Last night, I had the unique opportunity to visit an Orthodox synagogue while substituting for an Oakland Midrasha class. The building was cool to see, including the mikvah, and I enjoyed learning more about the Orthodox philosophy, but the rabbi said one thing that really resonated with me.
We were sitting in a small chapel, and the rabbi asked us what looked different from our own (non-Orthodox) synagogues. One kid, probably jokingly, remarked that the walls are white. But the rabbi said that there was an important story there: the walls used to be paneled with a very dark wood, and he pointed out some trim that was still dark. But all of the paneling had been painted a bright white.
Why? Because you shouldn't feel closed-in and dreary when you worship. You should feel happy and inspired, and bright paint on the walls directly affects the mood within. This struck me, because the synagogue I grew up going to was a prime example. Dark wood paneling, dark red velvet seats, only a few dim lights for the entire sanctuary. I felt incapable of joy when I was inside, so I stopped going.
When I returned from college, I was surprised by a newly-completed renovation of the sanctuary. Someone I know says it looks trendy like a hotel lobby, but I'm in love with all of the bright, happy colors. Tan carpets and walls, light-colored wood on the pews, and enough lighting to - OMG - read a prayerbook. You can't repair a synagogue's sprititual base with a simple remodel, but it sure didn't hurt.