8 Ways to Brighten Up a Dark and Dreary Basement

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated March 8, 2022
Child walking down basement stairs
Photo: Halfpoint / Adobe Stock

Step up your subterranean space with these ideas

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If your basement is dark and dungeon-like, you’ll never want to spend time there. But if you have dreams of turning it into a game room, media room, gym, secondary living room, or playroom, it’s easy to lend some cheer to your lower level. Just try these tricks and you’ll probably find yourself downstairs more often. 

1. Maximize Windows and Doors

Every basement needs an egress window, but relying on that for light simply doesn’t work. If a portion of your basement is above-grade, ask your local general contractor about installing windows or, if possible, sliding doors. 

If your space already has a few windows, see if you can make them bigger. To boost the light even more, cut back any bushes or plants that are blocking the windows, and opt for sheer window treatments or privacy film over dark and heavy drapes.

2. Fake a Window

If you can’t add more windows, try one of these strategies to get the look of a window, without any actual sunlight: 

  • Create recessed boxes in walls and fill them with silk plants and small accent lights.

  • Install a wall-mounted aquarium, which will add color, interest, and light. 

Hang an antique window, ideally one with aged glass or an unusual shape.

3. Box in Ductwork

To hide dark and unattractive ductwork, box it in by creating a soffit, installing a coffered ceiling, or adding columns or pillars. Along with removing a dungeon-like element, you’ll give your basement a more polished look. 

4. Open The Floor Plan

Bigger spaces and open floor plans appear brighter and tend to be more inviting. If you’ve got the budget to remodel your basement, ask a local structural engineer about removing walls to make your space more open. An open-plan basement also makes it easier to bring the whole fam together for game night or a movie marathon. 

5. Paint Walls and Trim

The colors you paint your basement have a huge impact on cutting down that dungeon feel. You might be tempted to whitewash your basement’s walls and trim to lighten the space, but choosing warm tones, like cream or light tan, can add more warmth and simulate natural light. 

For a fun touch, ask a local painter to establish an accent wall by painting it a different color, like orange. When it comes to painting your basement ceiling, try off-white rather than white. Because off-white is slightly darker than pure white, the surface will appear to recede, giving your basement the illusion of a higher ceiling.

Pro Tip: In general, use less saturated tones in your basement. Hghly pigmented hues can make a space seem darker and smaller.

6. Think About Flooring

Bright basement
Photo: Anatoli / Adobe Stock

Glossy solid-surface flooring will reflect light from the ceiling, making your space feel more luminous. Try vinyl tiles that resemble wood (bonus: vinyl is water-resistant and economical!) or consider shined concrete, ceramic tile, or polished hardwood. 

7. Put In the Right Lighting

To make your basement as inviting as the rest of your home, use a layered lighting approach. Go with a mix of ambient or general, task, and accent lighting

  • For ambient lighting, try recessed lights, which don’t hang—ideal in basements and other areas with lower ceilings. As an alternative, track lights will bathe walls around the room in soft light. 

  • For task lighting, opt for lamps in conversation and work areas. 

  • For accent lighting, try sconces or torchères, which will bounce light up walls and across the ceiling. 

8. Add Shiny Elements

An easy (and slightly sneaky) way to make your room feel larger and lighter? Add mirrors. If your basement includes a gym, try a mirrored wall. Otherwise, lean a cute floor-length mirror against a wall, or hang a mirror in a sitting area. For even more reflective surfaces, incorporate tables with glass tops, shiny vases, and metal picture frames and light fixtures.

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