How to enhance the sense of space in a home with paint

Paint has a life of its own.
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Paint sets the atmosphere of an interior with colour and makes surfaces look more appealing. But it also has another role – it can impact the sense of space within a room.

Take a small room that you want to make feel larger, for instance. Pale colours are your friend in this circumstance, their reflective nature making the most of how natural light bounces off these shades. Consequently, the room feels more open and spacious.

“The effect of one single shade of white on the walls, trims and ceilings tricks the eye into thinking the space is much larger than it is,” says Resene colour consultant Brooke Calvert, who suggests turning to one pale hue for your optimum shade. “Opt for a light neutral colour throughout your space.”

Brooke recommends on-trend neutrals such as Resene Alabaster, Resene Quarter Rice Cake, Resene Half Black White, Resene Half Sea Fog, Resene Quarter White Pointer and Resene Half Bianca.

Back wall in Resene Grey Olive, left wall in Resene Half Rice Cake with stripes in Resene Half Bison Hide, timber floor finished in Resene Colorwood Mid Greywash. Project by Annick Larkin, image by Bryce Carleton.

Other ways to manipulate your space are by being playful with your paint, using techniques such as applying geometric shapes or stripes.

“Horizontal stripes are an effective way to stretch out the room – find a rug or carpet,” Brooke says. “A feature wall with horizontal or vertical lines can make it seem wider or taller too.”

If renovating or creating a new build, there are ways to embrace the natural light alongside your light paint shade. “Try and introduce as much natural light as possible with large doors and windows,” Brooke says. “Skylights are also helpful in small spaces. Style with a large mirror, placing it opposite a window for maximum impact. The light will bounce around the room to extend the space.”

Avoid heavy, chunky furniture too as this will have a visual impact on your space: “Try a sofa with legs and glass tables instead,” Brooke says, adding that it’s worth bringing in floaty fabrics that resemble your wall colour to enhance the sense of airiness.

“Don’t let items pile up; declutter and transform into a minimalist interior. Less is more when trying to achieve the illusion of more space,” Brooke says. “Keep the flooring light; dark charcoals will make the space feel a lot more enclosed. Resene Colorwood Whitewash works well when looking for a stained finish.”

Back wall in Resene Triple Merino, timber wall (left) stained in Resene Colorwood Pickled Bean, tongue-and-groove wall (right) in Resene Quarter Karaka, batten shelf in Resene Settlement, plywood floor stained in Resene Colorwood Uluru, desk in Resene Enamacryl gloss tinted to Resene All Black, chair in Resene Anglaise. Project by Kate Alexander, image by Bryce Carleton.

Remember your sheen levels too, as these can help bounce around the light. “Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss or Resene Enamacryl gloss are perfect for painting your trim and doors,” Brooke says. “They’re also very hardwearing and durable for the high-traffic surfaces.”

Interior designer Annick Larkin likes to stick with an eggshell or low sheen finish like Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen on walls to enhance the sense of space. “Their slightly glossier finishes reflect the light, making a space look bigger.”

Conversely, if you have a large room that you want to feel cosier, turn to stronger, richer colours. “Dark shades tend to absorb light, making a space feel smaller,” Brooke says. “Rich, warm colours can also make the walls feel as though they are closing in, making them an effective choice when wanting to decrease the sense of space.”

Look to the right type of finish, too, as dark walls work well in a matte finish like Resene SpaceCote Flat rather than low sheen, giving a rich, velvety look, Brooke says.

Perhaps you only have one large room and the rest of your rooms are small – you can provide colour continuity through your home if this is the case. “If you want to keep the bold and dramatic colour to just one room, like a media room, vary the shades of the same colour in the remaining rooms,” Brooke says. The Resene Whites and Neutrals Collection has up to six strength variations of the most popular Resene colours so you can easily bring in varying strengths of the same colour.

Walls in Resene Monkey, floor in Resene Space Shuttle, dresser in Resene Kabul. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Bryce Carleton.

If pale, tranquil hues make your heart sing, but you have a large room that you want to paint, you can still achieve a cosy feel in here. Firstly, you can bring in two versions of one colour. Second, add depth to the space by getting playful with paint, then add decor.

“You can still go ahead with a pale colour on your walls and trim: paint two-tone walls,” Brooke says. “Get creative by painting your own masterpiece with a special effect or mural. Resene FX Paint Effects medium is a beautiful natural-like finish that will add interest and the effect of warmth and texture can be achieved.”

Brooke says, soften the space through accessories and soft furnishings, adding tall plants to help fill up the height and large rugs. “A curtain fabric in a shade deeper than your wall colour will also work, she says, as will furniture to fit the room’s scale and bold Resene Wallpaper on a feature wall.”

Consider the undertones of your colours, as these will drive the cool or warm feeling in a room, playing a role in how a room feels spatially. Brooke suggests looking to cool colours when you want to change the appearance of a room: “Blues and greens can introduce a cool mood into a room,” she says.

“They can change the appearance of a room, pushing back walls and furnishings and making the room appear more spacious. They look best in a room with a sunny exposure, where the colours counteract some of the strength of the direct sun. Avoid these in shaded rooms.”

Plywood wall stained in Resene Colorwood Sheer Black with battens in Resene Lustacryl tinted to Resene All Black, floor stained in Resene Colorwood Natural. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Wendy Fenwick.

For an opposite effect, she says, warm colours, such as red and apricot, close in the walls of a room. “If the room is large, its dimensions seem decreased. Warm colours look their best in a not so bright room with southern light, so that the bright effect of the sunny colours is not too overbearing.”

The powerful effect of colour is that it can immediately reach our emotions. So it pays to pin down the type of atmosphere you want to lend to each room using colour, and it’s a chance to create a backdrop that truly resonates and speaks to the soul.

For more ideas on the latest looks for your home, see the Resene latest looks gallery online, Ask the staff at your local Resene ColorShop for tips and advice to help you transform your home.

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