Design advice: how to transform a dark, north-facing room in your home with paint

Sweet Embrace, a blush pink, is Dulux’s colour of the year for 2024  (Handout)
Sweet Embrace, a blush pink, is Dulux’s colour of the year for 2024 (Handout)

Beloved of some of London’s most celebrated interiors designers, dark shades — whether that’s textiles or paint — add character and cosiness to compact spaces.

But while textiles are easily swapped, what happens when you decide to turn a floor-to-ceiling, bottle green room back to, well, anything a bit brighter?

That’s the challenge I faced recently: a small living room with walls, ceiling and skirting boards painted in a dark moss green. Awful? No. But a bit dingy, especially as the evenings draw in.

There’s a reason most homes on property portals have been given a quick brilliant-white revamp prior to listing.

White walls look fresh, clean and having the words ‘recently renovated’ or ‘blank canvas’ in marketing material does no harm at a time when DIY costs — or rather, all costs —seem to hit new heights on a weekly basis.

Unfortunately, the same quick coat can and often does look sterile in real life. And what if you’re revamping a home you actually want to live in?

No one wants to spend hours scrolling for interiors inspiration only to baulk at the choice in store, splash out on the biggest tub of decorators’ white and spend the next year regretting not being braver.

I wanted to find a middle ground and took to our bank of ingenious London home renovation stories to find a dusty pink.

Pinks have surged in popularity in recent months — no doubt Barbiemania played its part in that — and, more recently, this month paint brand Dulux has named blush pink Sweet Embrace as its colour of the year for 2024.

After considering a couple of clay shades from various paint brands, I went with Dulux Heritage’s Potters Pink for the cosy but uplifting colour — and because I was counting on it covering green better than an off-white or plaster-look stone.

Matthew Williamson’s pink living room, as featured in his foolproof guide to using colour in Homes & Property this week (Damian Russell)
Matthew Williamson’s pink living room, as featured in his foolproof guide to using colour in Homes & Property this week (Damian Russell)

Interior designer Matthew Wiliamson has used a blush pink to stunning effect in the living room of his London home, as featured in Homes & Property this week.

“There’s an understated earthiness to the shade that somehow makes it barely even pink,” he says.

“The colour gives the room a delightfully decadent feel, yet it’s comfy and cosy too. I can guarantee that more traditional neutrals would have been less successful. White might have been crisp and fresh, but it can also be stark and unforgiving.”

“Blush is one of the subtlest hues of pink and creates a cosy atmosphere so it’s perfect for north-facing rooms or rooms in which you want a welcoming look,” says Dulux creative director Marianne Shillingford.

“[It’s] a serious colour that offers us much more than the way it looks.  It’s a colour that makes us feel good, it’s hugely relaxing and puts a smile on the face of everyone who sees it.”

So good so far then, but I soon realised the deep, mossy shade might be harder to cover than originally anticipated.

How it went

Work in progress, excuse the sun-bleached sofa and fame-hungry boxer (Handout)
Work in progress, excuse the sun-bleached sofa and fame-hungry boxer (Handout)

Most paint brands have a one-coat option or a no-need-for-primer product for sale at the moment. It pays, however, to splash out on a primer or at least a lighter shade to do the brunt of the hard work before you add your (more expensive) colour.

Primer paint tends to costs around £34 for five litres which is plenty for a small room. With average coverage of 35 square metres, you should be able to do two coats of a small room with one 2.5L tin of paint colour but if, as I did, you need to do two on the ceiling as well, budget for two tins at least. Depending on stockist, Dulux Heritage paint costs around £44 for 2.5 litres.

Sanding the walls, sugar soaping and masking tape around the edges of the room all take time but are well worth doing properly.

One coat of primer done, the first coat of Potters Pink was a little patchy and you could see some shadowy areas from the green peeping through – it was clear the green had been there a long time, and had had many coats.

In hindsight, I should have stretched to a second coat of primer before the pink went on.

The difference between first and second coat of pink was impressive, however, showing it is certainly possible to cover the dark shades we’ve filled our homes with in recent years — if you go back to basics, prime surfaces properly and are prepared to do multiple coats.

Nowhere was this more apparent than upstairs where I used the leftover paint to cover grey in a soon-to-be nursery. Ignoring my own advice, I didn’t use primer and went straight over the light grey with the same pink.

Yes, it’s a different room and light hits the walls differently — or not at all in this case — but the result is a deeper, plaster pink rather than the bright blush it appears in the living room. In hindsight, should I have used primer? Almost certainly. But, I love it. I’m not painting over either of them anytime soon.

What you need

  • Filler for any cracks or holes in the walls

  • Sanding paper

  • Sugar soap and sponge

  • Masking tape (fine to use a cheap one as long as you double up where needed, and remove before the paint has dried fully)

  • Paintbrushes

  • Roller (hand held ones can be easier to use and give more even coverage than those with long handles)

  • Primer

  • Paint colour