Design

Help! Which Color Should I Paint My Cave?

Caroline Donofrio's empty apartment

After I planned to never move again, something surprising happened…

“I have news,” whispered my neighbor, when I ran into him on my way out of the building. I was expecting him to say something like, “M&M’s are on sale at Rite Aid,” but instead, he shared that he and his wife were relocating to Europe, thus leaving behind their apartment with an actual YARD.

In New York City, an apartment with private outdoor space is like encountering a unicorn with a winning lottery ticket — something you cannot ignore. And so, after sixteen years in this city, and three years in my previous apartment, I took the plunge… down four flights of stairs, into my new space.

I figured moving within the same building would be a breeze. “Who needs boxes?” I thought. “I’ll just put everything into tote bags and make a million trips down the stairs!” This was a bad plan. Do not do this.

In the end, though, it was definitely worth it. The ceilings are gloriously high. The kitchen is user-friendly (my last one was not). There is room for an actual home office! And again: YARD. But here is the one thing I can’t figure out: What color do I paint the bedroom?

Here’s what you need to know before answering this question: The bedroom is a cave. As in, it completely lacks windows. (Have you ever tried to sleep in a cave? It’s amazing! It’s quiet and cozy and juuuuust dark enough that I can sleep soundly until morning, like some sort of teenager.) But what color should it be? What are the best options for a room that could double as Gollum’s lair?

Here are four candidates, straight from my Pinterest board…

What Color Paint Should I Choose?

1) My first instinct is to paint it light gray, like Jenna Lyons’s former living room. It’s got a hint of drama, but not too much. Plus, since gray is a non-color, I likely won’t tire of it. But will gray look drab? Will it feel like waking up inside a raincloud?

What color paint should I choose?

2) The next option is green, particularly a deep saturated green, like Jenna Lyons’ current hallway. Has a color ever looked so regal? Yet I must ask the obvious question: Do I really want green walls? Or do I just want to be Jenna Lyons? (Insert thoughtful emoji.)

What Color Paint Should I Choose?

3) The third option is just to get cray with the color and paint it this cheery pink. You only live once, right? But I fear that my waking life could start to feel like a boundless bottle of Pepto.

What Color Paint Should I Choose?

4) The final option is to lean all the way into the cave and embrace the drama, with a color as dramatic as can be. When I asked the guy at the paint store what color one should paint a verrrrry dark bedroom, his response was, “As dark as possible!” He explained that when you paint a dark color in an already dark room, it creates the perception of depth and tricks the eye into thinking the walls extend farther than they do.

What color would you choose? Do you have any favorite colors I’m missing? Let’s discuss…

P.S. A colorful Seattle home, and a purple-filled Brooklyn townhouse.

(Jenna Lyons’s living room by Melanie Acevedo via Domino, Jenna Lyons’s hallway by Simon Watson for The New York Times, pink bedroom by Dean Kaufman for New York Magazine, black bedroom via We Are Scout.)

  1. Pam says...

    Can we please have an update and photos?!?

  2. Cate says...

    I’d go dark – what a great excuse to do it. You can’t possibly look at it later and think, am I wasting what little natural light I have?? For you have none. I think the super dark or the dark green could work to similar effect.

  3. Allie says...

    DEF the green oh my goodness it’s beautiful!

  4. Susan says...

    Is there an update on paint color choice?!

  5. sadie says...

    All solid options! Except pink….but I’m just not a fan in general. :) Curious to see what you pick!

  6. Rebecca Sunde says...

    I lived in a Pepto pink dorm room while studying abroad in France, and it was *not* cute. Or cheery. I vote for the deep green!

  7. Emily says...

    farrow and ball down the pipe high gloss, wallpaper the ceiling.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wallpapering the ceiling — what a great idea!!

  8. Carmen says...

    I would also go dark, but probably navy or blue black (Farrow and Ball have a lovely one, plus Off Black), possibly with one feature wall in a warm mustard colour. I’d also try testers in deep green or aubergine. But then have white furniture and bedding with it.

    Failing that, Farrow & Ball also has some very lovely pale pinks, like chamomile, which would look great with pale grey linen bedding, green plants and white/wood furniture.

    Not the crazy bright pink!

  9. That lovely dark teal or maybe even a deep purple—aubergine!

  10. Monica says...

    I vote option 2 or 4. as Maria Killiam https://www.mariakillam.com/ [the true , expert] says “you will never warm a dark room with light paint, it will only look dingy. Dark rooms with wonderful lighting is the way to go.

    • kkat says...

      I am a Maria Killam fangirl, she speaks the color truth!! Her blog has been so helpful to me over the years, and when we finally built our new house I nailed all of the finishes because of her wisdom. Highly recommend her blog!

  11. Megan says...

    Dark!

  12. Aisha says...

    Option 2! We have the most beautiful muted green hallways in my apartment building ( which is cavelike) and they are delicious. Makes me want to paint my apartment the same! Which I might just!

  13. Jennifer says...

    Paint it the same green Jenny Komenda just painted her guest room!

  14. Sam says...

    We better get a home tour when this is all done!

  15. Kristen says...

    Dark dark dark. Black, charcoal, navy, emerald. Then lighten the space with textiles. It’ll be glorious. 🖤

  16. Paula says...

    One option is to think about a wall color that complements your skin tones or coloring. Want to highlight your blue eyes, think of yellows (or oranges). Got warm brown hair/skin – think of rich blues. You want the star of any room to be you.

    Don’t forget to consider what you do with your ceiling. Use a ceiling color to reflect light into the room with a lighter color or how about you bring in strip LED lighting (nicely hidden) near the top of your walls to bring the ‘sun’ into the room if you want to minimize the cave effect.

    Finally, as you settle in, little things (the lightbulb tone of your lamps, where you put mirrors, etc.) impact the vibe of the room – those can be easy things to change and enhance the look that you’re trying to achieve!

  17. Sharlyn says...

    As dark as possible!!! I did this once with a tiny bathroom and it was my FAVORITE room in the house!

  18. Bea says...

    It depends on the colour of your furniture and bedlinen. If you have warm, red, wood linen/furniture, I’d go with the dark green wall. But if you have cool, blue, green colours already, I’d go for a warm, pink or burgundy wall. Colours create such contrasts, which is beautiful.But gray would work with either. Congratulations on the apartment!

  19. bri says...

    Grey! Go with one that has just a hint of a soft purple underneath, it will work with everyone. I used to have hints of a light turquoise / sea foam green in my bedding and curtains, but swapped out turquoise this winter for different shades of pink. Now it is my girly, super calming retreat at the end of a long day.
    Congrats on the new space – Have fun with it! :)

  20. B says...

    I painted my dark bedroom a deep, moody teal color and loved it. The color contrasted really nicely with the brass lamps and other lighting that I needed for the space, and it felt really calm and inviting despite being a dramatic color.

  21. Vanessa LeBlanc says...

    Black!

  22. Laura M says...

    Sunshine yellow for when you wake up in the morning.

  23. Leslie yoo says...

    If you are loving the idea of grey – I’l look at the farrow and ball colors. I was in the same boat as you trying to figure out a cool color that I would love everyday. I ended up going with farrow and ball – Great white. it’s the most sublime neutral. It has moments where it looks light grey, light lilac and sometimes a touch of pink. It changes in the light and I honestly look at my walls and sigh. I love it so much!

    I bought a little sample from Farrow and Ball painted it on the wall and saw how it caught the light. Then I got in color matched, cause who wants to pay all that money!

    Good luck! Let us know what you end up doing!

    OH and hague blue is everything too – also at farrow and ball.

    • Amy L Undercoffler says...

      DEFINITELY look to Farrow and Ball for some inspiration. Incredible dark hues…and I’ve been reading about how its actually a GOOD idea to paint a small room a dark color. On the other hand…I’m in love with their new color, “sulking room pink,” (what a great name!), and I wish I had a room that my husband would agree to paint pink.

  24. Take a look at Benjamin Moore Raccoon Fur… it’s my current obsession!

  25. Kristin says...

    I say go dark and dramatic! And if you hate it, you can paint it something else. That’s the beauty of paint!

  26. MelA says...

    Ellie Cashman Dark Floral II Black Saturated wallpaper.

  27. Ashby says...

    AH! I love all of these ideas, Caroline! The sheen will play a role, too. Matte will absorb all of the light, where as an eggshell or semi-gloss will reflect light. Here are some of my favorite Benjamin Moore shades for each of your brainstorms:
    1) Metropolitan (AF-690) — Their Color of the Year for 2019. A beautiful, sophisticated, silvery grey.
    2) Beau Green (2054-20) — A luscious dark green with teal undertones.
    3) Love and Happiness (1191) — A grown-up pink that you won’t get tired of. Look how inviting it looks in this hotel room. I die. https://www.destinationhotels.com/quirk-hotel/accommodations/boutique-kings
    4) Kendall Charcoal (HC-166) — An almost-black, super rich dark grey with a ton of depth. This one is a favorite among designers I’ve worked with!

    I can’t wait to see what you pick! Good luck, and enjoy your new place.

  28. Lindsey says...

    Go DARK! Embrace the cave!

  29. Amy says...

    I can’t wait to see what you decide. We are a very divided group! Ha ha! Probably made the decision harder!

  30. I’m pro-grey/light neutrals! I picked out Sherwin Williams’ Agreeable Grey as the main paint color for my house because I liked how neutral it is (plus the name is kinda cute!) and I’ve been surprised at how many compliments I’ve gotten!

  31. I would say a warm inviting blue.

  32. Juliette says...

    My dining room doesn’t have windows, being in the middle of our victorian house and we have painted it a very moody dark blue, it is stunning. It’s so dramatic, we absolutely love it. But then again it is a dining room so we are only using it for evening dinner parties where the drama, the candles, the party and the wine all work…

  33. Simone says...

    My first apartment was in a basement, with a windowless bedroom. Embrace the cave. I had enough room elsewhere that I could use the bedroom only for sleeping (just like the sleep experts say!), so I outfitted it with a good sound machine, nice linens, soft rug, and not much else. Just walking into my cave would instantly help me wind down and I never had any trouble sleeping when I lived there. Go dark and luxurious!

  34. scaredy-cat says...

    I’d embrace the darkness of the room and paint it dark. Maybe not, like, charcoal – but a dark green or maybe a storm-cloud-like grayish blue (that would feel calm) or even a brown (though in my opinion good brown shades are hard to find). I’d pair the dark walls with a bed that has lots of nice, different textures (flannel? velvet? wool? whatever you like) and feels comfy and luxurious. I think painting the room in a light color would enhance the darkness in a way.

  35. Noooo not dark!! I’ve slept in cave rooms like yours before and they need something light and cheery to stop them from feeling too prison like and sad from the lack of sunlight. I’d go a really pale pink, colors reflect off each other so no need to go all pepto. Choose a shade of pink that barely registers on the paint sample, once you paint it on all four walls it will feel glowy and like the light entering a room at sunset :)
    xx

    • Lucy says...

      I second Camille! This is making me want to paint my bedroom light pink immediately!

  36. Kate says...

    My bedroom is the same dark green … we Love it! But the key is the ceiling is a pale lipgloss pink. Try it!

  37. Emma says...

    Light gray all the way!

  38. Lori says...

    I feel the light gray is the way to go. It will still be so cozy but not DARK. Like sadness. It will be warm and lovely. As a bedroom should be.

  39. Lois Swords says...

    Here is something you didn’t mention: The pale gray walls with a light blue ceiling!

  40. Megan says...

    Light gray!!!!!!! I feel so strongly about this for not knowing you at all haha!

    If there’s no natural light the dark will be so much darker?

  41. I feel like I’d lean all the way into the cave and go with a black or dark navy blue. And add contrast with white everything else. White art on the walls. White bedspread. White curtains (to mimic a window)… this is my own personal dream.

  42. Claire O'Connor says...

    Definitely the green or dark grey/black!

  43. Twyla says...

    Why don’t you do three walls a light neutral colour, and the feature wall behind your bed the dark green? That way you have the best of both – the moody colour and the openness?
    Really – you need to get Jenny Komenda’s insight on this. She’s the expert!

  44. JenMarie says...

    I’d vote dark green with a deep blue/black ceiling liberally embellished with tiny, glow-in-the-dark stars. When you turn out the lights at night, it will feel like you’re camping out in a clearing in the forest.

  45. anna says...

    I think you should choose a white with notes of white and gray in it. I highly suggest Benjamin Moore’s ‘Winter Orchard’, it has warm notes of pink in it. This shade looks slightly different in every different light, but is sure to warm up your cave.

  46. alyssa says...

    bubblegum pink is definitely my vote! maybe w/ a wallpapered accent wall

  47. Sue says...

    gray with a hint of blue–like a stormy sky. It’s such a soothing color.

  48. Marti says...

    A deep eggplant color! I think going dark would be gorgeous, but I love the idea of some soft femininity in there…

    • maria says...

      YES. This!
      Go Dark. Very Dark. While i have a lot of natural light in my bedroom, light or not – i adore a dark bedroom. Our walls are currently Black Swan by Sherwin Williams and i could not be any happier with the color. A bedroom is for dark activities. Embrace that.

  49. Elle says...

    Whatever color you pick, choose a matte or flat finish. You’re going to need a lot of lighting in there to read and get dressed and you probably won’t want shiny, reflective walls, no matter what color you pick. If it were me, I’d go for some busy Edwardian-style wallpaper but in soft, neutral tones; think William Morris, but in tans, grays, and ivory. I saw some at Anthropologie once and never forgot it. Patterns can make a room feel bigger, too.

    Is the room air-conditioned? If it will be hot in the summer, choose a color that won’t make you hotter. Dark colors can be claustrophobic in a stuffy room. Some people feel the same about warm colors. If you can’t decide, just pick an interesting gray, since you like that, and live with it for awhile until you’re sure. And would your landlord let you add some molding? That room sure needs it and nothing adds more style to a room.

  50. Ana says...

    I don’t know if someone else left a comment like this, but please be sure your bedroom has two ways to exit. It’s a fire safety issue. A cave could be a great study/library/wardrobe rather than a bedroom. Having said that, I have read the advice that a dark room needs a dark color (and warm lighting). Cozy.

    • K says...

      That was also my first thought–there needs to be a 2nd egress in case of a fire or other emergency! Hopefully rooms can be swapped around.

    • Kayla says...

      I have also lived in a place with a windowless bedroom, and my two tips are (1) get an alarm clock that is also a slowly-brightening lamp, and (2) do not sleep in a room with only one exit, because that is a serious fire hazard!

  51. Erin says...

    All of those dark rooms look elegant and regal because they have a source of natural light reflecting off the rich color. A windowless room isn’t going to have quite the same effect. Though it would be cozy at night, I feel like it would be a bit of a bummer in the morning being in such a dark space with no window, so I would go for a light, warm apricot shade (rather than full-on pink). It will still be cozy, restful, and inviting at night, but will be a lot more cheerful in the morning, and it still has an old world elegance feel to it.

    • Lynn says...

      Great idea

  52. JC says...

    Definitely dark! I painted my 250 sqft bachelorette pad a dark, smoky grey and was very pleasantly surprised by the results. Also, lilac. I am not a “purple person” by any means but lilac is the most universally flattering colour for any skin tone so the result is light and airy but also subtly sexy.
    Good luck!

  53. coco says...

    as a former NYC “cave” dweller with a windowless bedroom… I vote gray! and also, highly recommend you invest in the Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock. It is a big orb, and gradually gets brighter (like the sun…) to help you wakeup. Will be crucial in dead of winter!

  54. All four colors are amazing!!! Are their doors to close off and separate the bedroom from the rest of the space? And what color is your headboard and sheets?
    My bedroom is Silver Satin by Benjamin Moore and our bedroom feels like a luxurious retreat with a huge bed and cozy sheets. I hung super tall Ikea curtains that are a light grey, and it creates a beautiful monochromatic aesthetic in the space.

  55. Yes to what the paint guy said! I love the deep saturated green, but I also think a dark eggplant or navy would be amazing.

  56. Blythe Bartel says...

    BLUSH! We painted our bedroom the loveliest shade of blush and it feels like waking up in a sunrise every morning. Also the light is super romantic under all different kinds of bulbs. HIGHLY recommend blush and deep indigo. It’s a beautiful combo!

  57. Emma says...

    dark green!! that’ll be awesome. And DON’T do pink. I had a pink room once, and it’s awesome for a week, and then it becomes sickening immediately!

  58. Char says...

    I’ve gone to the dark side and it’s so cosy! Don’t fight the darkness of your bedroom, work with it.

  59. Lindsay says...

    I have dark grey walls in my small bedroom and it turned out much better than I expected, very cozy and embraces the caviness. :)

  60. Katie says...

    oh my I’m such a die-hard light-loving Californian ’till I die. I would paint that cave warm peach or cozy yellow (custard?) or maybe even a sort of grey lilac? My current ground floor apartment in Portland, OR is dark – it’s just not that light here for most of the year. Light walls and furnishings help to keep it cheery soooooooooo, that’s my vote! Also, way pumped for you & your dog to have a yard! This will change your life. Especially this winter, in a blizzard, when she needs to go to the bathroom GUESS WHAT? You can let her out and stay inside, in your Uggs and leg warmers. It’s going to be incredible. Can’t wait for you! And to hear what you chose for your bedroom color! Happy new home, Caroline (:

    • Erin says...

      Totally agree with these shades! I think it would be too hard to wake up in the morning in a windowless room painted a dark color!

  61. Kirsten says...

    Dark sounds dreamy and elegant! I’ve also always liked the pale pink of Chloe sevigny’s bedroom, set aglow with pink neon lights.

  62. Wendy says...

    Definitely go dark! I’d choose a dark teal or blue, but very dark.

  63. Dark green! I’ve wanted that since the parents’ dining room in the movie “About Time.” So regal. So cozy. Perfection.

  64. cilla says...

    definitely dark!

  65. That green is do die for! That gets my vote hands down!

  66. I love the deep saturated green!

  67. Allyson says...

    green! i just painted my whole family room the most beautiful rich deep hunter green and it’s the most magical sexy regal smoking lounge vibey place ever and i love it.

    • amy says...

      @allyson picture please! that sounds amazing!!!

  68. Monica Gruber says...

    Go dark.

  69. Megan says...

    I would choose a dark, saturated color. Embrace the cave. If you try to fight it, the colors will look drab or garish.

  70. Meghan says...

    DARK!

    You should probably do a home tour as well… I want to see this yard you speak of.

  71. Kelly says...

    Option 4! I painted my bedroom Sherwin Williams Roycroft Pewter. It’s lovely during the day, but it really shines at night, when it reflects lamplight gorgeously. It actually makes the room feel bigger, because you can’t see the corners.