Coloring Neutral Spaces (If You Want To)

by Lauren Chorpening

Coloring Neutral Spaces | Design*Sponge

Color — or the absence of it — is one of the most controversial topics of any post on Design*Sponge. Everyone has an opinion on how much color should really be used in a space based on their own style and preference. After reading critical comments on both heavily hued spaces and neutrally decorated rooms, my conclusion is a set of ideas that Design*Sponge has always held: Design is personal and there are no rules. Color is preferential, and to say there’s only one right way to use it is ridiculous. For me, incorporating color has evolved over the 10 years I’ve had my own spaces to decorate.

In 2008, I fell in love with mid-century furniture. I bought a few books on building and reupholstering MCM pieces and got to work furnishing my home. I had a love for white, dark wood and oatmeal so I made everything in that palette. When I put it all together in my home with white walls, it was too much neutral for me — something I never thought would be the case at that time. I moved everything to the center of the room and painted the walls green. The neutral furniture suddenly felt intentional and more beautiful against the mint-colored background.

Coloring Neutral Spaces | Design*Sponge

Images above: (Top) Emily and Andy’s home could be an entire case study on how to mix beautiful color into a lovely, neutral space. (Bottom) Abi and Ryan kept the walls and furniture in their Oakland, CA home fairly neutral with the exception of bold rugs, colorful lamps and a pea green sofa evenly dispersed throughout.

In each subsequent home I’ve lived in, I’ve tried more and more to push my capacity for color with paint on the walls, in artwork, and decor while keeping my comfort with neutral furnishings. Now my living room is layered in blush, evergreen, blue, lavender and tan in the artwork, in the rug and throughout in accents. It might not be a bold space but to me, it’s balanced, colorful, calming and adventurous all at the same time. It feels like me and my husband, Austin. Maybe in another few years, colorful furniture will be the focal point.

Coloring Neutral Spaces | Design*Sponge

Image above: Susana and José have embraced color to the fullest in their home in Mexico. Their kitchen may be the least colorful room in the house, but it offers ideas to neutral-lovers looking to add color in interesting ways while still keeping things primarily colorless.

The point is that there’s always something to learn and explore when it comes to adding color or keeping things neutral. When we create rigid ideas for ourselves and others on what is acceptable, we’re limiting personal expression. If white on white is what feels best, do it. If bold, rich colors floor to ceiling make a house a home, do it. And if you’re looking to create a balance of color with tried and true neutrals, do it. Whether you’re pro-white walls or adamantly against them, great design can happen across the color spectrum. –Lauren

Here are a few cost-effective and fairly risk-free ways to add a dose of color to a neutral room:

  1. Bring it to the walls: Painting the walls a color might seem like a wild idea for the color-averse, but it’s one (easily reversible) way to experiment with hue. It gives the neutrals in the space more interest and separation from each other.
  2. Put it on the floor: A rug anchors the room and can incorporate color lightly or heavily depending on the pattern.
  3. Throw it on: Throw pillows and blankets can be switched out seasonally to add a favorite or trending color.
  4. Ease into it: Some colors that feel subtle and mimic neutrals are sage green, blush, light rust, blue-green, mint and olive.

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  • I was so glad to read your transition in color. I often feel torn between highly colored room ideas, and wanting a calm neutral space. I’ve decided for me to go with the wilder ideas in more private areas, while public spaces are more conventional. So I have a multi green bedroom with red and plum accents and a white and cream kitchen but with green lamps. Some neutral rooms I see have a richness of texture, while others lack character for me.

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