11 Delightfully Unusual Color Combinations (Plus the Reasons Why They Work)

11 Delightfully Unusual Color Combinations (Plus the Reasons Why They Work)

Nancy Mitchell
Feb 25, 2015
(Image credit: Sage Atelier)

Tired of playing it safe with color? Take a look at these 11 rooms showcasing color combinations that shouldn't work — but somehow do.

The colors: Dusky green and fire engine red, from Sage Atelier
Why it works: Red and green occupy opposite sides of the color wheel, and thus are especially dynamic together. This combo is exciting but not exhausting because the green, while still powerful, is a bit desaturated, and the red occurs as an accent. Notice how the chair really seems to jump off the page.

(Image credit: Eco Wallpaper)

The colors: Teal green and rose (photo from Eco Wallpaper)
Why it works: This is a lovely riff on pink + green (which is itself a riff on red + green, which, as I mentioned earlier, are opposite, or complementary colors.) It reads as sophisticated rather than juvenile thanks to a very light, dusky pink, which is happy to play second fiddle to the less subdued teal.

(Image credit: Allie NYC)

The colors: Black and bright pink (from Allie NYC)
Why it works: Black and pink, even a really bright pink, read surprisingly elegant together because the black serves as the background and the pink as an accent. They play really well together: the touch of bright color relieves the drabness of a wall of black, and the black makes the pink really stand out.

(Image credit: Elle Decor España)

The colors: Sage green, grey, wine (marsala?) and bright purple, from Elle Decor España
Why it works: There's definitely a lot going on here. The grey hues help to ground this composition, and the two purple chairs serve as accents, blending into the rich, dynamic mix of colors and patterns. It also helps that the main color in the wallpaper is a little more subdued, which keeps the focus on the pattern, and keeps things from feeling too overwhelming.

(Image credit: Lonny)

The colors: Sky blue and raspberry, in a space from Lonny
Why it works: You'll notice that unlike in the combos above, neither of these colors is particularly demure. Lots of white accents, and a light-colored floor, help to balance things out, and let these two bold colors be the stars of the show.

(Image credit: Beckers)

The colors: Lavender and teal, from Beckers
Why it works: The lavender is really the main event here. This is most definitely a purple room, relieved a bit by the teal accent. A little bit of lavender in a slightly different shade (on the chair) helps to give the space dimension.

(Image credit: Brownstoner)

The colors: Lavender, and marsala (definitely marsala), and aqua blue, spotted on Brownstoner
Why it works: This is definitely a really dynamic mix of colors, but the ivory-colored wall in between (and the other neutral tones in the room) separate the players a bit and ensure that everyone plays nice.

(Image credit: Fastighetsbyran)

The colors: Light navy? (I wanted to call this 'sage blue', but that's not a thing) and fluorecent yellow, from Fastighetsbyran
Why it works: Fluorescent colors are a tough sell. A few years ago we went through a phase where fluorescent colors in mostly-white spaces were a big thing, but they were really big, and now I think that reads a bit dated. But here, the blue walls sort of blend with the black trim, which makes a nice counterbalance to the door. The darker colors keep the yellow from being gimmicky and unserious. And it helps, as always, that the blue's a bit more subdued. Imagine this, for a moment, with a really bright blue — the feeling is very kindergarten, or IKEA.

(Image credit: Elle Decor)

The colors: Mint green and mauve, spotted on Elle Decor
Why it works: These colors, unlike the combos above, are both unsaturated, which makes for a calm, soothing effect.

(Image credit: Ochre)

The colors: Hunter green and raspberry, spotted on Ochre
Why it works: This is a pretty intense combination. In another space it could feel overwhelming, but in this particular space I think it's just the right amount of intense because the other elements are very, very minimal.

(Image credit: Desire to Inspire)

The colors: Dusky pink and electric blue (spotted on Desire to Inspire)
Why it works: As in the other combo above with light pink, this works because the pink is light and unsaturated, and the other color serves as an accent. So if you've learned anything from this post, it should be that you can mix pretty much any two colors, as long as the one that figures most prominently is a little more subdued. Now go forth and mix!

Bonus: I keep talking about 'saturation', which is a term used in describing colors to indicate how bright a color is (as opposed to how dark or light it is). The colorspace is three dimensional: one of the dimensions of color is hue (i.e., yellow, blue, red, green, etc), another is darkness or lightness (called 'value'), and the third is saturation (or 'chroma'), which is basically an indication of how close a color is to grey. So a very unsaturated blue is a greyish blue. You can find a pretty good explanation of this here.

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