At this time of year like no other, a little light goes a long way toward lifting our spirits. Dark is out ... but then again, was it ever "in"? Some homeowners, for reasons unexplained, have expansive windows, and yet keep their drapes, blinds and shutters closed tightly. The result is something that could rival Grant's tomb. I'll never forget one family who preferred their home to remain dark and cool during Texas' scorching hot summers. Understandable, given our triple-digit temperatures, but the extent of their darkness was borderline comedic.

While paying them a visit on a cloudless July afternoon, I had to feel my way down the hallway. After bumping into a wall, I rounded the corner ... where I came face to face with an extremely offbeat item of home décor: a suit of armor. Standing in the hallway, the bodiless knight was the stuff of every kid's nightmares. Bumping into its sword and shield in the dark hallway would have scarred me for life had I not been old enough to know better. This house was cool, yes. But comfortable? Hardly.

Most homeowners who live in darkness, however, do so because they don't have much choice. Their homes don't receive direct sunlight. Some homeowners are kicking themselves now because during the house-hunting process, they didn't consider how the angle of the home they ultimately purchased would determine how much light they'd receive each day. Other homeowners either don't have enough windows, have an abundance of interior rooms or have an outside obstruction or shade (a heavily wooded area, a building, a large tree or taller home adjacent to their property).

Regardless of your circumstances, you can lighten up your home considerably with the aid of several optical illusions and color changes. The easiest solution to your problem is a mirror - a large mirror that comprises the majority of the space on an entire wall. Aside from the other positive side effect of making your room appear more spacious (which can help lighten it up, as well), a large mirror reflects whatever light you're already receiving and distributes it around the expanse of the room. If you don't want to purchase a large mirror, you can buy a series of smaller, narrower mirrors, and place them side by side (you might even purchase four of them and hang them in a square-shaped configuration), creating the illusion of windows while producing the same light-distribution effect as the large mirror.

Paint is an extremely impactful way to lighten up a room. White is the obvious choice who either aren't ready to commit to an actual color, or who are simply scared about the prospect of covering their walls in a new and unfamiliar shade. If you don't opt for white walls, choose another pale shade, and cover your doors, floorboards and ceiling with this pale shade, as well. A few suggestions include pale beige and other light, natural tones. Buttery yellow shades are popular and certainly add the illusion of light to a room, but to keep your room feeling as expansive (and therefore as bright) as possible, select a shade of butter yellow that isn't too intense.

White furnishings are one of your best bets for creating the illusion of light in a dreary room. Slipcovers on your sofa and chairs offer an easy and comparatively inexpensive alternative to new furniture. Cover your bed in white linens, and hang simple white linen drapes from your windows, allowing light to pass through them. Cover your lamps with translucent or transparent paper shades - not opaque ones, which will allow maximum light passage into your rooms. You may also consider a torchiere lamp, which casts white light up to the ceiling with a halogen light bulb and reflects it throughout the room.

If you've been thinking about replacing your countertops and other work surfaces, choose lighter shades. Pale colors enhance the brightness of your room while reflecting light from your work surfaces. Your floor coverings, too, should follow suit. If you're in the market for new kitchen-floor or foyer tile, choose a lighter shade. If replacing a darker shade of carpet is simply out of the question where your budget is concerned, try an area rug that accents your wall-to-wall carpeting, yet lessens its dark impact with lighter colors.

As you implement these changes throughout your house, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how quickly your home goes from dark and drab to light and bright. And one other tip: Keep those shades open during the daytime. And under no circumstances should you purchase a suit of armor for your hallway.

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