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Playing with Perception:
How Paint Alters Room Size

Painting Illusions: Redefining Space with Colour and Creativity.

Have you ever considered that paint not only enhances the look of a room but also possesses the remarkable ability to visually transform its size? As an interior designer, I find that the strategic use of colours and shades can profoundly impact our mood and perception of space.
Rainbow Shaker - Pink and red bathroom
Rainbow Shaker - Pink and red bathroom
Rainbow Shaker - Handpainted flower ceiling
Rainbow Shaker - Handpainted flower ceiling
Rainbow Shaker x Kelvingrove Property Sourcing
Rainbow Shaker x Kelvingrove Property Sourcing


The principle behind using paint to manipulate the perceived size of a room lies in colour theory and visual perception. By strategically selecting paint colours and applying certain techniques, one can create illusions that expand or contract the perceived dimensions of a space. Here are several reasons why paint can influence how we perceive the size and dimensions of a room:
  1. Colour and Light Interaction: Different colours reflect and absorb light in unique ways. Lighter colours, such as whites and pastels, tend to reflect more light, making surfaces appear more expansive and airy. On the other hand, darker colours absorb more light, creating a sense of depth and intimacy.
  2. Creating Depth and Dimension: Painting a room with varying shades of a single colour or using contrasting colours can create visual depth. For example, painting one wall a darker shade than the others can make that wall appear closer, altering our perception of the room’s dimensions.
  3. Influence on Visual Focal Points: Strategic use of paint can draw attention to specific architectural features or focal points within a room. For instance, painting an accent wall a bold colour can make it stand out and visually alter the proportions of the space.
  4. Manipulating Ceiling Height: The colour of a room’s ceiling can impact how high or low it appears. Lighter ceiling colours can give the illusion of higher ceilings, while darker colours can create a cozier, more enclosed feeling.
  5. Colour Temperature and Emotion: colours evoke emotional responses and can affect our perception of space accordingly. Cool colours like blues and greens tend to recede, making a room feel larger, while warm colours like reds and oranges can advance and make a space feel cozier.
  6. Visual Continuity and Flow: Using a consistent colour palette throughout a space can create a sense of continuity and flow, making rooms feel more cohesive and harmonious. This can contribute to a perceived sense of spaciousness.
  7. Optical Illusions and Geometric Effects: Painting techniques such as stripes, patterns, or geometric shapes can create optical illusions that alter our perception of room size. Vertical stripes, for example, can make ceilings appear taller, while horizontal stripes can make a room feel wider.
AFTER - My main bedroom (scroll down to see before)
Rainbow Shaker - Using different stripes in my bedroom on The Big Interiors Battle
Harnessing the transformative power of paint to alter room size requires thoughtful consideration of colour, finish, and application techniques. Whether aiming to make a compact room feel more spacious or add intimacy to a cavernous space, the strategic use of paint can achieve remarkable results. By understanding the principles of colour theory and leveraging visual perception, anyone can unlock the potential of paint to redefine the dimensions of their living spaces. So, the next time you’re contemplating a room makeover, remember that a simple coat of paint holds the key to a whole new dimension of design possibilities. Discover below some tips you can use.


To take into account before starting your paint project

Before diving into a paint project, it’s essential to assess the room’s features and determine the desired atmosphere. Understanding these aspects ensures that the chosen colour scheme aligns with the room’s characteristics and design goals. Consider the following features when planning your paint transformation:
  1. Natural Light: Take note of the room’s natural lighting throughout the day. Rooms with ample natural light can accommodate darker colours without feeling too closed-in, while rooms with limited light may benefit from lighter hues to enhance brightness.
  2. Room Size and Shape: Evaluate the dimensions and shape of the room. Light colours tend to open up smaller spaces, making them feel more expansive, while darker colours can add depth and coziness to larger rooms.
  3. Architectural Details: Pay attention to architectural elements such as moldings, trim, and built-in features. These details can be highlighted or subdued with strategic paint choices to complement the overall aesthetic.
  4. Existing Furniture and Decor: Consider the room’s existing furniture and decor. The paint colour should harmonize with these elements, creating a cohesive and balanced look.
  5. Room Functionality: Think about the room’s intended function. For example, bedrooms may benefit from soothing, tranquil colours, while vibrant hues can energize a home office or playroom.
  6. Personal Preferences: Lastly, consider your own preferences and the mood you wish to evoke. Different colours evoke different emotions—cool tones like blues and greens promote relaxation, while warm tones like reds and yellows can create a sense of warmth and intimacy.
By carefully analysing these features, you can develop a paint plan that not only enhances the room’s aesthetic appeal but also optimizes its functionality and atmosphere. Now let’s dive into my colourful tips.


Playing with the Transformative Power of Paint

Let’s now explore the transformative effects of paint through a hypothetical scenario: Imagine starting with a plain, white room.
Empty blank room

1. Shorten

Now, envision painting one wall with a darker colour to create an accent wall. Instantly, the room feels cozier and more intimate, as if the walls have moved closer.
Shorten a room with paint

It adds depth to an otherwise plain space by creating an “accent wall’, like in this bedroom I redesigned in collaboration with Kelvingrove Property Sourcing.

Rainbow Shaker x Kelvingrove Property Sourcing - Bedroom design
Rainbow Shaker x Kelvingrove Property Sourcing - Bedroom design

This technique is also excellent for shortening long corridors. To go even further, you can paint the walls at the beginning and at the end of the corridor in the same colour.

Rainbow Shaker - Long corridor
Rainbow Shaker - Long corridor
Rainbow Shaker - Long corridor
Rainbow Shaker - Long corridor

2. Lengthen

Now, what if we extend this concept to the ceiling? Painting the ceiling in the same hue as the accent wall creates a seamless transition, guiding the eye along the length of the room. This simple trick elongates the space, making it appear more expansive.
Lengthen a room with paint
I love using this technique for bedrooms for example. It adds some drama by creating a cozy alcove. You can also play with the shape on the ceiling like below to manipulate even more our vision of the space.
Rainbow Shaker - Velvet boudoir bedroom
Rainbow Shaker - Velvet boudoir bedroom
Rainbow Shaker - Velvet boudoir bedroom
Rainbow Shaker - Velvet boudoir bedroom

3. Narrowing

Alternatively, swapping the colours—painting the ceiling dark while keeping the walls light—can create a sense of enclosure. The room feels narrower, almost as if the walls are converging.
Narrowing a room with paint
In the example below, I applied brick wallpaper on the opposite side walls to break the width. I’ve also incorporated an arch to create proper zoning (area 1: office / area 2: waiting room).
Rainbow Shaker - Industrial loft vibe in the living room
Rainbow Shaker - Industrial loft vibe in the living room

4. Stretching

Next, consider rooms with lower ceilings, such as mezzanines. To enhance vertical space, I recommend painting all walls in a bold colour while opting for a light-toned ceiling. This combination draws the eye upward, creating the illusion of a higher ceiling and elongating the overall space.
Stretching a room with paint

5. Lowering the ceiling

Conversely, painting the ceiling a bold or deep colour against light walls can make a large room feel more intimate and grounded. This technique is particularly effective in spaces where you want to establish a cozy ambiance.
Lowering the ceiling with paint

I used this technique for one of my home’s ceiling, above the area I am recording my Colour Your Home Happy podcast. It creates a nice alcove full of appeal with the variety of shapes and textures imagined from our collaboration with Molly Mural.

Rainbow Shaker - Tropical mural
Rainbow Shaker - Tropical mural

6. Compacting

Finally, envision painting the entire room in a darker hue. The space immediately feels more compact and intimate. Interestingly, with ample natural light, even the darkest colours can be balanced, transforming the room into a welcoming sanctuary.
Compacting a room with paint
Contrary to what people may think, I love using this technique in small spaces like the guest bathroom, to add some drama and create a wow effect.
Rainbow Shaker - Jungle Guest bathroom
Rainbow Shaker - Jungle Guest bathroom
I hope those 6 paint techniques helped you take the right decision for your room. If I’ve lost you, here’s a quick summary of the different techniques you can save on Pinterest:


In summary, paint is a versatile tool that goes beyond aesthetics—it’s a powerful instrument for shaping how we experience and interact with our living spaces. By understanding colour theory and employing strategic techniques, anyone can leverage paint to redefine the dimensions and atmosphere of a room. 

But most importantly, don’t be afraid to play with colours, enjoy the process, and have fun with your paint choices! Remember, it’s only paint, and you can always paint over it if you decide to try something different later on. Embrace your creativity, experiment with different hues, and let your personality shine through in your living spaces. Whether you’re transforming a cozy nook or redesigning an entire room, painting is a wonderful opportunity to express yourself and create a space that truly feels like home.
So, grab your brushes, unleash your imagination, and let the colours inspire you on this exciting design journey!
Rainbow Shaker - Happy spaces for happy minds!

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