The Best Paint Colours For a Dark Hallway or Staircase
If there’s one space in a home with the potential to be dismal, it’s the hallway. In fact, MOST hallways are narrow, and gloomy and leave little room for visual interest and excitement.
And we WILL get to the visual interest and excitement…another day. TODAY we’re talking about paint colours because if your walls aren’t the right colour, there’s no visual interest that will save you. But, before I introduce the actual colours, let’s talk about some meat n’ potatoes stuff.
LRV & Dark Hallways
LRV matters a lot in a dark hallway.Why? Well, with hallways having very little natural light to throw around, paint colours need to work overtime, throwing whatever light they can grab around the room.What is LRV? It’s a number that EVERY paint colour has that refers to how much light a paint colour reflects or absorbs. Trust me, this little number could save your life and your marriage, so if you don’t know much about it, I suggest you read: Paint Colours and LRV: The Ultimate Guide You Need to Read.
Now, there are lighter and brighter colours than the ones listed below, but I didn’t want to bore you to death with various versions of off-white (I’ll let this post do that). And I’m not going to lie and say that these colours will BLOW YOUR MIND with personality – they won’t. However, they might just be a happy medium between a colour with a high LRV (that might ultimately bore the heckadoody out of you) and colours that are just too intense and heavy to toss down a typical stairwell or hallway.
Light Fixtures and Hallways
Unless you have a row of pot lights, there shouldn’t be any fixtures in your hallway that hold only one bulb. ONE STINKIN’ BULB, what do you expect it to do – work miracles? Seriously, if you have only one fixture it should hold three – 60w bulbs. If you have two fixtures, they should each hold at least two – 60w bulbs (but the more the merrier as you can always reduce the wattage if you find it to be too much).
If you don’t have enough lighting, NO paint colour will save you – don’t expect your paint to be a miracle worker.
One of the best ways to get adequate lighting is with a flush mount or semi-flush mount light fixture. There are more exciting lights, but for the sake of cost and availability, sometimes a simple flush mount does the trick!
So, before you go spending money on paint, spend SMART money on lighting first.
CONTRAST IN A DARK HALLWAY – TRIM & PAINT COLOUR
This is a trickier one. Some of you have white (or off-white trim), whereas others have wood trim – so this changes things slightly.
Why? Damn you for making me think beyond the reach of my wine glass…
If you have white trim in a dark hallway
White trim with a light paint colour is low contrast. This keeps things not only brighter but also bigger looking (wider). White trim with a medium or dark paint colour is high contrast, which can make a space look busier and smaller (but sometimes more interesting).
Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray in a moderately lit hallway
If you have dark or wood trim in a dark hallway
Medium or dark trim (wood or painted) with a light paint colour is HIGH contrast. Now your space WILL look brighter via the wall colour, however, the contrast between the trim and the walls can actually make it look more cluttered and small. So it’s not that your space will look darker; you just won’t get the full-bodied effect of white trim/light walls.
Could you paint your walls a light-medium tone to blend in a bit more with your dark trim? You could, as this would lower the contrast level, making things look more simple and more seamless. However, it won’t make your hallway feel any ‘brighter’. BUT, if you can supplement with MORE than adequate lighting and decor (mirror) you can make up for a less than bright paint colour and perhaps find a happy medium.
If you want to know more about paint colours with wood trim, you may want to check out this blog post The Best Paint Colours for Dark Wood Trim
But for the rest of you, let’s move along!
1. Benjamin Moore Collingwood OC-28
Collingwood is a beautiful light warm gray with a soft purple undertone.
Read more: Paint Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Collingwood
As you can see at the end of the hallway above, things look slightly gloomy. However, with high-output recessed lights, many of the shadows can be lifted.
- Collingwood has an LRV of 62, which ALSO happens to be my MAGIC NUMBER!
Want to add a bit more warmth? Be careful; greiges can get MIGHT dingy looking if you don’t have the right lighting. Remember, no paint colour will save your dark hallway unless you beef up the lighting a bit and then meet it halfway with a reasonably light and interesting paint colour.
2. Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray HC-173
As far as greige goes, Edgecomb Gray is the ONLY one I’d be looking at, and even MORE so than the others on this page – you need adequate lighting.
Paint Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray
- Edgecomb Gray has an LRV of 63, which is its saving grace as far as a dark hallway goes – any darker and I’d be out.
In my own home, with its dark hallway and entryway, I lightened Edgecomb Gray by 50% so that I got the greige ‘look’ without the LRV of 63…
But if you don’t like taking a risk with paint colours, you could try softening and warming things up a bit with…
3. Benjamin Moore Ballet White OC-9
Paint Colour Review: Benjamin Moore Ballet White
- Ballet White has an LRV of 73, putting it RIGHT on the edge of the off-white range
- White Duck has an LRV of 74, so it’s a wee wink brighter
Now, if you want something creamier and brighter, I have the COLOUR for YOU!
But first, I know you’ll be heading out shortly to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel-and-stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, depending on the location
- at $5.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needed for traditional paint sampling
- if you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
4. Sherwin Williams Creamy 7012
It’s no secret that gray and greige are the most popular paint colours these days; however, if you’re in the mood for something warmer, Creamy hits the spot!
This here is a pretty darned realistic shot of daytime living in our last home. You can see how Creamy was significantly lighter and brighter on the well-lit walls but didn’t fall too flat down the hallway (which had no lights on when this photo was taken).
Creamy wasn’t EXCITING by any stretch of the imagination, but it was simple and bright and reflected the light that it was given quite nicely.
And even though the hallway in our basement wasn’t the brightest, I chose Benjamin Moore Gray 2121-10for a wicked accent wall along the back, which added visual interest to what was otherwise, a kind of ho-hum space (it was also the accent colour you saw in the upper hallway).
- Creamy has an LRV of 81, parking it nicely in the off-white range. The yellow warmth of it gives it interest
Want to add a bit more depth? Check out…
- Benjamin Moore Navajo White for a more creamy/yellow look
5. Benjamin Moore Gray Owl OC-52
Gray Owl is a beautiful light gray paint colour with passive blue-green undertones. These undertones can pop up a bit more with northern exposure, but even then, they’re pretty subtle.
With my client Jen, we used Gray Owl throughout her main floor (open layout) as well as the darker hallway area, and it turned out PERFECT. With a beautiful gallery wall to add some visual interest, the hallway looks much better than when it started!
Before:This home was too beautiful to have a hallway so dark and uninviting!
After:With a fresh coat of paint and a gallery wall, it’s now family-friendly and inviting!
- Gray Owl has an LRV of 65
Want to add a bit more depth or colour?Be careful, but check out…
- Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray which is a light gray with a stormy blue undertone (below)
- I also love the subtle, slightly more colourful appeal of Benjamin Moore Gray Cashmere, a gray/blue/green blend that leans a touch bluer
6. Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray HC-170
Stonington Gray has a bit more meat on its bones, so you need some nice bright white trim to offset this bad boy!
Paint Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray
- Stonington Gray has an LRV of 59, putting it in the light range, but on the slightly heavier side of light
Want to know the best paint colour for YOUR hallway?
Check out my affordable E-Decor Services and Online Color Consulting!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2019, UPDATED IN 2022