Spruce your Tahoe home up for summer by adding light to those dark rooms | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Spruce your Tahoe home up for summer by adding light to those dark rooms

Amelia Richmond
Special to the Tribune
Whether a result of tree shade or dark “wood” paneling, many Tahoe homes could use more light.
Photo: Catherine Macfee Interior Design |

Despite my love for bright, airy spaces, I routinely find myself living in homes that leave light to be desired. Moving into my house on Tahoe City’s West Shore, I found the living room didn’t have a single wall or ceiling light. The same was true for the master bedroom, where the room’s lone window was conveniently blocked by the two-car garage.

Still, the house has glorious white walls — a luxury in Tahoe’s rental market. Three doors up the street, the walls of my boyfriend’s last house were 1970s chic, clad in cheap, dark pressboard paneling with wall-to-wall asbestos flooring. The new house is an undeniable upgrade.

Whether a result of tree shade or dark “wood” paneling, many Tahoe homes could use more light. We consulted Lake Tahoe’s top interior design and lighting experts for advice on how to brighten your house’s dark rooms.


Before resolving to brighten your room, first ensure that the shadows aren’t actually an asset to your desired look.

Nancy Jones of Jones Lighting Design in Incline Village recommends starting by looking at the lighting (not light fixtures) you like, and evaluating what has made it successful.

“Look at how your favorite artist uses light to create the balanced composition,” Jones said. “Maybe you prefer a dark room, but it’s just not balanced correctly.”

“If you love artists like Rembrandt, you might just need to embrace the darkness and go for the drama,” she continued. “Paint your walls a deep, rich color — and accent or highlight the statement piece or pieces of the room.”


If, after some reflecting, you still find yourself drawn to lighter spaces, designers have a bevy of tips to achieve the look.

Jones recommends painting your walls, including the dark wood beams and ceilings, a light, reflective color, and choosing fabrics and finishes that are similar in tone or variations of the same light color. Then she suggests selecting accents in vibrant colors.

Treat your flooring in a similar fashion. Consider refinishing or replacing dark flooring — or, if this isn’t within your budget or lease agreement, use a light-colored area rug to brighten the space.

Marcio Decker, principal designer and co-owner of Aspen Leaf Interiors in Truckee recommends adding reflective surfaces to the space, such as paint with high sheen, mirrors and lighter ceilings, to assist with “bouncing” light around the room.


Home improvement legend Bob Vila has gone digital, and his website BobVila.com recommends limiting dark, saturated colors to a single wall, and painting the other walls a light, bright color.

In an article titled “9 Color Mistakes Everyone Makes,” the DIY TV icon’s website cautions readers not to get stuck thinking “white” means a lack of color.

“Homeowners often pass on white paint when they are looking for color, thinking that their choices will be limited to pure white and creamy ecru. But what we think of as “white” today has grown to include a broad range of shades that incorporate hints of lavender, green, blue and gray. If a pale hue is intriguing, include this color family in your search.”

The same article advises homeowners to avoid matching furnishings to a wall color.

Carla Aston, principal of Designed with Carla Aston, cautions, “Never paint your walls first and then try to add furnishings and fabrics that coordinate with that color. You should always start with the items that occupy a room, like a rug or sofa, and then choose a paint color that works with them.”


While wall paint may be out of reach for those with a lease, both renters and homeowners can benefit from thoughtful, layered lighting to brighten dark spaces.

Jones recommends balancing soft, reflected light that is bouncing around the room with brighter accent lights to highlight the room’s art, architecture and furniture.

“Reflected light is normally multidirectional and diffuse, like the output from table lamps with light colored lamp shades,” Jones said. “It fills in shadows and reduces contrast — an important component in making people and rooms look good.”

To get reflected light into an evening space, Jones suggests trying to get light to bounce off the ceiling to softly fill in the darker spaces and add height to the ceiling.

While dispersed light is a critical component in a room, Jones adds that too much diffused light can be incredibly boring, like a hospital waiting room. She also cautions against glare, calling it “the enemy of visual comfort.”

“Take a good look at what’s comfortable light for you and what’s creating discomfort,” Jones said. “Glare isn’t comfortable light. Edison style light bulbs are very popular at the moment and can add visual excitement, but seeing too many bare bulbs can make for a disseminated scene.”


Decker advocates for layered lighting. “Start with lights that create mood and spaces within the room, such as can lighting, directional art lights, task lights, pendants and chandeliers. Then layer in floor lamps and table lamps.”

The designers also suggest rethinking the bulbs in your existing fixtures and adding dimmers to enhance the room’s lighting.

Swap light bulbs out for higher lumens can be one easy fix to brighten a space. CFLs and LEDs provide higher light output for the amount of energy they use, making home both brighter and more energy efficient.

According to Jones, lighting control is the easiest way to make your lighting more dynamic.“

“Having a licensed electrician add dimmers to all lights, including table lamps, will go a long way to setting an evening mood. Even inexpensive room controllers are now available; Lutron sells this great thing called a Pico for $15-$25.”

Jones adds that color-changing LED lights can make for an exciting environment. She recommends the Philips Hue products, which have recently come down in price.

“Even one bulb that has 16 million color options can create a ridiculous amount of drama and fun,” she says.


A minimalist approach to furniture and accessories can also help brighten a dark space.

The writers at BobVila.com caution that big, heavy furniture can overwhelm a room and make it feel darker. They suggest looking for pieces with smooth, sleek lines and light legs, and opting for light, solid colors rather than bold or dark prints.

Removing the clutter in a room is another key component of creating a bright and elegant space. Too much “stuff” crowds a room and makes it feel darker. Focus instead on limiting the things in your room to bright accessories with clean lines.


To maximize the natural light in a dark room, designers recommend avoiding curtains and window treatments that block the light — though skipping shades or curtains all together is not the best solution. Decker and Jones both recommend sheer curtains in light colors.

“It could be that too much daylight is being pushed through windows into one area, making the adjacent areas appear darker,” Jones noted. “Sheer window treatments will soften and diffuse the light, reducing the high contrast that can create stress.”

Minimalist options like blinds and roman shades also work well in dark spaces.

Finally, for those with the ability, Jones suggests adding new windows and skylights, or changing the front door to frosted or textural glass as effective ways to bring light and comfort into your home.

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