contrast palette, which can make a space look busier and smaller (but sometimes more interesting).
And while we’re not looking at dark colors, we are looking at colors that provide a BIT of contrast with traditional white trim.
In this next hallway, there’s no natural light, and the interior lights are off (I’m so observant, I know). Notice how the light, warm gray walls, and creamy off-white trim weigh the space down. At the very least, I would paint the trim a brighter shade of white (matching what’s on the spindles) and maybe even add some wall sconces (you can get battery-operated ones on Amazon)…
A DARK HALLWAY WITH WOOD TRIM
Medium or dark trim (wood or painted) with a light paint color is HIGH contrast. Now, your space WILL look brighter via the wall color; however, the contrast between the trim and the walls can make your space feel more cluttered and small. So it’s not that your space will look darker; you just aren’t getting the full-bodied effect of white trim/light walls.
Could you paint your walls a light-medium tone to blend in more with your dark trim to lower the contrast?
You could, as this would lower the contrast level, making things look simpler and more seamless. However, it won’t make your hallway look any ‘brighter.’ But if you can supplement with MORE than adequate lighting and decor (e.g., a mirror to reflect light), you can make up for a less-than-bright paint color and perhaps find a happy medium.
If you want to know more about paint colors with wood trim, you may want to check out this blog post: The Best Paint Colors for Dark Wood Trim
But for the rest of you, let’s move along!
Remember, what’s boring to me and boring to you could be different things. You could be looking for wild and wonderful, and these colors AREN’T that. These colors are geared towards the average home and average homeowner who wants to brighten up their dark hallway or stairs with a VERSATILE, flexible paint color.
Why does versatility matter?
Like entryways, hallways are transition areas that have many rooms attached to them. If your hallway is painted a unique color, you’ll have a MUCH harder time coordinating the adjoining rooms and creating a colour palette that FLOWS.
If you want a more unique color or want me to curate the best color options for you and your home, check out my Online Paint Color Consulting – I’d love to help!
LET THE COLOR GAMES…BEGIN!
1. BENJAMIN MOORE WINDS BREATH OC-24 / 981
Winds Breath is a beautiful, subtle neutral. Thanks to its particular blend, it doesn’t commit to a particular color and can politely nod at beige, tan, and cream, with a decent touch of gray to calm it all down.
Will it look dingy in a super-dark hallway or stairwell? YUP, but any color will. That’s where you need enough lighting, and I would probably stick to 3000K in your bulbs. I would also lean into bright whites like Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace and Sherwin Williams Extra White.
Does Winds Breath look good with wood trim?
It depends. If the trim has a ton of red-pink, the combo isn’t so hot. However, for the ‘average wood trim,’ Winds Breath can be gorgeous.
2. SHERWIN WILLIAMS ALABASTER SW 7008
Okay, I lied; I AM going to bore you with white…but just one glorious shade of it. This is because Alabaster isn’t a typical white. With its LRV of 82, Alabaster is a SOFT white that borders on the off-white/cream world. If you have brighter white trim, Alabaster offers brightness with a touch of warmth and softness that can be gorgeous and add personality and life to a dark, narrow, or small hallway.
Here’s another shot of Alabaster in a slightly darker back hallway/mudroom…LOVE IT…
I ONLY use photos from my Online Paint Color Consulting clients (or my own photos), so I don’t always have the EXACT example I need. I do my best to show you REAL HOMES with REAL BUDGETS. Thank you for sending your photos in!
3. BENJAMIN MOORE EDGECOMG GRAY…LIGHTENED
I LOVE Edgecomb Gray (also known as Baby Fawn), whether it’s for walls, trims, cabinets, or exteriors. However, for dark hallways and staircases, in particular, Edgecomb Gray is BEST when it’s lightened by either 25% or 50%. This way, you get similar BONES but a lighter look (with AMAZING flexibility for your color palette). Being a color that bridges the gap between gray and beige and with MINIMAL undertone, Edgecomb Gray is one of the more popular neutrals in today’s color market and will continue to be a top choice going into 2024.
Let’s look at a few spaces with regular and lightened versions of Edgecomb Gray in action…
This next entryway is Edgecomb Gray mixed 25% lighter, with Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze on the front door and board and batten/hook wall…
Again, it’s 25% lighter on the walls in this hallway and super dark transition area…
Lastly (below), here’s Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray 75% lighter in my OWN home…
The only natural light is from the transom window above the door and ambient lighting from adjoining rooms.
Usually, I don’t recommend lightening a color 75% unless it’s for your trims or ceiling (and it doesn’t always work). However, in our home, I love being my own guinea pig and adjusting colors to see what they do. This way, I learn more and can better advise YOU on your home!
4. SHERWIN WILLIAMS DIVINE WHITE SW 6105
Remember, the point of this blog post is to step away from the (potentially) boring world of white walls. Although, this can be open to perception. The right white in the right space can look AMAZEBALLS. And I say all of this because, again, these colors aren’t CRAZY – they’re just GREAT, flexible neutrals.
Beige gets a bad rap thanks to the Tuscan trend from the early 2000s.
But beige has come a looooong way, baby.
Divine White is a more modern, off-white beige. While PERSONALLY, I love the more muted look of Sherwin Williams Aesthetic White and Benjamin Moore Maritime White, Divine White has a bit less gray and is a bit more colorful for those dark hallways and entryways.
Just because I’m a passive-aggressive lil’ Ginger, let’s look at Aesthetic White, too. Here it is in a narrow hallway with beige carpet and orange-toned wood trim…
And here it is in a moody, Spanish-style entryway with a beautiful brick arch…
Why do I bring up both colors?
Well, because for lightening and brightening, Divine White (or Moderate White) will do a better job than Aesthetic White or Maritime White. However, for the MOST MODERN approach to beige, you’re looking at Aesthetic White. I’m just here to show you the OPTIONS; you choose the color that best suits you and your home.
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5. SHERWIN WILLIAMS CREAMY SW 7012
If you like the idea of a creamy white like Alabaster but want a wink more depth, check out Sherwin Williams Creamy. This is an off-white shade of cream without much yellow, making it more appealing than some of the stronger shades. Creamy has a subtle freshness without a huge commitment to color.
Will stronger, more yellow-based creams make your hallway look brighter?
Yup, as long as they’re a similar depth to Creamy or lighter (heavier creams won’t work as well). However, these creams aren’t always as popular because of their increased chroma (color). When choosing a color, it’s often about finding a happy medium between those that lighten your space that are also colors you can LIVE IN and love!
In this next photo (our old home), notice how Creamy is significantly lighter and brighter on the well-lit walls but doesn’t fall too flat down the hallway (which had no lights on when this photo was taken)…
Here’s a full shot of the hallway with its dark accent color at the end (I love playing with pops of color, as they’re GREAT for adding personality to a boring space like a hallway)…
Creamy isn’t EXCITING by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s simple and bright and reflects the light given quite nicely. In the above photo, you can see how it LOOKS more or less like a white hallway; it’s just not as stark or harsh as Creamy offers a passive warmth and subtle contrast with the trim.
WANT A CREAM THAT’S A BIT DARKER?
- Benjamin Moore Navajo White is a bit darker and warmer/creamier than Creamy.
- Sherwin Williams Casa Blanca is a slightly more cheerful but still muted approach to cream with more color and depth than Creamy.
Why suggest these other paint colours?
Comparison is the MOST IMPORTANT PART of choosing your best paint color (and researching on ma blog). Remember, what suits one home won’t necessarily suit another; grab several versions of the type of color you like and COMPARE COMPARE COMPARE!
WHAT SHEEN OR PAINT FINISH IS BEST FOR A DARK HALLWAY OR STAIRCASE?
This is a tough one. The shinier a paint finish is, the more light it reflects. However, shiny walls aren’t desirable in the average home – even a moderate sheen can be off-putting, ESPECIALLY if you have texture walls.
This next hallway has no natural light and suits a shiny(er) finish as the walls are covered in moldings, which are usually painted in a satin finish. EVEN THEN, I’d take it down a notch if it were my home (I bet it’s semi-gloss or even high gloss)…
Personally, I’m going to worry more about the color I choose and the quality of my light fixtures and less about my paint finish. Sure, I know the sheen will bounce more light, but it doesn’t always LOOK as good, which kind of kills the point.
Sooooo, long story short (as usual), I would use a washable matte finish on my walls or an eggshell sheen at most.
WHAT’S THE BEST SHADE OF WHITE FOR A DARK HALLWAY?
If your hallway or staircase has no natural light, there really is nothing better than white to make it look brighter. So, if you sample the above colors and decide that maybe you DO want white walls, there are several shades worth considering.
Those are my FAVES, but these can be finessed to suit particular finishes/flooring/etc…
LET ME PICK YOUR PAINT COLORS FOR YOU!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2019, UPDATED IN 2023