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Easy ways to brighten rooms in winter

By Melissa Rayworth

Associated Press

When home designer and builder Marnie Oursler talks with clients about building their dream homes along the Delaware coast, their No. 1 request is having bright spaces with lots of natural light.

But at this time of year, it can feel like that brightness and light is in short supply in most any home. The sparkly holiday decorations have been put away, and the daylight hours are still way too brief.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can “do in a single day to hedge against the winter doldrums,” says Washington, D.C.-based interior designer Josh Hildreth. Weíve asked Oursler, Hildreth and interior designer Jessica Wachtel of GTM Architects in Bethesda, Maryland, for advice on easy decor changes that will brighten up any room.

LIGHT FROM BELOW

Hildreth suggests taking a cue from the design style of Nordic countries, where winter days are short: Try painting wooden floors white or cream, or bleaching them to a light shade of brown.

“When you use sort of a wonderful cream color or white on a floor,” Hildreth says, “everything put against it pops.” Even heavy, dark wooden furniture will feel more contemporary and less formal.

Also, Hildreth says, if you have heavy rugs or layered rugs on the floor, consider removing some of them. Although we tend in winter to want to warm our floors, having more bare floor can help open up the space and make it feel fresher and brighter.

Oursler and Wachtel also suggest swapping out dark rugs for lighter and brighter ones. It’s an easy change with big impact.

MAXIMIZE YOUR LIGHT

We think of adding warmer, heavier curtains in winter, Wachtel says, but removing heavy draperies will let in more natural light.

Also, she says, consider using brighter light bulbs at this time of year, and perhaps even taking out a ceiling fixture that has just one bulb and replacing it with one that has several bulbs. You can use a dimmer to make sure the room doesn’t get too bright, but you’ll be able to brighten the space as needed.

Another practical trick: Add large mirrors to amplify natural light during the day and lamplight at night. Oursler made her office feel brighter by adding a large mirror trimmed to look like a window. It also gives a sense of connection to the outdoors.

SLIPCOVERS AND TABLECLOTHS

If your dining table has dark chairs or your sofa is dark, Oursler suggests slipcovers in a light shade.

Hildreth says the same about covering a dark wood table: Since that dark table may dominate your dining room, he says, “a wonderful heavy, light-colored linen tablecloth is a beautiful idea.” The thickness of the fabric can still bring a sense of warmth, but the light color will open up the space.

Along with light-colored solids, consider bright patterns. Hildreth says patterns like colorful chintz may be returning and are perfect for brightening a room at any time of year.

ADD OPENNESS AND LIFT

Rearranging furniture is an inexpensive way to give a room a different feel, Oursler says. “And you de-clutter at the same time. People don’t realize how easy it is for a space to get cluttered. Once you de-clutter, the space will feel brighter and bigger,” she says.

As you rearrange, consider whether any of your pieces could be replaced with something less dense and heavy. If you have a heavy coffee table or solid wooden end tables, Oursler says, consider switching to lighter pieces made of metal and glass. “You can find those relatively inexpensively, but they do make a big difference,” she says.

Also, she adds, make your space feel taller and more open by adding some wainscoting painted white about two-thirds of the way up a wall, and decorate above it by adding grasscloth or paintings in that space just below the ceiling. “Anything you can do to elevate a space,” she says, “will make a room feel brighter because it will feel bigger.”

CITRUS SCENTS AND CANDLES

Hildreth points out that scents can also brighten a room: Potted citrus trees in his sunroom add a crisp scent throughout the winter, but candles and diffusers can do the same. The designer Jo Malone has an orange blossom candle that he says is perfect for brightening a room with a fresh citrus scent.

And for a finishing touch, Hildreth suggests adding a few gorgeous coffee-table books filled with images of sun-filled spaces. A winter day will feel a lot brighter, he says, if you spend an hour getting lost in colorful images.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Melissa Rayworth writes the Ask a Designer column monthly for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at @mrayworth.

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