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How to Choose a Basement Colour

By 03/24/2010January 28th, 201729 Comments

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been asked for a very pale colour for a basement room and the equally horrified looks from clients when I pull out a richer colour.

If you are trying to decide on a colour for your basement, keep reading with an open mind 🙂

While looking for images for this post I found a series of basement renovations by Candice Olsen (a Canadian celebrity designer).

Her rooms are filled with recessed lighting which is obviously the ideal situation for your basement too! However, as I said in my “A light Colour will never come to Life in a Dark Room” post, dark rooms look dingy painted in white unless your basement is as well lit as this one (above). And if it has this much lighting, you can still use a richer paint colour.

Dark rooms like basements and media rooms are the same as powder rooms. You’ll always flick the lights on when you are in these rooms anyway, therefore a richer colour can and should be chosen because it’s lighting (read this article in my newsletter to make sure your room is lit correctly–you can do it even without recessed lighting) that will bring these rooms to life (not a very pale or white paint colour).

I love the way she’s balanced the blue with all the warm yellow wood tones in the flooring, millwork and mosaic backsplash!

Red and brown is a more masculine combination, however the white (which is a feminine colour) sectional brings the room back in balance!


Here’s a very cool basement built into the side of a cliff it looks like, but you can see without a lot of natural light the white here is looking dingy. This room would have really come to life painted a rich butterscotch colour to tie in with the wicker chairs.

My best tip on basement rooms is stick to happy colours instead of murky gray tones (unless you love them, then go for it). These are just guidelines (not rules). I consider the red and blue in the photos above happy because they are not grayed (well technically they are compared to primary tones, but they don’t read gray).

Need help choosing the right neutral or colour?  My How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s all in the Undertones ebook takes the hundreds of choices down to 9 neutral undertones along with list of all my other go-to best grays, broken down into 3 undertones, green, blue and purple. The beige undertones of pink, yellow, green, gold, orange and taupe along with the best greens and blues. 

My bonus book of  colours is worth the price of the ebook alone but you will also get my system of understanding undertones so you can stop making mistakes when sourcing tile, carpet, countertops, etc.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

White is a Snob

Clean vs. Dirty Colours

A Dirty Answer to a Clean Question

Rules are for Breaking by Janice Lindsay

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  • Annie @ The House That Jade Built says:

    Another great post! Your images always emphasize your post perfectly! I also adore Candace Olsen – I'd love to have her job – my dream job! 🙂

  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Great pictures of basements, Maria! You've mentioned one of my favorite designers, too. Candice Olsen's show is probably the only one I watch on HGTV anymore.

  • [email protected] View On Design says:

    these spaces are great, we just don't do them over here in Aus (unless it's a car park in a posh area!), shame really!

  • pve design says:

    I always admire basements that do not scare me.
    Love the use of color as well as the designated space.
    My lower level is part basement, part window, natural light and we live down there. I chose a color and everyone always wants to know "what color it is?"
    BM- Bar Harbor Beige and one wall is an russet orange that I mixed. Now I am thinking of a cool hip aqua to change things up!

  • Anonymous says:

    Aha! I didn't know that about dark places… my train of thought would have stayed with lighter colors as to bring more light into the dark room. Gosh thanks for sharing that I will make a note 🙂

    Elizabeth – NZ

  • Twenty Two Flamboyant Street says:

    Good point about the lighting being so important in basements. It really does make or break the mood.

  • DesignTies says:

    This post just make me all the more impatient to get my basement renovation going. I have Candace Olson inspired plans, I do!!

  • Kelly, Arte Styling says:

    Thanks for reiterating once again that a dark space does not become illuminated with white or light paint, but rather by LIGHT! Hopefully, everyone who reads this will learn to embrace rich, bold, beautiful colors for the basement. There's no reason not to. Now, I just wish I had my own basement to pain. We don't have a lot of them in CA…

  • Jessica says:

    Just found your site. Perfect for house hunters like me! I'm sure to get many amazing ideas.

  • Jeanette {A Passion for Home} says:

    This is a challenge my husband and I face right now…what color to paint our basement. We have french doors (walk-out basement) but only a couple small windows.

    Your post has reaffirmed my thoughts on going dark in the basement.

  • AB HOME Interiors says:

    I really like Candice Olsen. She really stretches each project and creates unusual and unexpected surprises

  • The Zhush says:

    Completely agree, our finished basement is a very happy blue, and it really works well. Candice Olsen is terrific, and her team works some real magic.

  • Hamptontoes says:

    It is so true…I've said the same a gazillion times! I love bringing life into a basement!

  • Southern Aspirations says:

    Yet another "aha moment" post from you. Love it! Personally, I really like rich warm colors in a basement. But with good light! 🙂

  • Svetlana says:

    My son's bedroom is on the lower level, which is half basement. It has a big window but it is under the porch overhead and facing east so not much direct light. The walls are off white and I always wondered why it looks so dingy and boring when white should make it lighter. Now I know why. Maybe I should paint it yellow to brighten it up?
    Great post Maria – very illuminating. Can't wait for more…

  • Emily A. Clark says:

    Great post! There is so much to consider when choosing your colors.

  • tropical_island says:

    Can you suggest a similar aqua color from your extensive color knowledge? I'm trying for a similar look in a powder room and I can't seem to get the color right.

  • Dagny @ Beautiful Living says:

    Great post! We're planning the reno of our basement now, and I've been wondering about which color to choose. It's only a "half" basement though, with windows on one wall.

  • Kelly says:

    I love-love Candace Olson!! Those photos you chose are a great example of her work. She brings class to a room, don't you agree? I think the blue and yellow is my favorite out of these photos. idk- the top picture is great too.

  • Anonymous says:

    Fantastic post! So important for the Vancouver Island reader – we are just loaded with basements and basement suites.
    I'm going to show this to my landlord (who never listens to me when I said white was the wrong colour for their basement suite). They have been trying to rent their basement suite for months and I can't tell you how many times they have painted it the whitest white you have ever seen, I don't think you can get whiter – but it is SO dull down there – like a cave, even though it's really well done.
    This makes so much sense!
    Great, great, great, thank you!

  • RLG says:

    I'm always amazed that there aren't more lighting specialists in the design world. Accessible as interior or design consultants. Lighting makes such a significant difference especially without an abundance of natural light. Great post! xoxo

  • Erika @ BluLabel Bungalow says:

    I agree, lighting does make the room come to life. Candice Olson always does an amazing job on basements. I don't like basements to look like basements. I much rather them look like the main floor of the home unless you're going for a cavernous look.

  • mydivabydesign says:

    Lighting has been a problem for me in my son's room. There are no windows since it is in the middle of the house. it doesn't matter what color you use, it always looks dark and dingy. We are going to put in a skylight so that even when the lights are off he can see and not feel like he is in a cave. i can see adding recessed lights too. Thanks!

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I had no idea basements could be so gorgeous. Wow. Once again now that I've seen the beauty a basement can be. I want to run downstairs and tear everything out. Your blog can be dangerous for those of us with dingy basements . . . dated kitchens and bad bathrooms. Especially for impatient people like me. Now ! Not later.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    Blue greens are tricky. I wouldn't even confirm fabrics for a room until the paint was on the wall because they go either way so easily. This one could be HC-138.

  • Anonymous says:

    It looks like the recessed lights in the ceilings create shadows on the ceilings. However, the lamps that project the light up (like the one on the right side of the room with the wooden ceiling) reduce the shadows and seem to brighten the room more. What have you seen in the pictures you have looked through?

    Have you seen any basements with color on the ceiling, such as a lighter version of the walls?

  • Anonymous says:

    It took me a long time to search online, only your site unfold the fully details, bookmarked and thanks again.

    – Laura

  • scott grady says:

    Are these regular people’s houses or are these the lobbies for executive hotels? Nothing like my house or the people I hang with (and we’re in the 400k range).

  • EM says:

    I’d love to choose a basement colour that is different than what we’ve had. Our whole house is a shade of yellow or brown and our tenant is moving out so we get to finally paint the basement and take it over!

    It’s one big open room so a part of it is going to be our children’s play area (I’m going to partition it off with a curtain).

    Any suggestions on a new colour that isn’t yellow or brown? I really like a great but don’t want it to be too drab for our kids’ play area. We do have recessed lighting…

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