Paint Colors for Rooms with Northern Exposure
Have you ever walked into a room and gotten the chills? Even a well-decorated room can look cold and uninviting if the exposure has been ignored, which happens ALL the time – and I’m here to stop it.
The challenge with north-facing rooms is that they don’t get direct sunshine throughout the day. Sure, if you have mixed exposures – north-south, northeast, or northwest – you’ll get sun at certain times. However, for a room with DOMINANT northern light, you have a pretty consistent cool gray (gray-blue) light.
THE TWO TYPES OF NORTH-FACING ROOMS
1. NORTH-FACING ROOMS WITH LOW NATURAL LIGHT
North-facing rooms with low light most often have small windows. However, the low light can also be caused by an overhang/patio above the window, a close neighbor, or dense landscaping that blocks the natural light from coming in.
North-facing rooms naturally have a grayish light with a subtle blue cast. A north-facing room without much natural light can suffer from being more shadowed and dealing with the gray undertone of the natural light offered – giving the room a more shaded and cold look. And be sure not to confuse ‘shadows’ (which need sunlight) with shaded – shaded means grayed-out.
2. NORTH-FACING ROOMS WITH A LOT OF NATURAL LIGHT
Bright north-facing rooms tend to have large or multiple windows with no patio/landscaping blocking the flow of natural light. But beware, just because these rooms are ‘bright’ doesn’t mean they’re warm-looking.
This next photo shows a room with a pretty warmth – but that’s courtesy of the light bulbs, not the exposure! Look at the room to the right of it, and you’ll see the cool cast of the natural, northern light coming in.
A north-facing room with A LOT of natural light will have the same grayish cast but at least have the support of ‘adequate amounts of light’ to counteract the gray cast and brighten things up. However, the natural light itself can slightly wash out (gray out) some paint colors due to the color of the light while slightly enhancing cool tones such as blue, green, and violet.
You can also have a northeast-facing room or a northwest-facing room (seriously, it never ends). These rooms are ninjas and can change their look throughout the day as the sun shifts from east-west (read more HERE).
Northern light can wash out some paint colors
Designers often use warm paint colors to balance the visual temperature of the room and counteract that cold, gray exposure. While cool colors can be great accents, too many cool tones can double the effect of the already cold exposure and won’t add any balance or warmth.
Warm colors and undertones will help create balance in a north-facing room
Now that we’ve got the basics down pat let’s look at some COLORS!
1. BENJAMIN MOORE NAVAJO WHITE OC-95
Navajo White is a light, warm cream paint color. Cream is a yellow paint color with a neutral base added to calm it down. Northern light can ‘calm down’ the degree of yellow in a cream paint color, while the remaining yellow can help to counteract the northern light a bit.
- Navajo White will wash out a bit on a well-lit wall (as shown in the above photo) but holds itself well in average light. In a darker room, it will add warmth but will need some artificial light to come to life.
- The LRV of Navajo White is 78, meaning it’s off-white. Not sure what LRV is? You shouldn’t pick a paint color WITHOUT it (read more HERE)!
- In a south-facing room, expect Navajo White to look warmer/more yellow than above.
- If you want MORE warmth without stretching right into yellow, try Sherwin Williams Casa Blanca.
SIMILAR COLORS TO CONSIDER FOR NORTH-FACING ROOMS
2. BENJAMIN MOORE WINDS BREATH OC 24
Winds Breath is a color that doesn’t get NEARLY enough recognition. Personally, it’s one of my favorite muted, warm neutrals.
Winds Breath contains a range of neutrals, but not enough to fully commit to one in particular – depending on your space, you might see flashes of cream or beige, accompanied by whispers of gray. This gives this awesome paint color GREAT flexibility.
It’s also a great choice if you want warmth but don’t love traditional shades of cream and their commitment to yellow. Winds Breath nods at cream without jumping in the butter tub.
- With an LRV of 69.59, Winds Breath is on the higher end of the light range – winking at the off-white range.
- While Winds Breath is definitely muted, there’s still enough warmth to add some balance to cool northern light.
- If you’re looking for COMMITTED, legit warmth, you might want to step into the cream world a bit further.
PAINT COLORS THAT ARE SIMILAR TO WIND’S BREATH
3. BENJAMIN MOORE GENTLE CREAM OC-96
Gentle Cream is rich enough to add warmth to your space without weighing it down, as it’s still in the light range of paint colors. This heavy cream’s yellow-orange base will help balance out your cool northern light without looking overly colorful on your walls.
In a north-facing room, the undertones will be a bit less obvious than in a south-facing room, and it’s more likely to settle as a warm but neutral-looking paint color – keep in mind, the undertones/color will come up a bit more once the sun goes down (Elton John style).
- The LRV of Gentle Cream is 72.0, putting Gentle Cream in the ‘light’ range but bordering on the beige world – it’s the darkest cream on the market (Read more about LRV).
- I’ve used Gentle Cream in my home in north and south-facing rooms and LOVED it in both!
- Sherwin Williams Creamy has a more muted, less yellow-cream look. It can fall a bit flat in northern light but can work for those who want a VERY…very modest approach.
- Sherwin Williams Antique White is a touch less colorful and more grounded but has a similar approach and LRV.
- Sherwin Williams Casa Blanca is a more cheerful shade of cream without diving too far into yellow.
4. SHERWIN WILLIAMS NATURAL LINEN SW 9109
Not everyone is ready for the rich beiges to come back in style, but sometimes beige is JUST what a north-facing room needs. Luckily, there’s a wide range of modern, trendy beiges, including Natural Linen.
Natural Linen is a light shade of beige, but a calm base tones it down, so it’s not as golden as its predecessors. Natural Linen centers on an orange undertone (as beiges tend to do) but has a nice balance of warmth so that it doesn’t cater hard to orange-yellow or orange-pink.
- Natural Linen is a popular choice for those with homes from the late 90s and early 2000s, as it often suits finishes from these years.
- Whereas more grayed-out beiges and tans can suit south-facing rooms, northern exposures appreciate a little (or more) added warmth.
- Benjamin Moore Muslin is similar to Natural Linen but a touch more colorful.
- Sherwin Williams Kilim Beige is a beige with more noticeable orange-based warmth.
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5. SHERWIN WILLIAMS GRASSLAND 6163
If you’re looking for something beyond the everyday neutral and love green, Grassland could be the hue for you.
Grassland is a light-medium depth shade of green with a subtle, slightly greige warmth. On those super flat, cloudy north-facing days, Grassland has enough color that your room is interesting but not SO green that it’s overwhelming.
- Sherwin Williams Ancient Marble is like a lighter version of Grassland
- For greens that are a touch more vibrant and have less yellow, check out Sherwin Williams Softened Green and Liveable Green – just remember, north-facing light can make them look that bit cooler.
Sherwin Williams Liveable Green
6. BENJAMIN MOORE BALLET WHITE OC 9
Ballet White is a perfectly muted cream. While it has a touch of yellow for warmth, its neutral base calms it down, leaving enough warmth to balance some cool northern light.
- Notice the subtle warmth of a color like Ballet White in the above photo – juuuuust right.
- You may need to jump into the cream range if you want MORE warmth than white Ballet White offers.
- Sherwin Williams White Duck is a bit lighter and less warm than Ballet White.
- Sherwin Williams Shoji White is the kissin’ cousin of White Duck and another great comparable.
7. BENJAMIN MOORE EDGECOMB GRAY HC 173
Many of my Online Paint Color clients want warmth without dipping into beige, tan, or cream. This is when I introduce them to Edgecomb Gray. Edgecomb Gray is a beautiful blend of gray and beige with an almost creamy undertone. Along with Winds Breath, it’s another popular option for those of you who want a neutral color that’s not overly warm OR cold.
HOWEVER, with its LRV of 63, Edgecomb Gray might be too dirty and drab for a north-facing room that isn’t well-lit. Make sure it’s light and bright enough to support your paint color visually!
In a north-facing room, you CAN expect Edgecomb Gray to lean MORE to the gray side than the creamy beige, without ever losing its warmth entirely…
- Edgecomb Gray is among the most POPULAR colors on the paint market right now (along with Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray).
- Sherwin Williams White Duck (isn’t the same as Edgecomb Gray but has similar neutral intentions)
- Benjamin Moore Winds Breath is kiiiind of like a lighter version of Edgecomb Gray.
8. BENJAMIN MOORE WOODLAWN BLUE HC 147
While I generally avoid cool colors in a north-facing room, I love Benjamin Moore Wythe Blue and Woodlawn Blue. Their increased CHROMA (color) brings your walls to life!
Why can Wythe and Woodlawn work where other cool shades of blue fail?
Wythe is a beautiful blend of blue-green-gray (pretty balanced). Woodlawn Blue is a blue-gray with a wink of green in it. And even though blue and green are BOTH traditionally cool colors, adding green to blue can make it look softer and more inviting! So, schlong story short, if I were to pick a blue for a north-facing room, I would pick a blue with green in it.
- These colors will be at their best in a north-facing room with moderate (or more) natural light.
- Any cool color in a north-facing room must be supplemented with warm wood tones and texture.
- Sherwin Williams Rainwashed is similar to Woodlawn Blue but has a bit more green mixed in.
9. BENJAMIN MOORE GUILFORD GREEN HC-116
If you want a more noticeable shade of green (compared to Grassland), Guildford Green’s warm glow will help balance the cool gray of your north-facing light.
This is because Guilford Green is a warm green – a green-yellow. An earthy, organic, greige backdrop calms Guilford Green down, but not NEARLY enough to make this color look even CLOSE to neutral.
10. BENJAMIN MOORE REVERE PEWTER HC 172
You can also look at Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter, a WARM color but definitely the most ‘gray’ on this page.
Revere Pewter is a light, warm gray (can be considered a greige in some rooms) with an earthy green undertone. In a south-facing room, it’s more inclined to lean into its warmth. However, in a north-facing room, it’s more likely to lean back into gray a bit, and the odd time can pick up the other cool gray undertones.
- Revere Pewter has an LRV of 55.1, so it’s closer to the light-medium range as it has a good depth. For this reason, I would be more inclined to use it in a reasonably well-lit north-facing room vs. a dark one. If your room is too dark, Revere Pewter can look a little shabby.
- Sherwin Williams Colonnade Gray
- Sherwin Williams Worldly Gray
- Sherwin Williams Amazing Gray
Again, colors like these need GOOD natural light to come to life!
11. SHERWIN WILLIAMS AESTHETIC WHITE
This is another great color for those who are naturally averse to warm paint colors but are learning how to balance their north-facing rooms.
Traditional shades of beige get a bad rap, as they’re reminiscent of the Tuscan-style trend of the early 2000s. Aesthetic White is NOT that kinda beige.
Instead, Aesthetic White is an off-white beige with a subtle dusting of gray, taking away any overt golden edge. However, there’s still enough passive warmth to stop your room from looking cold and uninviting.
- If you LOVE beige and want its warmth on your walls, Aesthetic White might not be warm enough. You might then jump back to the likes of Sherwin Williams Natural Linen and Kilim Beige.
12. SHERWIN WILLIAMS MODERATE WHITE 6140
Moderate White is a great color for those who want more visible warmth on their walls without the weight of a traditional beige. This is because Moderate White has an LRV 74, making it an off-white paint color.
With its higher LRV, Moderate White will wash out in a well-lit north-facing room. However, in a room with low or moderate light, it offers a pretty, passive glow.
- Moderate White centers itself on an orange undertone but is flexible towards some orange-yellow and orange-pink surfaces.
- With its slightly gray base, Moderate White doesn’t look too peachy like some beiges can (mind you, this can be open to perception.)
13. BENJAMIN MOORE GIBRALTAR CLIFFS 1587
Gibraltar Cliffs is on the right side of the photo, above the window
Not everyone loves warm paint colors, but understand how warmer shades offer a warm respite to a cool, north-facing room. This is where a color like Gibraltar Cliffs comes in handy. You can paint your walls a warm, neutral paint color, then add this beautiful blue-green-gray for personality and depth.
- Gibraltar Cliffs has an LRV of 30, so it’s got some good meat on its bones! It would partner up well with a soft, warm white or muted cream paint color
ROOMS WITH NORTHEAST, NORTHWEST, OR NORTH-SOUTH EXPOSURES
Having a room with more than one exposure can be tricky. However, once you understand which exposure matters the most, it’s easier to focus on the best paint colors for your space. Check out this blog post on ‘how to pick paint colors when you have two exposures.’
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Originally written in 2014, awesomely updated in 2023