Effects of Interior Lighting on the Colors We Paint Our Walls

Updated on April 7, 2020
viryabo profile image

Working as a professional interior designer for many decades, I've been involved in design-and-build residential building projects.


The creative use of interior lighting and its components on internal wall surfaces is one of the most aesthetically pleasing features of any interior space, considering the fact that interior walls are one of the most important prerequisites in the architectural designs of building interiors.

Internal walls can be visualised as an artist's blank canvas. They are flat surfaces where objects or forms can be painted, stored or displayed creatively, or where finishes can be applied in artistic manners. They are 'broad brush strokes' of interior design compositions, which are central to any interior space planning project.

Aesthetically, interior walls are meant to partition space and entertain us visually, just as they are supposed to influence our moods with their finishes, colors, forms, textures or materials. But the final strokes of creativity on wall surfaces—call it 'art on walls' if you wish—is how well they are lit, and how well-thought-out their lighting design is.

Developing an Interior Lighting Plan

A lighting designer knows that the perceived brightness or dimness of interior wall finishes is vital to visual cheer. Therefore it is imperative to develop a lighting plan that will complement the entire space, rather than diminish its aesthetics. Based on this, a designer must create a plan showing the hierarchy of walls, each with its own comparative significance in the space's lighting scheme.

  • Identify the interior walls you wish to paint or to give some special effect finish.
  • What mood do you intend to achieve in the room?
  • How will this come to play in the lighting scheme?
  • Decide on which materials and colours you intend to use on the walls
  • Are there walls that will have signage or pin-up surface?
  • Do you plan to mount some wall art, floating shelves, or a series of framed paintings? If the answer is yes, which specific wall or walls do you have in mind?
  • What walls should bounce light onto adjacent work surfaces?

A lighting designer must analyse the surrounding spaces or environment for details as to what light sources, fittings and fixture is best to use. Additionally, the size of the room, the height of the walls, and the walls’ construction materials will determine the available mounting locations, which in turn will influence how the wall or walls can be lit. This applies, for example, to very high walls.

Then the other issues such as watts per square foot or square metre, limits, maintenance, fixture, construction and installation costs must also be considered and addressed.

How to Choose Lighting for Interior Walls

The type of lighting we choose will always determine the way we see the colours of our internal walls because different colours react to different light wavelengths.

A light blue wall illuminated with natural light may appear just right when you finish painting it during the day, but look completely different at night when you turn the lights on. The soothing effect you got from the light blue may not end up looking so calming at night. This means that your lighting is not working well for your wall colour.

So, before going out to purchase some fancy artificial lights to install in your living room, for instance, it is important to think about how the lights will enhance and not diminish the living room’s existing colour scheme.

Halogen, fluorescent, LED, and incandescent lights have different effects on colours. So if you want your light blue walls to have the same look it does during the day, you want to use halogen lights which have the closest approximation to natural light and offers an excellent colour rendition.

On the other hand, if you prefer a dusty cosy nighttime ambience, you should choose incandescent lighting. They have undertones that add a warm, golden hue associated with a cosy and tranquil interior, a feeling that evokes the intimacy of candlelight. Types of light, whether it’s natural or artificial, affects our perception of colours.

Before you choose any light source, the following is worthy of note:

  • Evaluate whether your paint colour falls with the warm or cool section of the colour spectrum.
  • If your wall paint is in earth tones, browns, reds, or yellows, for example, you need a warmer incandescent light source.
  • If your walls are painted in cool colours like blue, green, lavender, or other colours with cool undertones, you need a brighter, cooler light source like fluorescent lighting.
  • When you use incandescent lighting, because it generates a yellowish light, your room will be filled with a warm ambience if painted with warm colours.
  • When you use halogen or LED light sources, expect your room to be lit up as it does during the day.
  • Fluorescent lighting is generally used for cool lighting applications and will give a room painted in cool colours a casual, almost nonchalant feel. If used with a room painted in warm hues, fluorescent lighting has the tendency to make the walls look dull.
  • LED lights can be used effectively with any paint colour and are flexible across the colour spectrum.

Another way lighting affects colours of internal walls is in its brightness and lumen output. If a room is painted in darker colours, it will absorb more light from your lighting source. If this is the case, you will require brighter lighting. If the lighting is not bright enough, the entire room will appear gloomy and dull.

A room painted with light colours, including white and pastel colours does not require as much bright light sources. Reasons being that lighter paints reflect more light and absorb less or none at all.

However, there is no hard and fast rule about it because having a dim or bright room is a matter of choice between different individuals.

Further reading:

Is Lighting Design an Essential Part of Interior Design?

How Interior Lighting Can Affect Your Choice of Décor Colours


The bulbs you choose for your interior lighting are your light sources and your choice will determine what the light output will look like when viewed against your interior walls.

The right lighting can make you feel relaxed, happy, and productive while the wrong choice can keep you depressed, intrusive, or gloomy but beyond that, there must be a function in mind when choosing them.

Depending on the purpose of your room, you may want your walls to pop or to look subdued. The choice rests with each homeowner, so, if you wish to optimize your home’s lighting, you must first consider how you are going to use each room.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 viryabo


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    Post Comment
    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 months ago

      Thank you Nell. Getting the lighting right can be tricky sometimes, but it’s always worth the effort

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      10 months ago from England

      I love your info. I recently decorated my front room. And the lighting was very important. It took me ages, but I got there in the end! thanks

    • Steve Haney profile image

      Steve Haney 

      17 months ago from Alma, Ontario, Canada

      This is great information. Interesting how much planning has to go into a well prepared lighting design


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