How to Mix Colors and Make It Work

Don’t want to confine yourself to neutrals but lack confidence to embrace colors? We’ve got you covered

December 7, 2016 Houzz Contributor. 

White on white, white mixed with gray and, hmm, maybe a little more white? It’s certainly an in-demand look, but some people want a bit of bold color in their palettes. To help you mix color with more color to get the look you crave (without going totally overboard), here are some of my top tips for what hues to mix, how to combine them and how to bring the whole look together.

Transitional Kitchen by Brett Mickan Interior DesignBrett Mickan Interior DesignSemineutrals

In recent years, the trend of embracing semineutrals has returned. These are colors that can’t be considered true neutrals, but are still easy to combine and work with. Blues and greens, being such natural hues, tend to be the most cooperative of colors, and this is especially true when you choose midtone shades with a hint of gray in them.

When combined, such hues feel lively, but when neither is very aggressive on its own, the resulting pairing isn’t over-the-top. Eclectic Living Room by Scott Weston Architecture Design PLScott Weston Architecture Design PLTone on Tone

An even more vibrant blue is still an easy color to mix. It works beautifully in a tone-on-tone scheme to give the sense of a lot of color even when most of it is essentially the same hue.

Try combining pure, chilly blues with green-blues or blue-indigos to get subtle variation while keeping the hues tied together. Include a few hot accents for contrast — flowers are a great way to add a red or violet counterpoint. Contemporary Kids by Ahrberg Jackson DesignAhrberg Jackson Design Warm colors can also make for engaging tone-on-tone looks, although with hot hues, it’s usually safer to stick to lighter shades for walls and large pieces to avoid color overload.

Soft pink walls paired with vivid accents creates a strong color statement, but the punchy focal pieces, such as a patterned rug, actually make the walls feel less dramatic by comparison. Again, notice that the central pure pink is offset by shades that are more orange and purple to give variety while staying grounded. Eclectic Family Room by Tamara Mack DesignTamara Mack DesignMore Is More

In total contrast to the tone-on-tone look, another approach is to actually use a bit of every color imaginable so that no one hue feels too overpowering.

Try choosing a very colorful piece of art to use as inspiration for your palette. Then pick up fabric accents that echo a similar palette, such as the toss cushions on the window bench seen here.

This room feels exceptionally colorful, even though most of the other pieces are neutral, save for the pair of vibrant pink chairs. Eclectic Bedroom by IDF StudioIDF StudioWallpaper

Another way to get a rich palette is to choose a bold wallpaper print that already has a terrific color combo assembled for you.

In this case, the dark blue shades in the paper are picked up for the headboard and drapery, while the yellows are echoed in the pillow.

A bed sheet is a great opportunity to try a risky color, like this perfect contrasting pink. Since high-use linens can expect to wear out and need replacing in the future anyway, it’s not an extremely long-term commitment. Traditional Family Room by Nancy Taylor Lynch Interior Design, Inc.Nancy Taylor Lynch Interior Design, Inc.Patterns With Solids

Notice how this room and the previous two use a mix of small-scale patterns with chunky solids. Specifically, each piece either carries many diverse hues or just one (or just one mixed with a little white).

Keeping each piece to this rule of extremes isn’t necessary, but it does make it easier if you’re not confident about mixing. The very colorful pieces combine well because they don’t have a singular hue that stands out (which might clash with another), and the solids are drawn from the art so that they have something to relate back to.

Tip:When pulling colors from art to use as wall hues or solid fabrics, it’s generally safest to pick slightly grayer or paler versions to keep them from looking overly vibrant. However, some of these looks ignore that rule, and if you’re feeling bold, you certainly can too. Contemporary Entry by Joseph Grappin StudioJoseph Grappin StudioBreaking It Up

When you mix color with color, often the neutral elements end up becoming emphasized. Breaking up this blue wall with artwork in mostly white gives a bit of visual breathing room and really makes the art sing.

You can achieve a similar visual break by adding a framed photo with deep white matting, or even many in a grid. That the walls are a bright hue makes the room feel alive, but you can use this trick to reintroduce as much white as you need to tame the look to your liking. Eclectic Living Room by elisabethphotography.comelisabethphotography.comWhite Trim

Thick white trim (and similar elements like doors and even white floors) can eat up a lot of wall space.

When you paint walls in a case like this, the actual amount of square footage painted is often surprisingly low. The result feels very colorful, but in an easily livable way.

Notice how this room also uses the previous tricks of layering art with lots of white and using a semineutral green on the walls. Even with the addition of hot red accents, the room feels balanced and approachable. Traditional Home Office by PLATEMARK DESIGNPLATEMARK DESIGN Contemporary Family Room by Павлова Наталия. Студия Netalidesing.Павлова Наталия. Студия Netalidesing.Wood

Another great way to diffuse a colorful look that may be starting to feel overloaded is to add a little wood.

An elegant wood desk or dining table, countertops, side tables, chairs, exposed floors, or coffee tables can break up a vivid color combo and add natural warmth to balance out powerful man-made hues. Contemporary Living Room by Rachel Reider InteriorsRachel Reider InteriorsPillows

If you don’t want to invest in art and upholstery just yet, an easy way to inject lots of color is through a pile-on of throw pillows.

You can easily mix in many colors, building the look up or down by moving pieces around until it feels just right.

Tip:You can find fabrics to use as a color palette inspiration by borrowing a swatch from a fabric showroom or simply taking a photo of one you like. Even if you don’t end up using that particular fabric in the space, it can beautifully guide your other color choices. Farmhouse Dining Room by Rikki SnyderRikki SnyderSmall Splashes

You may not have a pile of pillows in every room, but you can still add lots of playful color.

Eclectic art, mixed chairs and fun casual lighting provide lots of color here. Try printing interesting images from online, or cropping out great magazine photos, to fill a gallery of frames. You can always change the images later to go back to a less colorful collage, but I bet you won’t want to. Eclectic Home Office by Rikki SnyderRikki SnyderTexture

When working with lots of color, don’t forget to add interesting texture, especially if the colorful pieces are mostly painted and therefore flatter.

A bit of rich or rough texture lends depth that bright lacquered pieces can lack on their own, which keeps the look feeling sophisticated.

Don’t happen to have a brick wall handy? Try a cement-effect side table, linen drapery, woven baskets or anything with a rugged appeal to balance out pristine pretty colors and bring your dreamy palette back down to Earth.


Robin Barron CA BRE#01886331 Headshot
Phone: 619-871-7219
Dated: December 8th 2016
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