You’ve heard for years that a brighter room can boost your mood—even science backs it up—but aside from tearing down your walls and calling in the pros to install floor-to-ceiling windows and new lights everywhere, what can you do? And what are some genuinely affordable options, since we’re not all budding HGTV stars? That’s why we turned to Alyssa Rosenheck: As a top interiors photographer and stylist (not to mention author of the upcoming book, The New Southern Style), she knows a thing or two about maximizing light in a space. And, lucky for us, she was kind enough to share her secrets.
1. Start With An All-White Canvas
“If done correctly, all-white everything (walls, trim, etc.) is a powerful design tool. To reference a long-ago physics class, white is technically not a color—it’s a reflective agent with the ability to absorb and disperse light. So a little white paint has one of the biggest impacts in creating a clean canvas for any space,” she says. (Psst: If you want to get the look, try Supermoon, for a pure white, or Moonlight, if you want a shade with warmer undertones.)
2. Tone Down Your Wall Art
Gallery walls aren’t going anywhere, but with so many things on your walls, it can easily create a sense of visual clutter. “I like for my eye to be able to travel freely throughout a space. Most of my walls are intentionally empty,” Rosenheck explains in her upcoming book. As tempting as it is to fill up that blank space, it also means a less reflective surface, leading to a darker, less-tranquil room.
3. Use Matte Paint on the Walls
Matte may be harder to wipe clean, but it can make quite a difference. “This soft finish allows the most even and equal dispersion of light throughout the space, making it appear visually larger and airier,” Rosenheck says.
Pro tip: Not sure what shade to commit to—or even if you like a matte finish in a room? Try painting a piece of foam board in the color you’d like to test, attaching it to the wall with double-sided tape. You can move the color throughout the room, to see how it looks, and there’s no cleanup like you’d have with painting the walls directly. (Or you can order an adhesive paint sample, like the ones Backdrop offers.)
4. Go High-Gloss on Your Ceiling
Another way to make your room feel lighter and brighter is to go high-gloss with your ceiling. It draws your gaze up, making the room seem bigger and more open than it actually is.
5. All Hail Mirrors
“Incorporating mirrors close to, or across from, natural light sources, such as windows and doors, will visually enhance the scale of the space. I like to work mirrors into a design by using them as an extra layer on open shelving, or as platters on a coffee table to stack decorative elements on,” Rosenheck says. The big thing to keep in mind is what those mirrors will be reflecting—if they face a cluttered wall or surface, it will only magnify that sense of chaos.
If you’ve been eyeing the style shown above, you’re not alone. This Kate and Laurel design, sold at The Home Depot, is a pretty close match.
6. Deep-Clean Your Windows Quarterly
“With every seasonal transition, I am a believer of cleaning the windows,” Rosenheck says. It’s easy enough to push off until tomorrow, but it makes a huge difference—especially if you use this newspaper, vinegar, water and dish soap trick.
7. Ditch Your Window Screens
Another trick Rosenheck swears by: removing window screens to allow more light into your home. “The feeling of accomplishment when relaxing in a light-bathed space is enough to change my entire day,” she adds.
8. DECLUTTER Surfaces
“Edit your space once a quarter, getting rid of unwanted items or pieces that don’t mean anything to you. Countertops, shelves and coffee tables are the most common places for clutter to accrue, which means they’re the best place to start when you’re wanting to make a big house purge,” Rosenheck says.
9. Stick to a Consistent Color Palette on Open Shelves
In addition to giving your surfaces a little breathing room, displaying items that stick within a tightly edited color palette can make the space seem more clean and cohesive. The rows of open shelves in the kitchen above is a great example—many of the items displayed are white, so they add a layer of visual interest but match the walls behind them. That way, they complement the space, rather than compete with it.
10. Keep Window Treatments Breezy and Neutral
“I’m a huge lover of fabric and texture, but it’s important to choose carefully when you’re introducing these design elements into your home, especially if you’re aiming for a feeling of airiness,” Rosenheck says. “When choosing drapes, go for the lighter tones, and even consider sheer.”
11. Consider Vertical Shiplap
Shiplap isn’t over, especially if you try it out in a new configuration. “When done in a vertical arrangement, it immediately adds so much height to a space,” Rosenheck says.
12. Work in Clear Furniture
“The best way to make a room feel open and light is incorporating acrylic, Lucite or glass pieces,” Rosenheck says. “These items allow all the light in the room to pass through without visually cluttering a space.”
On that front, here are a few clear pieces worth considering: Bar stools, like this gold-legged duo by Willa Arlo Interiors; mod nesting tables; or a sleek tray, like this simple Container Store design. (Just try to stick to one or two pieces, rather than going all acrylic, everywhere. Otherwise it’ll look like the set of a Tron reboot.)