6 Tricks to Make a Windowless Room Feel Bright

I see the light!

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LUCY SCHAEFFER PHOTOGRAPHY

Let's get real about something here: There's no such thing as the "dream home." Whether you're on the hunt for a house or an apartment, you'll always find that something's missing or could be better. Usually, though, the pros are good enough that you decide you can live with the cons, whatever they may be. Such was the case for my two roommates and me when we moved into our second apartment in New York City. Choosing a large, three-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and an open kitchen in a great location also meant we had to settle for a living room with no windows.

The windowless living room is a problem for two reasons: First, it gets extremely hot during the summer, and there's no way to get fresh air in the room. Second, and more importantly, it's always dark and dim. There's a skylight in the middle of living room and kitchen, but that barely provides enough natural light to reach the length of both rooms. And if it's raining? Forget about it.

We actually lived like this, with a dark and dingy living room, for two years. But after one roommate moved out and took a few pieces of furniture with her, we decided it was time to do something about our problem. The only issue was we had no idea how to fix it. Enter Modsy.

Modsy is an online design service that provides everything you need to revamp your space, from 3D renderings of your room so you know exactly where to place every item, to shopping links so you don't have to hunt anything down. All we had to do was upload photos of our room, provide a few measurements, and take a quick style quiz. A few days later, Modsy sent us the design plans for our space, and we instantly fell in love.

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A 3D rendering of our apartment, designed by Modsy.
Courtesy Modsy

The next step was to shop. We got a few things directly through Modsy, including the sofa from their own furniture line, and hit up some of our favorite home stores for everything else we needed. To be honest, it did take us a few weeks to pull the room together completely. And while it took longer than we expected to finish our redesign, it was definitely worth the wait. See for yourself below.

The difference is obvious, but it can be hard to assess what, exactly, you need to do to get similar results. Alessandra Wood, Vice President of Style at Modsy, broke down the choices her team made and how their design changed our space so drastically. It turns out there are six easy things you can do to make a dark room feel so much brighter.

1. Commit to light furniture.

    Most people are hesitant when it comes to purchasing anything white for their homes, but it's a necessary evil when you're working on a room without windows. And while the chances of staining a white sofa or rug are high, the risk is worth the reward. By adding a long, white sofa and accent cabinet next to each other, we were able to make the wall look taller and wider, which makes the room feel larger and a bit brighter automatically.

    On the opposite wall, a long white media console takes center stage. When planning your major purchases, try to plan for a few key items to be white or another light shade. And if you're really worried about stains, do a little extra digging. "Make sure you’re getting something that is treated or easy to clean," says Wood.

    2. Sprinkle in some color.

    Of course, not everything in your room should be light. "Using pops of color gives a more fun, lively vibe," says Wood. But keep in mind, just one "pop" isn't enough. "If you have just one dark piece in the room, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb. So you really want to look for ways where you could introduce a color or a tone in a couple of different moments," she explains. For example, in our room, we found a patterned rug at Marshalls that ties into the bright turquoise chair, which also pulls in the blue throw pillows and some of the darker tones in the artwork on the wall.

    3. Load up on lighting.

    Without windows, you're forced to create your own light, so don't be afraid to go overboard with lamps. Because our living room only has one overhead light and a skylight that doesn't always provide the sunlight we need, Modsy put three lamps in the room—one on either side of the sofa and a floor lamp in the corner by the TV. Not only will this help to make the room feel brighter, but it also gives you more control over the space. "If you want to turn off the overhead lights you have more than enough lighting to create a really beautiful and peaceful environment at night as well," Wood explains.

    4. Hang a mirror.

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    A round mirror above the bar cart sends light from an overhead skylight back into the room. Mirror, Target. Bar cart, Overstock. Plant, The Sill. Vase, Marshalls.
    LUCY SCHAEFFER PHOTOGRAPHY

    Another trick to fake more light in your space is to add a mirror. Modsy placed the mirror strategically above the bar cart so that the few beams of natural sunlight we get from the skylight will reflect off the mirror and back into the room. This works even if you only have lamps and overhead lighting, so definitely give it a try.

    5. Don't forget a few plants.

    Plants literally add life to your space, so placing a few around your room will help make the area feel more alive. You can also opt for light-colored planters to spread smaller moments of brightness around. (We went for pale pink, blue, and gray planters from The Sill.) Just be mindful, though, that you'll probably need to take extra good care of plants in a dark or windowless room. Make sure you're watering them correctly and give them some time near a window in another room if needed.

    6. Choose the right art.

    If taking care of plants isn't your thing, there's another way to make the room feel alive that doesn't require any maintenance: art. "Having art in the home creates a focal point that adds depth with imagery and pops of color," Wood notes. To capitalize on this, we mixed abstract paintings with travel photos that make you feel like you're exploring the world.

    This all may sound like a lot to take into account and plan for, but in the end it all adds up to the result of a brighter, fresher space. "You’re not thinking about the fact that the room doesn’t have light or doesn’t have windows because there’s so much going on in the room and the room itself—there’s a lot of different points of focus and a lot of energy," Wood says. So whether or not light furniture and plants are right for you, as long as you fill your space with beautiful items and try a few of the tricks above (mirrors! art! layered rugs!) you'll be on your way to a room that creates it own light.

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