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How to Make a Dark Narrow Hallway Look Brighter | Design Plan

Check out this design plan to update a dark narrow hallway with paint, wall treatments, door headers, flooring, lighting, and more!

Am I the only one with a dark narrow hallway?

I have a feeling I’m not alone!

Our upstairs hallway is a space I travel through multiple times each day, and to say it makes me cringe is an understatement.

It’s got a combination of builder basic features and questionable design choices on my part.

But it’s a hallway.

Not really a public space.

So it hasn’t been a priority.

Until now!

I’m super excited to give this space a whole new look.

It’s something I’ve been planning ever since I gave my laundry room that’s located right off this hallway a makeover.

Every good project begins with two things: some cringe-worthy before pictures, and a plan.

How to Update a Dark Narrow Hallway

Let’s start off with a tour of my narrow upstairs hall.

Consider yourself among the select group of people who I’ve invited to see the upstairs hallway in my house!

I’ll be over here cringing and imagining you shaking your head…

Deep breath.

Dark and narrow upstairs hallway with stair railing, carpeting, gallery wall, and boob lights.

I know.

I know.

What was I thinking?!

It’s painted baby blue.

At one point I thought it would be fun to give the upstairs a coastal or lake-living vibe.

That idea never made it past painting the walls blue…

Because we don’t live on the coast, or on the lake, so I always felt funny really diving into that decor.

The carpet has seen better days after 16 years of kids and pets.

And how about those black spindles on the railing?

I thought it would add some contrast when I updated my front entry a few years ago.

Narrow upstairs hallway with photo gallery wall on one side and outdated dome light

We have 9-foot ceilings on the second floor and I love how it looks in the rooms, but it makes this hallway look even narrower.

The builder installed these lovely boob lights that have a cream semi-opaque glass cover.

That semi-opaque glass limits the amount of light they put out.

And the cream color gives the light a yellowish cast.

I love walking down memory lane with these old photos of my kids when they were young, but the frames are mismatched and the layout looks really busy.

Landing at top of stairs with console table and lots of doors

At the top of the stairs, we have a small landing with lots of doors.

There’s a large ugly air return vent in the ceiling right when you walk up.

We also still have shiny brass hardware on the doors.


The 90s are calling and they’d like their shiny brass back!

The good news?

All of this adds up to lots of opportunities to improve the design.

So let’s take a look at what I’ve got planned.

Update a Dark Hallway with Paint

Never underestimate the power of paint!

It’s a relatively inexpensive way to completely transform a space.

These powder blue walls are going to be White Dove (OC-17).

That’s the same soft creamy white I used in my laundry room and on the ceiling in my game room.

I’m painting the trim and doors Revere Pewter (HC-172), my absolute favorite greige.

My entire downstairs is Revere Pewter, and I even used it at a reduced intensity on my kitchen island.

The spindles on the stairway railing are going back to the traditional Super White (OC-152) that they were before my Pinterest fail.

Paint is going to go a long way to make this dark narrow hallway look brighter!

How to Make a Hallway Look Less Narrow

Did you know that breaking up a wall can make it look less tall?

Kind of like adding a belt.

So I’m giving the walls some architectural detail with a variety of moldings.

I considered just doing picture frame boxes like the ones we installed in the laundry room.

But since this space connects to our stairway that also has chair rail moulding, I decided to help those spaces flow by installing it in the hallway too.

Chair railing = a belt for my walls. LOL

Then picture frame molding will be installed above and below the chair railing.

I’m also adding crown molding as one more step to help with the narrow appearance.

Plus it adds that traditional touch that helps define my more transitional style

How to Make Doors Look More Custom

Once we install crown moulding and picture frame boxes, the space above the doors is going to look empty.

The doors might look out of scale.

I considered adding a picture frame box above the doors but then decided to build headers over the doors instead.

The headers will start with two 1×6 boards stacked above the door frame.

Next, I’m adding header casing to the top.

A thin strip of pine screen will help to disguise the seam between the stacked boards.

The doors, doorframes, and the headers are all going to be Revere Pewter to add some contrast.

I love how this looks on the French door of my laundry room!

Now it’s time to add all the design details to bring this space out of the mid-2000s and into the 2020s.

How to Update a Builder Basic Hallway

I’m replacing the carpet with some gorgeous hardwood flooring.

We all have allergies, so removing the carpeting will help get rid of those dust mites!

I may add runners. But I want to see how it all looks before deciding.

The brass door hardware is being swapped with matte black.

The black handles should really pop and provide contrast with the light-colored doors.

Then, I’m leaning into the mixed metal trend (after lots of encouragement from AnnMarie!)

These gorgeous brushed gold lanterns are going to replace the boob lights.

I love how lanterns put out so much more light!

To give that ceiling vent a little more style, I’m adding a magnetic grate with a pretty pattern.

Finally, I’m replacing the small frames with larger ones to display the family photos.

Mood Board for a Hallway Makeover Project

I love seeing how all my design choices look together in my mood board.

Taking the time to really plan a project of this scope will help me to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.

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