People often use words such as light and airy, or dark and gloomy to describe rooms. The amount of light that a room gets, based on the direction it faces and the number of windows it has is not something that can be easily changed. But you can use colour to change the feel of a room and maximise light.

Colour consultants, architects and interior designers use Light Reflectance Values (LRV) to measure the amount of light that is reflected from a surface when a light source shines on to it.

What are light reflectance values?

An LRV is a percentage value - the higher the value the more light is reflected. A colour with less than a 50% value would absorb more light than it reflected, while a value higher than 50% will reflect more light back in to the room. So the average black would have a value of about 5%, while a white may be around 85%. Whilst we are not suggesting that you explore the reflectance value for every colour that you plan to use on every surface, a general understanding of the idea that lighter colours reflect the light and darker colours absorb it is a useful tool when planning your scheme.

How can you use the idea of light reflectance in your home?

The idea of reflecting light can be really useful if you are decorating your home. For instance you can use it to:

  • Help you decide the number and type of lights needed in a room. Lighter colours will reflect more light back, so you won’t need as many artificial light sources. A darker colour will need more lighting or windows to take in to account.
  • Decide which type of colour or range on tone would be best for your room. Yellow for instance has a high LRV so will reflect a lot of light – if it is also vivid it can seem very bright on the wall. A good reason to test your colour first if you are choosing a yellow!
  • Help you create a certain feel or look within a room. For instance if you are looking for opulent grandeur, a deeper, richer tone that absorbs rather than reflects light can help to create that feeling of luxury. For modern, minimal schemes, white is a designers favourite as the space will be bright therefore sculptural pieces and details will stand out.
  • Create contrast – a deep colour used with a light colour will create a great contrast. Colours with similar values can create more subtle differences. The idea of reflecting light and contrast is used in commercial projects to ensure that it is as easy as possible for partially sighted people to navigate a space. Colours with similar tonal values may appear the same, whereas those with a larger differential can be used to pick out the difference between a wall and a handrail or a floor and a wall. You could use this idea to contrast the walls and ceiling to give a feeling of the size and height of the room for instance.
  • Help you pick which items will become key features in your room, by using the idea of contrast. Want a statement couch? Highlight it through contrasting colours.
  • Help you to be bold with colour. A room with little natural light can actually support a rich tone well.  

In addition to considering light, another important element to consider with paint is the finish. For instance matt paints absorb rather than reflect light and the non reflective finish can help to mask imperfections on walls. A high gloss finish will be more reflective. This is why a matt finish is generally considered to give a deep colour an even richer tone, and why white woodwork is often picked out in gloss, as the shiny finish repels bumps and scrapes more easily and the architraves tend to get bumped more often.

Find out more about light reflectance values here