The wall-of-mirrored-tiles treatment, beloved of seventies decorators, can be an ugly thing, but hanging a single framed mirror opposite a window is an effective and pretty room brightener. The bigger the better, too: “It’s like giving you a second window,” says Rayman Boozer, principal at the interior-design company Apartment 48.
It’s counterintuitive, but staining or otherwise darkening the floors helps. “You can take a dark floor in a dark room and light the walls, and all of a sudden everything comes to life [and] looks really crisp,” says interior designer Robin Baron.
Choose furnishings with sheen; reflective tabletops and appliances bounce existing light back into the space. Try to have fewer of them, too: There’s nothing like a lot of clutter to make a room feel cavelike.
If a room is tall, maximize the vertical space—use tall bookcases, for starters—so your eye is led upward to the ceiling, “where the light usually is,” says Boozer.
Light the four corners of the room. “Dark spaces in the corners throw shadows, making for dead spots” and exacerbating the dim, cramped feeling, says Baron. Surprisingly, white walls won’t help: “If there are shadows, a white room can actually look a little gray.” Instead, she recommends yellow highlights and other bright colors that excite the eye.
In townhouse apartments—inherently darker than most, since they have long windowless side walls—the most bang for the buck will probably come from adding a skylight. Most houses have one, says Yoel Borgenicht, owner of King Rose Construction, but he explains that they mainly exist for fire safety and are often old and unattractive. The standard size is two by four feet, and if you swap in a new one without changing the size, you’re out only about $2,000 and will definitely brighten the top few floors.
Don’t skip the blinds or draperies to (theoretically) admit more light. “A good window treatment brings more attention to the window, to where the light comes in,” says Baron.