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How to Tone Down a Bright Wall Color

Jennifer Blair
Applying a white-based glaze over a bright wall color can soften and lighten its appearance.

It's easy to be attracted to a bold, vibrant paint color at your local home improvement center, particularly if most of the rooms in your house are painted in neutral or muted shades. However, in some cases, a paint color may turn out to be a little too bright once it's covering all the walls in a room. Choosing a new shade, priming and repainting can be frustrating and labor-intensive, but there are actually a few ways to tone down a bright wall color to give the room a more balanced look.

Color Wash

You don’t necessarily need to repaint your walls with a new color if your current shade is too bright. Color-washing the walls with glaze can tone down the look of a bright color and give the room balance. To create the glaze, thin regular paint with a glazing compound or water to create a translucent wash to go over the bright wall color. In addition to toning down the wall color, a color wash also adds texture and creates more visual interest. You can soften your bright wall color by applying a glaze made with white paint or create an antiqued effect by using a brown-based glaze to give the walls an aged appearance.

Add Neutral Accents

If you don’t want to change your wall color at all, you can tone down the brightness by adding light, neutral accessories that help offset the room. Colors like white, ivory, cream, tan and gray can help counteract a bright wall shade, particularly if you use them for large accent pieces throughout the space. Choose neutral-colored furniture or slipcovers for the room and pair them with neutral window treatments. Mix in darker neutrals like black, charcoal and brown in smaller accessories like artwork and throw pillows.

Cut Down on Contrast

When your room features a bright wall color, pairing it with contrasting accessories only emphasizes the vivid shade. To tone down the color, eliminate any accessories or furnishings in shades that contrast or compete with the walls. If you’re unsure which colors to avoid, consult the color wheel. Shades located opposite one another on the wheel are complementary shades that create a natural contrast, like blue and orange or red and green. Competing colors are any shades that are as bright or bold as the wall. Opt for accent colors that are muted and have the same undertones as the wall color. For example, if your walls are bright lemon yellow, opt for other warm shades like pale peach or muted brick. You can also go monochromatic by using a lighter variation of the wall color as an accent shade.

Adjust Light

A room’s lighting has a major impact on how bright or bold the wall color appears. If your walls are too vibrant, consider changing the lighting fixtures. Instead of a bright overhead fixture that spills light all over the room, opt for indirect task lighting where necessary. Add a lamp to end table beside the sofa in the living room or on the desk in your home office. If you already have an overhead fixture, install a dimmer switch so you can lower the lighting to help tone down the bright walls.