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How to decide between light and airy vs. dark and cozy for living room

7 years ago
last modified: 7 years ago

Our living room (family room) is in need of paint. It's not a project we will do right away, so I can ruminate on it awhile. But, I've also been thinking about it off and on for the last two years, so it feels like it's about time to get this decision settled.

The room has good light, with windows facing every direction but east. There is lots of sky and greenery outside. The weather here is often overcast, but when the sun is shining in the afternoon, this room is very bright. We use the room all day long and into the evening hours for reading, snuggling, conversation, movie watching, playing games. Basically, for everything but eating meals.

Some days I think I'd like the walls to be white, or some other light and airy color. But, I'd like there to be contrast between the walls and trim. The mouldings in there are nice, and it would be good for them not to blend into the walls. (And, I'm not interested in painting the trim a color other than a white.)

Other days, especially now that the weather is cooler and heading toward cold snowy weather, it seems like it would be nice to have the room painted in some warm, deep, earthy, cozy color. There is no fireplace, so no warm spot to gather around, and I wonder if a warm color would help make up for this "lack."

The couches are a midtone sagey green, so I think the room could lean either warm or cool. Flooring will be midtone wood. Ceiling will be planked. How do you decide whether you like warm and cozy or light and airy better? I don't know which way to go.

Comments (31)

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Well, being a non-expert in the field and not privy to all their data and test studies, I determine which I like better by what my eyes and heart tells me I like better :) I like warm and cozy. I like the feeling of being embraced by the room. I have seen 1000s of light and airy rooms I think are beautifully decorated (mostly by experts) but when it comes to MY house, my heart sings and my eyes smile when rooms lean on the darker side, warm and cozy. In the summer the darker colors trick my brain to feel cooler temps. In the winter, I feel embraced and warmer :)

    I'm fixing to make a big change in my master bedroom tho. I'm hoping the dusky lilac paint I chose will "feel" dark enough to maintain that cozy/embraced feel. I'm going from med choc walls and carpet to this...

    That's not my bedroom but my wood furniture is the same color as the chair in the picture. The ensuite is light travertine, Lennox Tan paint, beige/brown granite (Giallo Ornamentale), dark stained cabinets and "sea tone" blue/aqua, seafoam glass tiles. The REST of the house is deep tans, browns, deep golds, deep plum, burnished pumpkin, black, bronze med sage, black but purple and blue rule in the master suite! :D

    Good luck :)

    laughablemoments thanked monicakm_gw
  • 7 years ago

    Thanks Monica. My problem is...I like both. : P My mom has a paint color like that in her bedroom. It's luscious. It's been there close to 14 years, and she's never tired of it, which is saying a lot. (She tires of wall colors fairly easily.)

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  • 7 years ago

    ask yourself how, overall, you want to feel when you are in that room.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    Well then that's a tough one :o I like both too....but just one in MY house...till now...humm. What color is your mom's flooring in the bedroom?

    laughablemoments thanked monicakm_gw
  • 7 years ago

    I like light and airy until it gets too bright.

    You could do 2 different wall colors depending where the light falls. The colors can be similar in hue and vary in lightness.

    With the mid toned wood, it's a tough call. I went dark on wood floor and light on walls.

    I think I might try to find the perfect color to go behind the sofa and start there.

    Is the view out the window shady or sunny? If it's shady, it's easier to go light. If it's sunny, you might have to put down the window coverings more often.


    laughablemoments thanked Jane
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Well. I just know myself. I admire many styles-but I know that I won't do great with light and airy. As much as I admire it. I like cozy, layers, books, ceramics, fabrics, throws, pillows, flowers..It can still be light and airy of course, but I'd need to stand there all the time with my shoulder preventing the room to go into warm and cozy:)

    I think though you can do something like:

    -find a bit deeper color for the walls. The one that doesn't lean too cool or too warm. Some greens are like this. Some purples. Greiges maybe. Because they have both cool and warm shades built into them.

    By the way some warm whites can be pretty great too.

    Mid tone wood you're planning on is actually the best. It will work with everything, and support every scheme.

    Then, accessorize it. The room I mean

    Nothing wrong with having two sets of curtains, throws, pillows..:) I was born in a place with very prominent seasons..my Grandma changed the scenery every April and October, or so. The lighter flowery curtains would go on the windows for summer, and the heavier darker drapes ruled during the winter months. We had sheers as well..so it was always layered and cozy-but airy if you wished to.

    My Mom who lives in a generally hot climate still has not really cold but chilly winters. She uses her rug only when it's cold; come March, rug gets rolled and put away.

    But if you're not exactly happy about the idea of two seasonal looks-still bring in throws and pillows that make you happy. Linen feels cool during the summer time but warm during colder months. Cotton can be pretty amazing as well. Add couple velvet pillows-and you'll feel cozy, regardless the season.

    And don't forget plants. The plants are always right. They make everything more light and airy AND they make everything more warm and cozy. It's a magic of sorts.

    laughablemoments thanked aprilneverends
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Monica, you have burnished pumpkin in your house? (How did I miss that comment last night?) Do you have pictures that you could share? That's a color I've considered. I just wasn't sure if it was a passing, fall time fancy, or a love-it-all-year-round kind of color.

    Mom's carpet is dark green, she put it in at the end of the hunter green decorating phase, and she is now waiting for the cat (a puker) to pass before replacing it. Not much help, I know. : / But that wall color, she adores it. She says it's very restful.

    ask yourself how, overall, you want to feel when you are in that room.

    I've given this some thought this morning Tib, trying to get past the cottage, farmhouse, slightly rustic type descriptions. This is what I came up with:

    Peaceful. I want our family
    room to be like a calm meadow or a quietly bubbling brook, a dwelling and embodiment of
    Psalm 23. A green pasture, where our wobbly souls are restored. It
    should be a place to contemplate the goodness of God in spite of the
    craziness of the world. A place where we can take an expansive
    breath, let our shoulders down, and put our feet up. Friends and
    family would feel embraced, linger here, and feel safe to lay their
    burdens down. Everyone would come away rested, reset, and ready to face the
    world once more. A picture of a weeping willow by a pond comes to
    mind, dipping into the water, and thereby touching the sky.

    The dew
    is heavy on the pasture across the way this morning, giving the grass
    a minted look, not so unlike the color of our couches. The fog is
    heavy as it lifts off the field, tinted a soft rosy glow from the
    morning's sunrise. The trees at the edge of the field create a
    strong, dark contrast, making the light beyond all the more
    beautiful. Perhaps that pale, rosy glow is what our room needs? Now
    the fog is more gray, thick, almost woolly. It's lighter, and now I see
    that cows have spent the night there, their forms barely visible
    in the golden weeds. One lifts her heavy rump and stretches, swishes
    her tail, slowly, so slowly, greets the morning, and settles back
    into the moist earth.

    This is our environment this morning:


    Is the view out the window shady or sunny? The view is spectacular. There is no direct shade over these windows, so yes, when it is sunny we have to pull the shades for a few hours in the afternoon. This is partly why I was thinking of white curtains, since they still let it feel light but without a glare.

    Nothing wrong with having two sets of curtains, throws, pillows..:) True! I like to change things up a little bit. The curtains have me stumped though, since these windows are huge, and require taller than 84" panels, which are trickier to find for reasonable prices.


  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    What a gorgeous area you are in!

    I think that, with your description, we can start narrowing down choices. It seems clear you should go with an earthy color, so something in the brown, green or blue family.

    Blue is notoriously calming, and I think can create both a cozy feeling and a more refreshing feeing because it is the color of water.

    What if you painted the walls BM Providence Blue and the ceiling BM Manchester Tan or, lighter, BM Vapor?

    It would be like being in the sea with sand. Use whites and greens and browns for decor in pillows, throws, etc.

    Very earthy.

    Providence Blue/Manchester Tan

    Providence Blue/Vapor

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thank you, Tib! Those colors are beautiful. Blue is...scary. I love it, but here are my hangups: Will painting the walls a blue color make the room feel "cold"? This room is exposed to the prevailing winds, so it tends to feel chillier than the rest of the house, thus the extra heater under the window. I don't want the room to feel chilly. Also will blue "die" in the evening? If you can get me past those two things, we can chat blues! : )

    Is it helpful if I mention BM paints are hard to come by here? I do have a SW fandeck. Our local paint options are from Ace Hardware (Valspar, Clark & Kensington), Pratt & Lambert from Valu, and paints from Home Depot.

  • 7 years ago

    A saturated color will not die in the evening. In fact they do really well in artificial light precisely because they don't reflect light. Light colors reflect light, so when there is little light to reflect, they "die".

    I think it is Sueb here who has a beautiful library painted BM Stony Brook and you do want to just curl up with a book and a cup of tea in there. Here is her thread with pics. Keep in mind that Providence Blue is more saturated than Stony Brook, but Stony Brook has more gray in it, and I think I'd stay way from colors with a lot of gray in them.


    http://ths.gardenweb.com/discussions/2658900/sneak-peek-of-new-dining-library-paint?n=44

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    Since you have all those windows, with exceptional views - why not take your cue from the nature colors you see outside - greens, golds, browns, grays, sky blues (not blue blue). Some paints have nature-inspired palettes (my fav is Ellen Kennon's). Doesnt mean you have to go superdark, just embrace the colors. stark whites and pastels (color + a lot of white) would not fit this type of color scheme.

    laughablemoments thanked Debbie Downer
  • 7 years ago

    Providence Blue

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    Also, getting rid of the white ceiling will help a lot with warming up the room.

    My broker and her husband put Providence Blue in their master bath and the powder room in their new build, which is how I discovered it, and it's a really beautiful color.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hmmm...I'm having a hard time finding pictures of Providence Blue. (Lots of Providence in Houzz, only they're the location, not the color!) Glad to hear it won't die in the evening. I like how SueB's wooden cupboard next to the window looks against the blue. It reminds me of the color of our armoire. Oops, we cross posted, thanks for the picture!

    Can you expound more on I think I'd stay way from colors with a lot of gray in them. Is it the chilliness factor? Blah, gray days? Need something richer? Trying to understand. : )

    Since you have all those windows, with exceptional views - why not take your cue from the nature colors you see outside - greens, golds, browns, grays, sky blues (not blue blue). Excellent idea, current resident. Do you consider Providence Blue a blue-blue? What's blue-blue, and what's not? :-)

    Also, getting rid of the white ceiling will help a lot with warming up the room. Ahhh, the 5th wall, I was wondering what to do with it. We do plan to plank it, which then begs the question: Do we stain or paint it? And how does that affect everything else? Also, this room is an addition, and is one step down from the rest of the house. The living room has 8' ceilings, while the rest of the first floor has 9' ceilings.

  • 7 years ago

    You can find long curtains, especially white, inexpensively from IKEA but I was just reading a blog last night from a decorator who listed her favorite less costly places for long curtains.

    laughablemoments thanked Hockeymom84
  • 7 years ago

    If you are going to plank the ceiling, my own personal taste would have me leave it stained, not painted. Adds a very nice warmth and richness to a room. My LR has a pine ceiling (pic below) and I love, love, love it. And with a planked ceiling, I think the P blue would be particularly stunning because it creates a sea/sky/woods effect.

    Gray blues are much cooler than warmer blues, and you said that room runs chilly, so I would not use a grayer blue in there if it were my room. The planked ceiling will really warm it up, too.

    Here is my LR (first pic) and my "children's TV/Game room" with BM Van Cortland Blue and the wood Alpine ceiling and beams.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    Tib, I have never seen your "childrens" room. It is lovely!!!!


    laughablemoments thanked amykath
  • 7 years ago

    Longer curtains at decent prices at bottom of this blog- https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/hanging-curtains-all-wrong

    laughablemoments thanked Hockeymom84
  • 7 years ago

    Ty, aktillery. My father made those little benches for me. Sweet, huh? Everything in there is CL except for the benches, the TV, and the chalkboard, which I got at Ikea and is a huge hit with kids. Lol. In fact, I painted it blue deliberately so that children would have a calm, cool place to relax after a day at the beach, or whatever.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I am really warming to this blue room idea. I love your pine ceilings, Tib. Thanks for explaining the warm vs. cool blues in how it will affect the feel of the room.

    That's a great article on curtains and where to find them, hockeymom. I appreciate you linking it.

    What if we did pine ceilings, blue walls, white trim, wood floor, sort of a Ralph Lauren, hunting club look?

  • 7 years ago

    And a good Persian rug or a good facsimile of one goes a very long way to help create that look. Check out Aktillery's LR rug, for example. Inexpensive but gorgeous. Fake Persians are often worse than going with nothing at all on the floor, so pick wisely!

    Also really nice and would add to your earthy/woodsy look would be a natural fiber rug, like a seagrass or sisal rug.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    I too can't decide. One way is to kind of go "middle of the road." Warm colors but not too dark/intense.

    laughablemoments thanked l pinkmountain
  • 7 years ago

    For what it's worth, my LR ceilings aren't even 7 ft. high, believe it or not.

    Same time, my LR Is definitely not "light and airy" but rather warm and cozy.

    I agree with Lisa, though, that a warm white or cream or tan would also be very nice.

    I will add, though, that when I bought this house, I first painted that LR in BM White Sand, and I hated it (hence the Lenox Tan you see in the pic) precisely because it was so "cold" in the winter and rather blah. I got cabin fever and couldn't wait to move back out to the porch (my summer LR), etc.

    But after I painted the LR in Lenox Tan, I never left after that, I never get cabin fever, I've never even moved back out to the porch for my summer LR.

    But...that's me, of course. You have to really weigh what it is you want and how you want to feel when you are in that room.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago

    I agree with Lisa so much..I mentioned the warm whites too

    the first pic is Lauren Liess's place, the old one, right?


    laughablemoments thanked aprilneverends
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Our dining room is a warm white very similar to a few of the ones you posted, Lisa. I'll include pictures, but they are coming out darker than it feels in real life. It feels nice, if a bit blah. I'm hoping it will come to life more when we get our curtains hung.



  • 7 years ago

    laughable, LOVED your early morning description. Sounds heavenly :) Almost makes me want to get up early enough to experience it...I said ALMOST <g>

    Monica, you have burnished pumpkin in your house?

    Yes, our addition is a 22x24 den. Ours too steps down. We have a tongue and groove stained cathedral ceiling but the rest of the house has 8ft ceilings. The only other wood ceiling is on the porch. Here is a link to a picture of our den in "talk to me about sectionals" thread. It was taken this past summer when DD and her family were living with us during the last couple of months while building their home.

    Burnished Pumpkin Walls

    As you can tell, its not a paint color. It's a glazing technique that is supposed to look leather-like.

    Lisa, those warm white rooms are gorgeous!!! I especially love the last one. I love everything about it, but, it would just be too bright for my eye. Again, a room I'd love to visit but not live in.

    laughablemoments thanked monicakm_gw
  • 7 years ago

    I am a fan of light an airy in my own home. Could preference be a function of the weather? I'm in a moderate climate and have my windows and doors open nearly all year round. I love feeling the breeze and having natural light. So when the windows and blinds are closed its because it's too hot or cold and can't wait for that weather to pass.


    Do you entertain much? This might be just me, but cozy spaces feel more personal to me. When I am in someone's home that isn't a close friend or family, cozy spaces almost feel too intimate, if that makes sense? Of course with someone I'm close to a cozy space is welcoming, but otherwise feels slightly like an invasion of privacy. Ok, that might be crazy!

    laughablemoments thanked aimeekm
  • 7 years ago

    We've gone warm and cozy.

    But if you are seasonally oriented, then perhaps you should look for a more neutral backdrop and the use drapes and accessories to make the room warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

    laughablemoments thanked Annie Deighnaugh
  • 7 years ago

    April, the white DR I posted is by Lauren Liess but I believe it was for a client. (I think.) I really like it!

    Laughable, I remember your DR! You have some really lovely plants by the window. (And in the adjacent room, too--is that the room off your kitchen?) I also like the two white armchairs by the bay. To me, that's what makes a room cozy.

    Monica, that last room is from this blog... the rest of her home is lovely, too. It's not for everyone but she has a great way of pulling together a room with items that have been collected over time.

    laughablemoments thanked User
  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks, Monica. : ). Your room looks so homey, and very much like normal life around here. ; ) I was picturing a wall color more like your orange- rust colored pillow when I heard burnished pumpkin.

    Aimee, it could be partly a function of climate, which might be why I find this to be a challenging decision! That's very interesting that you find cozy colors to be more intimate. I find that appealing, rather than off-putting, but we seldom have "strangers" in our home, and if they are here, I usually want to help them feel welcome and as much a part of the family as possible.

    Annie, can I come over and stay at your house and see what it's like to live in warm and cozy for a week? : ). I've seen a few pictures of your home, and it looks very warm and inviting.

    Thanks Lisa. Yes, the little blue library is off our kitchen. The kitchen can just be seen to the right of it. The doorway to the living room is between the library (errr, the bathroom, to be more specific) and the kitchen.

    Could we possibly get away with a color like this in the living room? This was my absolute favorite room at the home show this year. It's a dark bluish green.