Back to the Primaries

Back to the Primaries

Carolyn Purnell
Feb 26, 2016
(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Hank's Colorful, Maximalist Mini-Museum in Massachusetts

With the primary elections well upon us, politics are everywhere. But this post focuses on primaries of a different sort: primary colors. Red-yellow-blue is a color combination that many people would probably dismiss offhand as too simplistic, but as these rooms show, when it's done right, it can be elegant and stimulating.

In Hank's home, above, a large swatch of yellow grounds a sea of patterned pillows, while the fiery red and cool blue balance each other out on the floor. The sleek, vintage lines of all the furniture keep the space feeling sophisticated, even though the colors and patterns are playful.

Clare Brody Designs

In this room by Clare Brody, primary colors add a dose of interest to a predominantly neutral room. Notice that the red, blue, and yellow don't have to be as intense as the term "primary colors" might cause you to imagine. Here, an inky blue and a rich red add levity to a sunny bed frame.

(Image credit: Ben Pentreath)

Ben Pentreath via Katie Armour Taylor

Ben Pentreath is the master of mixing colors and patterns in a classic, comfortable way. Notice that he doesn't limit himself to just one shade of each. Turquoise lampshades coexist with the ultramarine on the ottoman, just as the soft red of the rug appears alongside the more vibrant red on the ikat accent pillows. The palette is eclectic, but the room is drawn together by the simplicity of the furniture lines, the balance of solid colors, and the neutral wall color. Also, even though it has nothing to do with primary colors, can we just pause for a minute to appreciate that ceiling?

(Image credit: sfgirlbybay)


This is colorblocking at its finest. This room offers bold contrasts, and it works so beautifully because of the richness of all the colors. When colorblocking, it's good to limit the number of colors you use so the eye isn't overwhelmed by all the contrast, and it is best if the colors are of a similar intensity and depth.

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

Shelley & Janluk's Home Paradise

Shelley and Janluk's home offers another example of colorblocking, but shows that some suggestions can be broken, including the one that I just gave above. The blue walls here are more intense than the mustard yellow of the chair's upholstery, which could make the room's colors feel slightly askew. But here it works, in large part because the colors appear in different proportions. The blue commands your attention, while the gold chair warms and softens it a bit and the red strikes the perfect middle ground, making the overall mixture feel cozy and interesting.

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