Q & A–How Can I Add Color To My Neutral Rooms?

Believe it or not, I really do like rooms with neutral color palettes, but the key is finding a way to make the neutral palette look fresh and exciting rather than drab and boring. This can be more difficult that it sounds, as Tabitha in Indiana has learned. She writes:

What is the best way to add color to the living room; curtains, throw pillows? Right now my living room and office (connected) look like a brown paper bag; brown walls, brown rug, cream furniture, brown throw pillows, you get the point! Please please please help me!

Here are the rooms that Tabitha is working with…


Kristi’s Two Cents:

Those things that you mentioned–curtains and throw pillows–are definitely good ways to add color to an otherwise neutral, monochromatic room.  You could also add artwork, accessories like vases and picture frames, fabric (or wallpaper, or paint) to the back of built-in bookcases, chandeliers and lamps, etc.  But besides adding color, there is another element that must be considered when trying to add excitement to a neutral, monochromatic room.  Let’s take a look at some examples.

This first room by Jennifer Brouwer Design is a beautiful example of a mostly monochromatic palette that is well executed.   The touches of yellow definitely add excitement to the room, but the real key here isn’t the addition of color, but the beautiful combinations of textures and finishes:  the linen-look texture of the sofa fabric, the monochromatic lattice pattern on the chair, the draperies that appear to be dupionni silk, the throw on the chair with the furry look.  In addition, you see glass, chrome, and ceramic.  These different textures and finishes keep this monochromatic room from being anything but boring and allows the small touches of yellow to go a long way towards adding excitement in this room.

Now let’s look at another example…

This next room by Jennifer Baines definitely utilizes more color than the previous room, but you can see that the main things in the room are still neutral–the walls, the sofas, and the area rug.  Here again we see the use of different textures–chrome, glass, a linen-type fabric, rustic wood, etc.  Then color was added in small doses throughout the room–pillows, throw, lamps, artwork.  Again we can see that all of the wonderful textures plus the touches of color here and there create a really amazing space.

And now let’s look at the last example…

This living room by Rachel Reider Interiors falls somewhere between the first and second rooms above in terms of use of color.  But again, a key in this room is texture, from the wood of the table, to the ceramic of the lamp and vases, the glass on the floor lamp, and the monochromatic design that gives the appearance of texture on the window treatments.

So the important lesson here is that when you have a monochromatic room that looks dull and lifeless, adding color with throw pillows, window treatments, accessories, throws, flowers, etc., is definitely a good start, but it’s not really the whole formula.  To get that really beautiful, finished look in your room, also consider the textures that you’re adding.  Think in terms of textured and patterned fabrics (even if they’re neutral or tone-on-tone), glass, chrome, ceramic, wood, etc.  Even a completely monochromatic room can look like a gorgeous high-end designer room as long as it’s filled with exciting and varying textures.



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  1. In the room with problems, I would take down the curtains and put up brown 84″ long panels that match her pillows. I would garage sale & get larger lamps in a dark brown or geometric or something fun. I would also make a slipcover for the armchair and replace the blankets with brown throws.

  2. Kristi, your examples are wonderful! and that white bookcase is fabulous. Two other things appear to be going on that might be worth looking at. The first is that predominant wood trim appears to be a lighter oak while much of the furniture and bookcase crown molding is dark. In all the designer rooms, the trim work is a more updated white/ivory. If the homeowner is up to it, painting out all the trim work white would help the background settle down. The other Issue is the carpet, couches & chaise, and two print chairs all appear to have a grey undertone, while the wall color looks like it has a pink or orange undertone (pictures can be deceiving though.). If the paint were brought in line with the undertones in the carpet and couches, the background would be more serene and the accessories would pop, no matter what color was chosen.

  3. I agree with Sue. White brightens without being gaudy. I also noticed the disparity in undertones. And Kristi’s advice about adding texture was right-on. Just for fun, I surfed around looking for ways to update the room, and most of my first picks were more about texture than color! I sort of made a project of it (cause I’m obsessive like that!) and pinned a board on Pinterest with ideas. http://pinterest.com/nanbarnett/add-color-and-texture/

    I had fun with this, and hope you don’t mind the liberties I took in pinning the pics of your rooms. I did that so I could see it all together in one place.

    Love your blog, Kristi!

  4. All the pics are superb.I have just bookmarked this page so I don’t miss any more of these.I would never have normally come here to read the blogs but I’m really glad I did.I will definitely be coming back.

  5. I love this part of the blog.
    I think you need to find a color in the rug or in the sofa and use that all over the room in a saturated color to compete with your pinkish wall. If the rug has blue, then go on a blue streak with a very strong blue. If you have pink in the upholstery then choose a deep magenta for pillows, in the art work, vases or bowls. Or if green is in the mix then do green pillows in geometric, stripe, solid. Just use one color to give you impact in this very large room. What ever color you select use is all over! Find a large piece of modern art and put in on the entry wall to balance out your large entertainment center on the opposite wall. When you do shelves do one third stuff, one third books, and one third space. Just do one color only as shown in the pictures Kristi showed above. Find a lamp that is metal based with a green lampshade. Do all your curtains rods with the same rodand the same metal as the lamp, then hang the same linen natural or cream curtain floor to ceiling on all windows.

  6. I am glad I read this, I am about to paint a room and want more “plain” walls. Now I know to accentuate the rugs and pillows not the walls. I was thinking to do one single wall, this is better.