I love color. Color is my favorite. You wanna know why I live in Colorado? Cuz it has the word “color” in it. You wanna know why I live on Earth? Cuz it’s such a beautiful, vivid, colorful planet! Well… also because of the life sustaining oxygen and water… plus I was born here, and just– you know– never got out. That old story. But, I mostly stay for the colors. Daaargh! Can’t quit that color! Ahem.

Without color, life is boring and tedious. No matter how much or how little you use, color throws a world of neutrals into context. Like a cactus blossom in a desertscape. Or those black and white photos from the 90s with just the red rose in color… Oh wait, those are terrible. Forget I brought those up. My point is, color gives depth, interest, and above all else, keen pleasure. So why is using color in the homescape such a stumbling block for so many? Today, we’re going to break the process of color usage down for every taste, and with any luck, you will come away armed with the knowledge you need to put color to work in your home.

The Color Complex

Something I have noticed amongst some civilian home designers and professional designers alike is an aversion to color usage. Rather than making color decisions, they stay in the safe Switzerland of color– beige, greige, white, grey, brown, black, earth tones. A deliberate neutral space can be very beautiful, and I’m not saying every room has to have the palette of a bag of Skittles. But a lot of these folks would like to introduce color, but simply don’t know where to begin. Perhaps not sure which colors to pair together, or how much or how little to use. Almost as though color is Pandora’s Box, and opening it will mean a torrent of impossible choices, commitments, and regret.

My darling Pandora, fear not. You will always have control over color. Yes it is a powerful transformative force, but you are bigger and badder, and you’re gonna show color who’s boss!

Sermon on the Palette

The first step in adding color to your home is always to identify which colors you really love. Color has a powerful psychological influence, and including colors in your home that you don’t have an affinity with can have negative effects on your psyche. We really are fragile creatures. If you dislike red, for example (sorry red), a room with red walls can repulse you, frustrate you,  and even depress you– all on a subconscious level. I know a lady who bought a truckload of yellow throw pillows and a yellow duvet cover for her bedroom, and get this, she hates yellow! I asked her why she had done this when I know she loves blue and green, and she said she felt like she needed to branch out. She always did everything in blue and green, and thought yellow would be a good departure from the norm. However, she found herself sleeping on the couch a lot lately… you do the math. So? Use only the colors you love. Do not use or invest in colors you don’t love. Do I stutter? Good, because, s-sometimes I can do that. Even if you only love one or two colors, stick with them. The other colors will not be insulted. They will probably never even find out.  Likewise, never assume you will get sick of the colors you love. You never will. (Need help figuring out what your soul colors are? Check out my School for Discovering Your Style! It comes with an awesome workbook that not only makes identifying your fav colors a cinch, it also includes tools for figuring out how to combine them in your space.)

Adding Color to Your Home, Your Way

There are three ways to add color to your space, and each one increases with intensity, so pick a level you are comfortable with, and start experimenting:

Level 1: The Proverbial Color Splash

If you are largely drawn to neutrals, but want a little pop of something, then start here. You aren’t going to go nuts. You are just adding a little garlic to the marinara, so to speak. Your furniture, rugs, flooring, textiles, wall color, wall art, etc. are mostly going to remain neutral, but you will choose one or two colors (that you love!) to add the splash. Stick with the same color or colors in a given room. By keeping the room mostly neutral, you create a cohesive, relaxing feel and look, so limit yourself to no more than 5 options from the following color splash list, and remember, you can use some of what you have– spray paint and fabric are your friend!

  • A throw pillow or two, or throw blanket\
  • Picture frame or matte
  • A vase or other tchotchke (bookends, sculpture, etc.)
  • Lamp base or shade
  • One painted accent wall (see wall color guidelines below)
  • One ottoman or side table
  • One or two pieces of art work
  • Plant life/flowers (real or fake!)
  • An organization container or two
  • Curtains

Level 2: The Bright on White

This is the second tier of color enthusiasm. If you are a fan of lots of color, but appreciate a neutral break for the eyes, then this is the approach for you. A largely white (or other striking neutral, like black) blank canvas with lots of color on top creates a juicy contrast and has a very modern appeal. Wall colors, flooring, and most furniture stay neutral, but a careful palette is selected to add energy and excitement. You can limit yourself to one or two colors, or match up as many as six colors. The important thing is to stay consistent with your choices in a given space. Choose as many of the following color pops as you like, remembering to maintain a neutral foundation:

  • Textiles (pillows, throws, etc)
  • Accent furniture (side tables, ottomans, side chairs, etc.)
  • One piece of furniture (upholstered chair, or sofa)
  • Rug
  • Art work
  • Frames/mattes
  • Accessories and tchotchkes
  • Colorful books
  • Plant life/flowers

Level 3: The Color Pipe Bomb

This is for the color maniacs out there. When you can’t get enough color, and don’t even want to! While there is room in this level for endless colorful additions, it is still important to set limitations for yourself. Always be mindful of your palette. A room with lots of colors, but no color direction feels like chaos, whereas if you have a set of colors you are being loyal to, it will feel warm and friendly. Again, you can choose as many or as few colors as you like, just commit. There is literally no limit to the ways you can introduce color, but be aware that a room lacking in neutral elements can feel overwhelming or even juvenile. Try to include some warm natural wood, or metal elements in your space as well.

  • Textiles (pillows, throws)
  • Rugs
  • Wall color (see wall color guidelines below)
  • Furniture
  • Accent furniture
  • Lamp bases/shades
  • Wall art
  • Frames/mattes
  • Plant life/flowers
  • Curtains

Quick Guidelines for Choosing Wall Color

  1. Avoid true color on you walls at all costs (i.e. colors without any neutral base blended in like white, black, or grey). They are just too garish and overwhelming. For example, instead of bright, unabashed blue, try blue + white (sky blue), blue + grey (steel blue ), or blue + black (navy blue). You follow? 
  2. Never (ok, almost never) go with the color that is the deepest shade on the paint chip. It will be too dark. Even the softest shade on the chip will look plenty colorful when there’s a lot of it– like on a big huge wall. Trust me. Always scale back on the saturation.
  3. If you really want to do a dark color on your wall,  remember the following: dark paint will make a space feel smaller, and of course, darker. Think cave. Sometimes, this may be what you want! A snug, intimate space. But, it will not work in a room that is already cavey. Nothing small and badly light (i.e. basement rooms). You need lots and lots of natural light, and you need a room that isn’t too small to begin with, or it will feel claustrophobic.
  4. Be professional. A sloppy, patchy paint job, especially with colored paint, will not add anything to your space except sadness. Tape, tape, tape. Nothing is worse than a gappy, out-of-the-lines edge on a paint job. Even with tape, a crisp line is illusive. You will probably need to touch up your ceiling after. Do it. It will make the world of difference.
  5. Don’t paint the ceilings anything but white! Chances are very very good that at some point, you or someone else, will want a new wall color– and if the ceilings are painted, this will be an ordeal that will get procrastinated endlessly. Make life simpler for your future self and keep it white!

Deliberate color in your home will bring you so much satisfaction, joy, and well being. I’m so excited for you to amp up your color game! You’ve got this! Go get ’em! *butt slap*

Love and guts,