When Paint Goes Wrong: How Paint Colours are Affected by Room Direction

Colour paint room direction

Have you ever spent hours poring over paint colours, finding the exact match you wanted and confidently painting it onto your walls, only to find out when the paint dries that it doesn’t look anything like you thought it was going to? A little while ago, I wrote a blog post about a disastrous experience I had with choosing a paint colour (and what I learned from it) and I have to confess that this wasn't the only time that I have made a colour mistake. I cringe to think of the time and expense I have wasted on re-painting walls that I was sure were going to look fabulous yet turned out so differently to how I expected. And I won’t even get into the frustration and (if it’s not too dramatic) despair at getting it wrong yet again!

The main reasons that paint looks different in your home than you expected are:

·       The direction your room faces

·       Reflected light from other objects

·       Different types of artificial light

·       The undertones in the paint and

·       You haven't tested it properly

In this post, we'll dive into looking at room direction and how the different directional light causes paint to appear differently.

Where in the world are you?

Natural light can look different room by room, at different times of the day, and during different seasons. This will also be different depending on where you live in the world. For example, in the northern hemisphere, south facing rooms are filled with light, whereas in the southern hemisphere, this is the other way round. I live in the UK, so I'm writing from the perspective of a northern hemisphere dweller. So just reverse the information if you live south of the equator.

Find the direction of your room using a Compass

The first thing to do is to get your compass out and work out which way your rooms face. When I say ‘face’ I mean which way do the windows face? So in the room below, you can see that this is a south facing room because the windows are on the south wall.

If you don’t have a compass to hand, you can use a compass app on your phone. Or you can do it the old fashioned way by seeing where the sun rises (this is the East) and where it sets at the end of the day (this is West), and you can work out North and South from there.

If you have a dual aspect room (windows on more than one wall) work out where the most light comes in (this will usually be through your biggest windows). If your room falls slightly outside of North, South, East and West, observe your room throughout the day and see which description best fits the way that the light falls in your room.

Once you’ve worked out the direction of the light in each room, the next thing you need to be aware of is that some colours are known as ‘warm colours’ and some are known as cool colours. Blues and lilacs are cool, and the reds and oranges are warm.

 The basic idea is that you choose warm colours for cool rooms and cool colours for warm rooms. So let's take a look at the different ways you deal with each room.

North Facing Rooms

Light paint room direction

If your room is north facing, it might be cold and dark, possibly even a bit on the gloomy side. It is an indirect, cool light. This makes north facing rooms quite challenging to decorate. If you get it wrong, you can end up with an icy, lifeless room. Our natural instinct when decorating a dark room is to use light colours. However, you don’t have to do this. decide what sort of mood you want to create in your house. Bold colours show up well in north facing rooms. You could either decide to lighten it as much as possible, and use warm and light colours or you could just embrace this (don’t fight it) and go with it and make it into a cosy cave or cocoon. Grey is difficult to pull off in a north-facing room as it is often cold, but you can get away with using it if you brighten it up with bold accessories, like in the room below:

““Cool northern light will tend to bring out any blue notes in a grey. This is true of shades such as Fired Earth’s blue-toned Skylon Grey, Pearl Ashes and Plumbago.””

— Fired Earth
Paint Rooms Direction

South facing rooms are usually warm, and flooded with light. This means that you can use either cool or warm colours and they will look equally good. Embrace this by using light or bright colours. Dark colours look brighter and pale colours shine.

room direction paint colours

East and West facing rooms are a little trickier as the colour and warmth of the light changes throughout the day.

East facing rooms

As the sun rises in the east and sets in the West (no matter where you are in the world!) east facing rooms receive most of their warm light in the morning, and cool light in the evening as the sun goes down. Think about when you will use this room the most, and then decorate it accordingly. Often, decorating it as you would a south facing room is best. The light in an east facing room starts warm in the morning, but it can appear a little blue, so don’t fight this- go with greens and blues, or greys and whites with blue undertones. Duck eggs and pastel colours look good in these rooms too.

West Facing Rooms

Room direction

These rooms are cold light in the morning (dull, cold light) and warm light in the evening. They get the best of the warm light in the evening. Decorate like you would a south facing room. White and greyer neutrals are good here.

“As the sun sets, west-facing rooms benefit from its rays. While on the dull side in the morning, the same room will have a warm glow in the evening. If you work the night shift and sleep in bedroom with west windows, think about toning down the light with cooler paint colours. Warmer tones might be overwhelming that time of day”
— Apartment Therapy

So, before you go buying your paint colour based on something you've seen either in someone else's home, or even a different room in your own home, be sure to check out the direction of your room and bear in mind these top tips for selecting paint colours. 

If you've had some successes, or even disasters with paint colour because of the direction your room faces, let us know in the comments!

Main image source: Farrow & Ball

  • C Turner says:

    I recently painted bathroom cabinets a color that has turned out to be a disaster….hoping to find tips on what to do to make it look better. The painter did such a beautiful job & I’m not able at the moment to spend more $$ for him to do it over!! I feel terrible, but definitely not happy with the color choice I made!!

    • Ugh, I’m sorry to hear this! Always test out the paint colour on giant sheets of paper before committing to the final choice! If you’re really unhappy with the colour, the best thing to do may be to ‘bit the bullet’ and get it re-done. If it’s really not an option, remove all other colours from the room and keep everything else neutral so that there are no colour clashes.