When decorating with neutrals, it’s easy to end up with a room that’s bland. I’m breaking down key decorating tips that will help you turn a ho-hum room into a gorgeous anything-but-boring space! ⟹
Imagine you’re watching an old-school beauty pageant. Or even The Bachelor (or you fill in the blank with whatever helps you visualize.) It’s come down to two girls who want to be chosen so badly they can taste it. The first one is everything you think you want to be if you had a magic lamp. Gorgeous of course. And glamorous, vivacious, the life of the party. She commands all of the attention. You feel bad for that second girl…quiet, subdued, fading into the background. Your basic wallflower. The big moment comes and you would bet the farm that annoyingly bubbly, flawless contestant has it in the bag. But whaaaat??? The crown goes to…..
Miss Vanilla Bland Boring!
You say, “that’s great and all but I’m here for decorating advice?” Stay with me because I’m getting to why the wallflower won…
BORING AND BASIC IS BEST!
I am of course talking decorating. This is not a commentary on what’s best for your personal appearance. But when it comes to interior design, I am team NEUTRAL! Let me tell you why:
Why you should decorate with neutral colors.
Even if you LOVE color and think, “I could never live in a room devoid of color!“, let me make the case for why even you should consider decorating with neutrals…if only as a blank canvas for your beloved color!
A neutral color palette helps different styles work together successfully.
A rule of interior design is that you should mix in elements of other decorating styles to up the interest level of a room. Unless you are an interior decorating master, keeping the differing styles in the same color palette helps them to “go”. That modern ivory chair and traditional taupe sofa can make a lovely couple!
Decorating with neutrals saves you decorating dollars.
Colors follow trends and date rooms quickly. When you remove colors other than
neutrals from everything but your accessories… furnishings, walls, rugs, and drapes, it
removes the time stamp and you won’t need to replace large ticket items as often! You’ll notice an immediate change if you take out outdated trendy color combinations like the “old world” red/brown/gold so popular in the early 2000’s.
You can change the color palette and mood in a room in a snap with just a few accessories.
Neutral color schemes provide a backdrop that allows a quick change in color palette or mood. Color devotees, this is where your color comes in and it will have all of the spotlight! More about that further down so stay tuned…
My living room sofa and chairs are prime candidates for seasonal makeovers. Right here they are wearing their summer look in green and blue.
Light neutral colors will make your home feel up to date.
Working in neutrals on the light side will really brighten and freshen things up! Even a dark, cozy room needs some contrasting lightness not to feel old, depressing, and claustrophobic.
What are the main neutral colors I can work with?
If you think, “I can’t realistically live in an ‘all white‘ room”, there are a whole rainbow of colors in the neutral fan deck to choose from! Neutrals range from shades such as white, cream, oatmeal, and sand on the light side. Then there’s taupe, tan, chocolate brown, and coffee on the darker warm end. Platinum, dove gray, charcoal, and iron on the cool end. Even black is a neutral. And then there’s that so perfect, all-purpose color “greige”!
My family room sofa is a dark neutral instead of the expected cream color, which makes it way more family friendly!
Ok, neutral colors are not totally neutral. They have undertones that you’ll need to be aware of and that can change depending on what kind of light the room gets. Even what you think are going to be safe white walls, can turn out to be pink or yellow! So when picking neutral paint colors, figure out that undertone before you commit to having it all over your walls.
Neutral tones are more timeless if you stay in the middle range of the warm/cool spectrum. Think of how golden honey oak and reddish wood looks dated. And the gray woods that are the rage right now will also see their day, so strive to straddle the extremes if you want your neutral decor to have staying power.
How do you decorate with neutral colors?
Neutrals have a bad rap for being the “safe” choice and looking flat and uninspired. And if you aren’t confident in your decorating skills, you may think it’s what you should go with just because it requires the least decision-making and matching. Beige and white. Boom. Done.
It’s not quite as simplistic as this…but it’s not difficult either to create a dazzling room without “color” if you use these seven key rules for decorating with neutrals:
1. Vary the colors and shades of the neutrals.
The first few rules all deal with creating interest and complexity in neutral spaces by adding VARIATION…in color, shade, texture, materials, and shapes.
Since color doesn’t provide the interest, you can help bring it in with contrast and variation in the neutral shades. As you read above, neutral hues aren’t confined to beige and white. Work in black, gray, tan, and brown to add depth to a one-dimensional beige color scheme.
This bedroom arrangement would be so much more interesting and inviting with the addition of some darker and lighter colors…it’s a little TOO restful.
Rooms read flat and bland if you don’t have enough contrast in the shade. All blond woods and cream are so blah until you add in some rich dark neutral color. So make sure and use a combination of light, medium, and dark shades.
2. Use lots of different textures and tone on tone pattern.
Go crazy with different textures. They will all play together well because they are neutral!
Everything in a room has a texture whether it be smooth, nubby, shiny, velvety, woven, furry, matte, shiny, leathery, or whatnot. So make sure to include a wide variety of all of these.
Metal brings another texture and neutral color to the mix so make sure and layer in metallics with some iron, brass, chrome, etc.
3. Work in unusual and contrasting shapes.
Without color, your eye searches for something to keep it interested. Break up the boringness with curved furniture, architectural features, and unique accessories.
4. Add a bit of black.
A touch of black in any room is a trick from the interior designer’s toolbox but black accents are extra divine and sophisticated in a neutral room. I’m so completely infatuated with the current trend of black door and window trim!
5. Add warmth with wood.
Wood furniture and accessories really bring contrast, depth, warmth, and richness to a cold, neutral room so make sure to include some brown wood. No one wants to feel like they’re living in “Sombertown.” Mix in both light and dark wood tones. And if you are using lots of gray that’s so popular, wood accents really help offset the coolness.
6. Add in color and bold pattern in “pops” to shake things up occasionally.
A neutral color palette also allows you to add touches of bright, saturated color, trendy color, or shades that speak to a particular season. My red during the holidays last year definitely pops against my neutral furniture and walls.
When you start with a neutral backdrop, even the smallest touches of accent color and pattern will shine! To keep the room quiet, and still feeling neutral, go with a soft muted color. My preference in color palette in my family room is neutral and serene for most of the year (aka not Christmastime) and for this spring and summer I added a sprinkling of a grayed-out shade of soft green around.
Adding a splash of a bold pattern on throw pillows or a rug can totally transform the room’s style in an instant! Think fun animal print for a younger, more edgy look. Or French script to lean French country or farmhouse. Or nautical stripes for a coastal grandmother vibe.
7. Always add some plants.
Infuse life into the neutral palette with some plants. This green is a requirement for any room’s color palette, neutral included!
So, that’s how you create a gorgeous, designer look room that will stand the test of time with neutrals! Miss Boring and Basic is the queen of understated chic when it comes to decor. And the second runner up will be tiresome and old before her time…
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