This Simple, Designer-Approved Trick Will Help You Pick a Color Palette Without a Hassle

published Mar 14, 2023
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White living room with gray sectional sofa, pink drapery, and boho accents like plants and a cane chair and woven light fixture

Spring has almost sprung in the Northern Hemisphere, which means two things in the design world: New collections are popping up in stores and online, and the latest decorating books are hot off the presses. If you’re looking to refresh your home for the season ahead — whether you own or rent — let “Embrace Your Space,” a home decor and organizing book by author (and former Apartment Therapy staffer!) Katie Holdefehr, be one of your guiding lights.

Packed with smart strategies and pro decorator-approved hacks from 12 real spaces (including the Los Angeles cabin of Apartment Therapy 2023 Changemaker and celeb designer Leanne Ford, “Embrace Your Space” has something to offer for every aesthetic style and budget level. I got a sneak peek earlier this month and caught up with Holdefehr to get her pick for the most unexpected decorating tip she learned while working on the book, and it has to do with finding your ideal color scheme. The tip? “If you’re feeling stuck when it comes to choosing the color palette for a room (or your entire home), the trick is to start with just one item you love,” says Holdefehr. “It can be anything — a throw pillow swirling with beautiful shades of blue, a piece of earth-toned pottery, a vibrant wallpaper pattern. Then, let that piece inspire the color palette for your entire space.”

To give you a sense of this tip in action, Holdefehr shared some examples from her book. You’ll find even more design advice in the book itself, which is available for purchase now.


“Start with a piece of artwork you’ll never get tired of staring at,” says Holdefehr. “A landscape in soothing neutrals, abstract art in punchy primaries, a still life in moody hues —any piece can work, as long as the colors speak to you.” From there, you’ll want to parse the piece visually by selecting one of its prominent shades to be the anchor of your palette, and then you’ll want to pull out one or two secondary colors to function as your accent shades. “Because these hues all hang together in the artwork, you can rest assured they’ll work in your room design, too,” says Holdefehr. “Follow the 60-30-10 Rule to keep the colors balanced.”

Take a look at creative consultant and writer Natasha Nyanin‘s petite New York City studio, a snippet of which is shown here and featured in Embrace Your Space. Her home’s living area provides a great example of art dictating color palette. “The pale pink sofa and sapphire dining chairs echo the hues found in the painting over the sofa, which Natasha found in Accra, Ghana,” says Holdefehr.


The best thing about wallpaper colorways? Someone has taken the time and energy to figure out which colors hang together, so go ahead and use your chosen pattern as a palette short cut. “Select colors from the wall covering to weave throughout the room’s design,” says Holdefehr. “Keep in mind that less prominent hues may be the perfect complement, and a particularly splashy pattern may need to be balanced with white space.”

Take interior designer Lindsay MacRae‘s daughter’s nursery, for instance, as shown above. She honed in on a yellow-forward, fun floral wallpaper and selected a red accent chair based off of one of the individual flower colors in the repeat. She then offset that riot of color with a combination of visually-quiet furnishings, including a white rug, crib, and window shade.


If you want a single piece of decor to inspire your space, look high and low for that inspiration — it can truly be anything! “Remember: An item doesn’t have to be the focal point of the room to spark the space’s color palette,” says Holdefehr. “A vase, throw pillow, or decorative bowl can be your guide.”

Florist Kaylyn Hewitt‘s Santa Monica bungalow sings, thanks to its sun kissed-colored palette, which you can see in action in her living room above. It’s not the nearby beach sunsets, though, that drove Hewitt towards these shades. “The palette’s actual provenance?” says Holdefehr. “An inexpensive throw pillow Kaylyn picked up at Target. Based off of this one pillow, Kaylyn peppered petal pink and marigold hues throughout her apartment.”