7 Brightening Decor Tips To Prep Your Home for (Literal) Darker Days, According to Interior Designers

Photo: Getty Image/Bulgac
As soon as September hits each year, I start to pacify my symptoms of seasonal affective disorder with interior design choices to brighten my space, and hope that, in turn, brightens my mood (hello, evergreen Christmas decorations). And given the looming pandemic winter, which poses to keep many confined to their house, knowing how to make your home a happy place is absolutely a self-care move.

So with days literally getting darker, let’s brighten things up with simple decor tweaks, shall we? Below, interior designers share strategic ways to cultivate a cheerful, warm environment that can get you through frosty times and beyond.

How to make your home a happy place when the world is cold

1. Get fresh plants (and make them look bright)

"No matter what language you speak or what country you're from, flowers are a universal symbol of happiness," says interior designer Gabrielle Santiago of Gabrielle Santiago Design. "Incorporating fresh flowers weekly within your home captures feelings of joy, beauty, and alive energy."

"Incorporating fresh flowers weekly within your home captures feelings of joy, beauty, and alive energy." —Gabrielle Santiago, interior designer

There's something to be said for a regular rotation of bouquets, even if you grab something from your supermarket. But your mainstay potted indoor plants also count: Research tends to support that anything invoking green or natural imagery is psychologically healthy for you, and filling up every corner with greenery can really shift your mood.

"Corners of the home that are dark in summer months can be really dark in the winter," says interior designer LeeAnn Baker of LeeAnn Baker Interiors. "One way to play with this is to add uplights to potted plants and trees in these corners."

Shop Now: Snake Plant Laurentii, $40 

2. Switch out dull lighting

According to Baker, this can start with the neglected lightbulbs in your house that have since burnt out. If you have light fixtures that don’t allow for bulbs higher than 60 watts, consider replacing them with LED bulbs that can give off brighter light at a lower wattage.

"Look into replacing dirty, yellowed, or darkened lampshades so that your lamps can give off really clean light," says Baker. "Also, now's a great time to clean glass shades or diffusers on light fixtures that might have dust or grease on them and are impeding light from getting out. We love to add dimmers to all of our light switches so that you can adjust the amount of light throughout the day."

3. Use warm textures and warmer colors

"Consider adding some velvet, as this material absorbs energy and acts as a retainer," says Santiago. "Its lush feel and soft-to-the-touch attributes make it the perfect addition for a cold winter that inspires a cozy and chic sense of space."

Beyond texture, also consider color. "I adore the traditional dark and moody colors of fall, but adding vibrant saffrons, slightly muddied blush, and emerald-green accents can bring a bright energy to the darker days ahead," says interior designer Mel Bean of Mel Bean Interiors. "And don’t forget to reference the colors and textures happening outside your windows; I love to pull the livelier elements into my interiors as we transition to the cooler months."
Shop Now: Pillow Pops Treasure Throw Pillow, $89

4. Artwork that conjures images of warmth

New artwork is a great marker of a transition, especially a seasonal transition. Santiago suggests adding artwork to your space that reflects your intention this winter, or artwork that evokes a happy place to inspire progressive change.

"Select artwork that sparks warmth inside your body, the kind of art that makes you want to dive into it," Santiago says. "Artwork serves not only as a decor piece, but as a physical reminder for what's to come or a reflection of inspiration. Choose wisely, and frame in warm gold or brass metals."

5. Metals and wood

I love this tip for making your home a happy place because it conjures the concept of koselig, Norway's answer to hygge. It's about indulging in the pleasures of winter, and wood tends bring up cozy, ski-lodge energy.

"Use warmer-toned metals and wood to increase the visual temperature of a room," says Santiago. "This can be applied via furniture, hardware, or artwork."

6. Mirrors

In the practice of feng shui, mirrors are associated with the element of fire, like a light that can’t be turned off.

"Mirrors constantly project whatever light is thrown at them," says Santiago. "Though there isn’t an 'off switch,' mirrors help brighten your space by taking a little bit of light and magnifying it significantly. They can also aid in the illusion of scale, adding some major warmth to the room."

Shop Now: Believe in Who You See Mirror, $150

7. Fire

You wouldn't be alone in wanting to burn your place to the ground and say, "F--k it" about this year. But when it comes to learning how to make your home a happy place, fire is best safely used in candles or a makeshift fireplace.

"Candles represent fire, which is a perfect metaphor when you need to stoke your own," Santiago says. "Candles help a space feel warm, inviting, and the complement of scent also can spark our sense of memory, which alone can be comforting."

No rules on what kind of candles these have to be—it's whatever lights your fire (sorry). If you need a little direction, though, it might help to stick with something classic.

"I buy non-scented white glass votive candles in bulk," says interior designer Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design. "They create a bright and beautiful mood in the evening. I have overhead lights, unless it’s a chandelier on a dimmer. A combination of lamps and candlelight brightens any space."

Shop Now: Harmonic Blossom Glass Votives 24-pack, $30

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