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How to use colour in small spaces

From the Resene decorating blog

When we’re thinking about decorating small rooms our tendency is often to go for light neutrals to try and create a sense of airiness and space.

While Resene whites and neutrals can help make confined spaces feel lighter, using them is not a hard and fast rule. There are other techniques to try that can help make a space feel larger as well as chic and stylish or you can find fun, and visually interesting ways, to lean-in to having a small space to create something cosy and inspiring.

Creative use of patterns adds extra dimension to smaller spaces

Creative use of patterns and shapes is one way to add more colours and extra dimension to smaller spaces without them feeling too busy. This wall is painted in Resene Rice Cake, with arch shapes in Resene Arriba, Resene Yogi, Resene Contented, Resene Transition and Resene Valentine. The centre circle is Resene FX Magnetic Magic with a topcoat of Resene Thunderbird so it can be used as a magnetic board. Floorboards are finished in Resene Breathe Easy, desk in Resene Rewilding, chair in Resene Solitaire, organiser in Resene Pandemonium, small pot in Resene Thunderbird and large planter in Resene Half Spanish White. Desk lamp and throw from Kmart. Project by Annick Larkin, image by Bryce Carleton.

Resene colour consultant Amy Watkins says working successfully with colour in small spaces is all about balance and where colours are used to trick your eye into thinking a room is larger.

Just because a space or a room is small doesn’t mean you can’t use a rich or strong colour tone. It’s all about colour placement.

“If you’re going to use a rich colour such as Resene Deep Teal on all the walls then make sure your flooring and any furniture are in light colours as this will help to push the walls out,” she says.

Here are some other tips and tricks for using colour in small spaces.

Find extra dimensions

It might sound like an idea from mind-bending sci-fi but you can create the illusion of extra dimension in your room with smart use of Resene paint colours.

A dining room with a floral patterned wallpaper

A floral patterned wallpaper like Resene Wallpaper Collection 220482 adds vibrancy to this small dining area, while the lower walls in Resene Spanish White keep it from overpowering the space. Floor pattern painted in Resene Quarter Spanish White and Resene Double Spanish White, light in Resene Cest La Vie, large floor vase in Resene Quarter Spanish White, planter in Resene Green White and vases in Resene Quarter Spanish White and Resene Travertine. Dining table and chairs from Danske Mobler, rug from Kmart. Project by Annick Larkin, image by Bryce Carleton.

In a box-like space with few windows, paint out a rectangular block on the wall and add shelves in the same colour. It saves the floor space needed by a bookcase but the backdrop colour block gives the illusion of depth, plus it adds colour to your space.

If you have light neutral walls in a shade like Resene Eighth Parchment, try a shelf backdrop in the moody muted green of Resene Cabbage Point or, for a bolder look, try the copper tones of Resene Cinnamon.

This colour blocking effect also works around a showpiece furniture item such as a chair or couch. If you have a beautiful mustard-coloured armchair, for example, paint a block backdrop on the wall behind it, just slightly larger than your chair, in a shade like Resene Hot Toddy or Resene Marzipan. You can even extend the wall block over the floor to emphasise the sense of depth.

The other way to trick your eye into thinking a room has extra ‘dimensions’ is to connect it to an adjoining space with your chosen colours. For example, if you can see a stretch of hallway wall through the door of your small space, paint your room in a similar shade. For a hallway painted in a soft grey such as Resene Quarter Stack, try painting at least one wall (around the door through which you can see the hall) in a bolder colour like Resene Double Stack or Resene Armadillo. Then use the hallway colour somewhere else in your small room as well to connect the spaces.

Top tip:  Mirrors are a great tool for adding extra dimension to a space. For best effect try hanging a mirror on a patterned wall so it reflects a plain block colour on the wall opposite. Mirrors also help bounce light around a room to make it feel lighter and brighter.

Optical illusions

Painting walls in graduated shades of colour from darkest at the bottom to the palest at the top can help create additional visual height. Look at the Resene colour swatch cards for a guide to colour combinations that will give you a subtly graduated effect.

For example you could start with Resene Forest Green at the bottom of the wall, with a middle section in Resene Half Forest Green and an upper section in Resene Spanish Green. You could even extend the gradient to include a ceiling in Resene Rainee or Resene Tasman.

If that feels like too many colours, simplify the idea with just one darker colour such as Resene True Blue on the lower part of the wall, with upper walls in soft beige Resene Caraway. Alternatively take your darker wall colour two thirds up the wall, and then continue your neutral ceiling colour down over the top third of the walls.

All these variations of a dark base with a lighter upper colour will help make your ceilings feel higher and the space airier.

For even more interest, you could opt for diagonal stripes instead of horizontal ones. This also allows you to bring bolder shades into a space that could be overpowered by a single, strong wall colour.

Colours to try

Using colours with a high LRV (light reflectance value) percentage can help reflect and bounce the natural light around the space and give it the illusion of being larger, brighter and more spacious.

A dark blue dining room

Darker colours can actually work well on walls in smaller spaces as they recede from the eye, making the edges of your space harder to see, particularly when paired with bright contrast colours.

These walls are wallpapered in Resene Wallpaper Collection 100606919. Pair this with touches of Resene Soothe, Resene Deep Teal, Resene Idyllic, Resene Half Resolution Blue, Resene Snowy Mint and Resene Boost.

A dining room with smart storage solutions

Smart storage solutions not only make small spaces more functional but can be a great opportunity to play with interesting colour palettes.

This upper wall is painted in Resene Quarter Ash with lower shelf wall in Resene Cinder, floor stained in Resene Colorwood Natural, locker, chair and storage bins in Resene Half Forest Green, desk legs and magazine holders in Resene Mocha, lamp and decor pieces in Resene Fuel Yellow, timber shelf stained in Resene Colorwood Natural with metal pipe supports in Resene FX Faux Rust Effect and chalkboard and paintbrush jar in Resene Cinder. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

While white might seem like the ultimate space creator, other colours and colour combinations can fool the eye and make interiors seem much more spacious than they are. You can find the LRV of all Resene colours on the back of the colour swatches in store, or in the colour library on the Resene website.

Pale blues and greens are good colours to try as they create a calming atmosphere, where going all-white might feel too sterile or minimalist for your taste.

These colours can also make a space feel brighter and lighter, and they combine well with other colours. Combinations like creams and icy blues are some of the best for making a space appear bigger. Try creamy shades like Resene Eighth Thorndon Cream (LRV 86), Resene Quarter Pearl Lusta (LRV 91) and Resene Rice Cake (LRV 85) alongside icy blues such as Resene Breathless (LRV 65) and Resene Cut Glass (LRV 74).

Sea-foam greens are equally versatile and work well with creams, yellows and greys. A sea-foam green like Resene Gulf Stream (LRV 45) or Resene Riptide (LRV 65) goes well with colours such as Resene Periglacial Blue (LRV 55), Resene Jet Stream (LRV 66), Resene Foam (LRV 82), Resene Silver Chalice (LRV 49), Resene Half And Half (LRV 84) and Resene Island Spice (LRV 89).

Soft tones of yellow can also create a feeling of space, but don’t go too bright or too dark. Lemon and creamy yellows work best like Resene Gin Fizz or Resene Pipi.

Patterns and stripes

Breaking up a blank stretch of wall with a colourful pattern on a Resene wallpaper, or stripes, can also help make rooms feel larger.

Amy says the number one rule for colourful patterns in small spaces is to choose the pattern carefully. The right pattern can make walls feel more expansive and help blur the edges of your space.

“Choose a large pattern when you’re using them in a small space. Avoid small patterns. Choosing a larger, repeating pattern helps prevent the space feeling too busy,” she says.

Using a bold wallpaper pattern can also be a fun way to really embrace the diminutive nature of your room, particularly in the case of toilets or en-suites. Turn them into glamorous powder rooms with a dramatic, vibrant floral like Resene Wallpaper Collection E307300 on all walls. Add contrast with trim painted in creamy Resene Quarter Solitaire. Finish with an upcycled mirror, painting the frame in metallic Resene Gold Dust and add a spectacular glass light fitting. Instant, affordable luxury.

Stripes can also be helpful as our eyes tend to follow straight lines. If you’d like to make your room feel longer try painting stripes in your chosen colours horizontally along a wall, or use vertical stripes for additional height. Even diagonal stripes can add visual extensions to the space, particularly if they flow from the walls onto the floor.

By stripes we don’t mean your interior should look like a pedestrian crossing, you can opt for tonal colours that have just enough difference and contrast to create a stripe effect. For soft peachy pinks try Resene Tuft Bush with Resene Wax Flower, or try blues in Resene Relax and Resene Alaska.

Darks and accents

Dark colours can work well in smaller spaces, because many of them actually recede from the eye, making the edges of your space less defined and harder to see. This mostly works if you stick to neutral darks like black, charcoal, navy blue, chocolate brown and deep plums.

Bold reds, greens and blues tend to sit more prominently in a space and may make it feel smaller. If you do go for a dark shade on your walls to create a cosy retreat the trick is to break it up with fresher, lighter colours for added visual interest, ensuring the space is inviting rather than claustrophobic. Try Resene Black Doris walls with fresh greens like Resene Wabi Sabi or a muted yellow like Resene Illuminate and trim in Resene White Noise.

Don’t go overboard with your contrast colours, just add them to one or two furniture pieces and accent notes so they’re complementing your darker hero shade, rather than competing with it.

Top tip:  Turn your small space into a perfect media room by painting the walls in Resene Blackest Black. Specially developed by Resene to be the darkest black they can make, Resene Blackest Black, available in Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen, absorbs most light, making it perfect for a dedicated movie and TV room.

Resene Breathe Easy

Resene Contented

Resene Valentine

Resene Rewilding

Resene Yogi

Resene Transition

Resene Pandemonium

Resene Arriba

February 14, 2023

For more ideas and inspiration of how you can use colour to make the best of your small space, visit your local Resene ColorShop, ask a Resene Colour Expert free online or book a Resene Colour Consultation.

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