The 7 best Sherwin Williams Shades for north facing and low light (or poorly lit) rooms
Contrary to what most people think, white is usually a poor paint color choice for north facing and poorly lit rooms. I know that this sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. You see low lighting can make white look dull…and it can wash out many paint colors, so you need to choose the right ones, and I’ve selected 7 great paint shades to help you.
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Lighting impact of northern exposure rooms
North facing rooms don’t get much direct warm sunlight throughout the day, so they don’t benefit from the warmth that natural sunlight provides. The light in northern exposure rooms tends to be more gray light with a subtle blue casts as the sun hits the room when it’s lower in the sky.
So the natural light gives your room more gray undertones and shadows making the room appear cooler. And, if you have cool paint colors with gray, blue, or lavender undertones, these cool tones will be magnified. For this reason, warmer…or better yet colors with warm undertones will counteract this.
Also, note that a stark white has gray undertones and it works in very well lit and large rooms for a light and airy feel. But, in north facing rooms, whites often look gray and dingy. And, white will NOT make a dim room seem bright and airy.
Warmer tones create balance and harmony for northern exposure rooms. Cool tones will the room feel even color, so you want to avoid these on the walls (but feel free to use them as accents such as area rugs, pillows, etc.).
And, you’ll be happy to know that if you prefer cool colors (e.g. grays and blues), there are ways to utilize these colors by choosing shades with warm undertones (e.g. a warm gray or greige instead of gray, or an aqua instead of blue).
Note: In this article, I’ve included some room scenes with similar paint tones. If you are interested in some of the room decor items, just click on the picture or “shop the room link” to find out more info.
A word on Light Reflective Value (LRV)
One measure to help in looking at how light and reflective paint colors will be is to look at their Light Reflective Value (LRV). The higher the number, the more reflective and lighter the paint appears.
It’s a scale from 0 to 100 with higher numbers reflecting more light…and these look lighter (obviously). For perspective, the average blackest black has an LRV around 5% meaning that it absorbs almost all the light, while the whitest whites are in the range of 85-95%.
As a rule of thumb, most decorators recommend that your base color be a 50% LRV or higher meaning that it reflects more light than it absorbs. For north facing rooms, you want to gravitate towards higher numbers (ideally 60% or higher).
Now this is only part of the story. And, this where people can get a bit mislead.
The LRV impacts your room depending on how much natural or artificial light you have!. The more light you get, the more light will be reflected. And, conversely, the less light you have, the less light there will be to reflect.
For this reason, if you don’t have enough natural (or artificial light), no paint will save your room. Paint shades don’t give you light; they only reflect it. You need to address the root of the issue…get more light!
You need the light to bring the paint color to life. While a higher LRV may help, it won’t solve the real issue. So let’s discuss that first.
Be aware of the sources for low light rooms and how to address this.
Reasons that rooms may have low natural light
1. North facing rooms
2. Limited number of windows or smaller windows (or no windows), or even old windows that have many panes or broken seals that are fogged up and therefore let in less light.
4. Dense landscaping
Solutions (other than paint) to improve the light in the room
3. Compensate with lighter furniture and decor: Choose lighter area rugs, furniture and wall decor.
4. See if you can improve the windows if they aren’t letting enough light in. You could replace the windows with fewer panes (i.e. make a picture window), make a larger window or add a sky light.
7 Best Paint Shades for Northern exposure rooms:
Now let’s get back to the original question: Which are the best shades of paint for north facing rooms, as well as poorly lit rooms? Now I recognize that different people have different tastes when it comes to style and color preferences. So for this reason, I wanted to provide a range of potential paint colors.
And, I want you to remember that these are suggestions. If you have your heart set on a specific color, and you really love it (especially if it’s for a bedroom), my advice is go for it…because it will make you happy and make your room feel like a sanctuary. These are simply guidelines and suggestions.
And finally, don’t look at the paint colors in isolation. Think about the room holistically and colors that will complement each other. Don’t forget the flooring, your furniture or area rugs.
1. Antique White (SW 6119) – LRV 72
Despite the name, this really isn’t a white. It’s more of a light tan. And, it yellow undertones are warm and this helps reflect the light (hence the high LRV for a non-white color).
It’s kind of a wheat color. Antique White helps make the molding and other wall items just pop. It’s a subdued color, and it’s calming.
2. Accessible Beige (SW 7036) – LRV 59
Accessible beige is a neutral color with taupe undertones. Taupe is mixture of gray and green, so it’s softer than your typical builder beige.
It’s a welcoming color and it’s not as yellow as some of the more dated beiges. It’s soft, subtle and neutral and complement most rooms.
It’s a cousin to Agreeable Gray (see below).
3. Agreeable Gray (SW 7029) – LRV 60
This is one of my favorites of the bunch as it’s a shade of gray, but it’s a warm gray, or a greige. It has beige/brown undertones to soften it. The overall read on the walls is a soft gray. It’s light enough and neutral enough so that it won’t take over a room.
You can read read more about warm grays and greiges here.
4. Lattice (SW 7654) – LRV 61
Lattice is a soft gray that has green and aqua undertones. It’s soothing and peaceful. And, it’s light enough to work in north facing rooms.
It can actually make a room look more spacious. This is a special color and one of the cool features about it is that the color can look different throughout the day pending on the light. It looks more bluish during the day and more gray in the evening.
5. Grecian Ivory (SW 7541) – LRV 63
This is a great option if you love green as it’s a pale green that is light enough to work in a north facing room. It’s soft as it has some subtle gray and beige undertones. It’s almost like a very light and neutral taupe.
Grecian Ivory is very classy and sophisticated. You can use it as a soft base for subtle but not overpowering green room. It’s light and neutral so it will allow you to add green accents.
It works well in bedrooms, guest rooms and even some bathrooms. And, of course, it works in room that face north.
6. Jersey Cream (SW 6379) – LRV 75
This is a bright neutral for light challenged spaces. Yellows reflect light and this one also has some orange undertones, so it reflects the light with a high LRV value of 75, so it definitely brights up a room. It’s the highest LRV among these choices.
While yellows are not my cup of tea, if you love yellow and warm tones, this is a great choice for north facing rooms and the warm tones will count the gray natural light. And, this color will also look more neutral and tones down in north facing rooms.
7. Window Pane (SW 6210) – LRV 72
While I generally shy away from cool colors for north facing rooms, if I were to choose a cool color, it would be Window Pane (SW 6210) or Open Air (SW 6491). You see when you mix a blue with a green, it warms it up. And, both of these do the job. And, they are somewhat aqua and spa-like.
Do you need any paint shade fan decks?
Amazon can help with that. It’s so much easier when you have the full color wheels and can see all of these in your own home (vs. going back and forth to the store MULTIPLE times).
Helpful tools if you are going to paint yourself
Here are some painting tools that may come in handy if you’re going to do the painting yourself. Also, be sure to check out my article on the Top 10 DIY Painting mistakes and how to avoid them. The products below can be found on Amazon and delivered straight to your door.
- Painting brush – this one costs a bit more, but it’s totally worth it. It will help you paint faster and more accurately. If you’re going to paint yourself, don’t skimp here. Incidentally, this is Amazon’s Choice as well.
- Painter’s tape – a must have. Use for all the trim as well as ceiling area
- Paint roller kit – this includes a tray. Use the brush for the edges and the roller for main areas of the wall (and ceiling).
- Drop cloths – Yes, you’ll need them for sure. Some people have some on hand, but often not enough if you are doing many rooms.
Related painting articles:
- Best white shade for base molding and trim
- 11 awesome cool gray paint shades
- 9 amazing warm gray and greiges
- Best paint colors if you’re selling a home
- Most popular colors for painting cabinets