If you’ve always got the blues, you might have the wrong paint color for your north-facing room. See, I learned all about paint while avoiding a kitchen remodel. It was the classic home renovation pick and roll; renovate the bedrooms instead of tackling the non-operational kitchen. I mean, why start on a truly urgent project when you can tailspin for months over paint colors for north-facing rooms?
I’ll show you pics of the fabulous coral and true teal we decided on as well as giving specific color suggestions below, but if all you want are bullet points without all the backstory, the key takeaways when painting a north-facing room include:
- Stark white paint is no good in north-facing rooms. More on why below
- Warm neutrals (and whites with warm undertones) are a solid substitute for bright/stark white
- Dramatic dark colors give a north-facing room depth
- Pastels with warm undertones work well
- Pastels with cool undertones can look tragic
- Room decor, flooring, and exterior foliage impact the undertones in your paint selection. I linked resources below for understanding undertones
In July 2016 our electric oven broke (bear with me, this does circle back to paint). The easy fix would be replacing the oven, but my wife really wanted gas—and that meant hiring a plumber, and our janky white shaker cabinet doors were constantly falling off and the footprint of the galley kitchen was tooooo small for two cooks; so if we were going to do one thing, we were going to do it all.
My wife and I were terrified of taking on a kitchen remodel (rightly so, it turns out the process has been fraught with drama). So over two years of remodel denial we became experts at the no-stove workaround. My wife should write a lifestyle cookbook for the Instapot, crockpot, and countertop toaster oven crowd. Finally, in July 2018, we said, this is ridiculous! We are grown women! We can face our fears…and we promptly agreed to repaint the bedrooms.
Painting the bedrooms
As any novice home renovator soon finds out, we quickly learned that just repainting the rooms does not suffice. The carpets were disgusting from years of doggies, the original 1950s baseboards were jank, and the original closet was a dysfunctional monster. So, instead of a quick paint touch-up, we embarked on a two month bedroom overhaul.
I thought the pale, icy blue of the guest and main bedrooms always felt cold and shadowy. Even when the sun was shining I’d wrap up in a depression sweater when I was back there.
What I didn’t know then is that north facing rooms have minimal direct sunlight, so colors with cool undertones make cold shadows. So although the blue was, in theory, a beautiful pastel, in our north-facing rooms the color looked drab and cold.
We tend toward modern design and reasoned brighter and whiter might be a good choice. Boy was I wrong. After deep diving into blogs and paint sites, I learned that the type of sun exposure the rooms get impacts how the paint colors look on the walls. So instead of fabulously airy and light, true white looks grey and dingy in cool light, delivery dreary institutional vibes.
Counter to my ideas, light theory was teaching me that bold, rich colors bring warmth and life to dark rooms. In our shadowy room, deep colors could create a sense of coziness as opposed to the depression sweater vibe of our current pale blue.
So I embarked on a new campaign to paint our main bedroom a warm, glowing deep teal and our guest room/office a fabulous coral. Here are my teal paint Pinterest inspiration board and coral wall paint Pinterest inspiration board.
In 2016 when we painted the living room and dining room, we learned the hard way that paint color cards DO NOT look anything like what ends up on your wall, precisely due to the orientation of your room and the amount of natural sunlight you receive.
As a result of painting millions of misleading sample grays on our living room walls back then, we had a better strategy for painting our bedrooms this time. Try it out if you like:
- Search Pinterest for paint inspo for North-facing rooms! Make a Pinterest board with colors you like
- Consider your decor (bed frame, carpet/flooring, artwork and overheard lighting) and what colors would look good?
- Bring your Pinterest boards to your paint shop and have them help you color match some of the paint cards to the pics
- Buy no more than four paint samples to test on the walls
- Paint large (I like at least 2 or three foot squares) swatches of each color on the main walls
I wish I had better photos of our teal paint samples, but thanks to the crap natural lighting in our main bedroom, photographing this room is like trying to bathe a cat. Never a good time with natural light and overhead light casts strange shadows. Here is my best attempt:
The coral guest room photographs far better thanks to an overhead skylight that augments the natural light in the room.
Our final paint choices
Curious how the rooms turned out? We chose Lei Flower for the guest room / office and Real Teal for our bedroom. I LOVE the coral paint and I adore the teal but I flubbed on the teal by choosing a semi-gloss sheen. In retrospect I would have done a satin sheen in the teal like I did with the coral. The semi-gloss is just too damn shiny. Here are the final pics:
Resources: Paint for north-facing rooms
- Guide for finding the right paint color undertones for your decor, flooring and foliage from Diana Hathaway Timmons
- Suggestions for whites with warm undertones and dramatic colors from Laurel Bern
- How light affects color from Farrow & Ball
- Why dark paint looks good in dimly-lit rooms and paint color suggestions