5 Ways to Use Bold Colors in Your Home, Even if You’re Intimidated By Them

updated Jul 20, 2020
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Living room credenza vignette designed by Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer

Project: Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design
Location: South Bay, California

Designer Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design, who you may remember from the Small/Cool Design Experience’s High Contrast trend back in May, has never met a color she doesn’t like (at least in some context). Having said that, she understands how intimidating designing with bold colors can be. You want your decorating decisions to be inspirational and livable for as long as possible, and sometimes certain shades can feel a little, well, loud. In general, color can actually be a powerful tool in your pursuit of balance and harmony—if you learn how to use it to your advantage. “Color gives us cues about all sorts of things and has been shown to directly affect our mood,” says Murray. “Color doesn’t have to be garish—it’s all about how and where and with what it’s incorporated.”

To further prove this point, Murray is sharing a recent project of hers that she designed for a California couple—one where the strategic use of “punchy pastels and moody neutrals” was the crux of turning “a dark, dated house with a closed-in floor plan into an open, fresh-feeling family home.” Of course, modern upgrades and classic finishes played a role, too. The best part? All of Murray’s color strategies, which are outlined below, can be used in your home.

Borrow your color palette from something you love

“A great, fool-proof way to infuse color into your own space is to choose a piece of art, wallpaper, or rug with a color story you already love and build the room with the guidance of that palette,” says Murray. In this case, Murray used the homeowners’ vibrant collection of artwork from their travels to inform the shades she picked for the whole house: most notably, a cool blue, light palm green, soft blush, and rich emerald.

Ultimately, lots of time and creativity went into selecting the colors something you love was created in, and you already know that you respond well to it. With all of the shade matching technology available today, it’s easy to pick paint and furnishings in colors that will come close to your original inspiration piece.

Opt for white walls, and then play with color elsewhere

You can still create a colorful home without painting every wall a saturated shade. In fact, with this particular project, Murray stuck to white walls in many of the home’s rooms, simply because she wanted to amplify all the natural light the home received. “Our main vision was to create an interior that felt airy, happy, and functional,” says Murray. “We wanted to update and brighten the house throughout, so white was the way to go with the walls. Then, we infused color through fun furniture, material, and accessory punctuations.”

Even though a white background is ideal for colorful decor and art, Murray says that doesn’t mean every room has to have white walls. Specifically, she likes the cozy, cocoon-like effect color can create in bedrooms, so she went with a blush tone for the nursery’s walls and a rich emerald for the main bedroom.

The credenza in the living room, for example, is pretty much the exact same shade of pink as the nursery and in the bathroom mirror’s frame, and pillows in the living room match the couple’s bedroom walls.

Accent your architecture

Don’t be afraid to use color to create a focal point in a given room. This strategy actually works well when a home does have a lot of white, since a sharp contrast in hue or tone not only energizes a space, but can also visually emphasize a given feature or create an illusion of separation that isn’t physically there. That’s exactly what Murray did in this project’s kitchen, breaking up what could become just another all-white scheme with a zingy blue painted island. This trick also works in the living room, where a gray accent wall draws attention to the fireplace—and helps the flatscreen TV recede in the space, at least somewhat, when it’s off.

Go colorful underfoot

Flooring is often the largest uninterrupted surface in a room, next to only the walls. It’s important to choose your finishes and furnishings here wisely. The stakes feel high with rugs because they can be pricey, and what you pick is going to get noticed, for better or for worse. White and light carpeting can be lovely, but one of the easiest ways to truly ground a space and add intrigue is with a colorful patterned rug. Anchored by something saturated, your furniture won’t look like it’s floating in space. Furthermore, stains will stand far less of a chance than if they were on something with a light background, which is advantageous in high traffic areas like an entryway, dining area, or living room.

Murray was particularly crafty in choosing rugs for this home. The almost geode-patterned living room carpet echoes the blues and greens used elsewhere in the space, while the black sheepskin under the dining table in the kitchen brings the rest of the airy scheme down to earth a bit.

Find a way to balance out your palette

It’s totally possible to pull of tonal color schemes or even all dark shade color combos for that matter. Sometimes the easiest way to make sure a color palette will work, however, is by choosing shades that balance each other out in intensity. “I often view projects as an abstract painting—there are certain hues that just work together to evoke a subconscious sense of harmony,” Murray says.

That principle is certainly at work in this home: Murray was able to use whimsical jewel tones because so much of the rest of the home is black, white, and blue. Take the couple’s bedroom, for instance. Murray went lighter on the carpeting, bed frame, and bed linens to offset the intensity of the emerald walls and dark burl wood nightstands. Think of it this way—if you go bold and moody on your walls, then consider something more subtle within your palette for your main pieces of furniture, and vice versa.