Strategic Design: How To Use Color to Enhance (or Create!) Architectural Charm

published Jun 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Reid Rolls)

Whether you’ve lucked into a home with good bones and enviable architectural details, or you’re living in a featureless blank box with as much structural charm as a piece of toast, there’s a powerful design element at your disposal when it comes to highlighting and enhancing — and even creating — architectural features.

Color is a potent tool for embellishing a bland rooms, adding energy and vibrancy. But don’t forget that it’s might extends beyond just decoration — color can be used to manipulate the way your architecture looks and feels. It can even create the appearance of architectural features when all you have is a few blank walls and a flat ceiling. Below, different ways in which people have used color to enhance the architecture they already have, or create the illusion of architectural features.

Using color to create architectural charm:

(Image credit: Viv Yapp)

While Rhonda Drakeford does have a “beam” that runs down her bedroom’s ceiling, I don’t blame her for keeping that piece of architecture blank. Adding color to that spot would have worked against her already tall ceilings; keeping the beam white helps the room feel brighter. But she added color in a specific way to the walls, and that’s how she added architectural interest. Painting half the walls blue — and including a simple stepped paint edge — adds interest and makes the space feel less like a blank box.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Even though Rhonda decided to skip the paint on her ceiling, sometimes you want to add a little color to odd shapes that your ceilings and walls make. In Andrew’s London flat, a hallway has walls and ceilings that jut out and recess. Instead of ignoring these architectural quirks, he decided to highlight a few of the surfaces, turning quirks into charm. But more than that — he echoes the yellow color from the kitchen in the hallway, making this odd little hallway feel more connected to the rest of the home, as well as pulling your eye through the space.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Teri wasn’t going to let her blank box of a bedroom stay that way. But instead of just painting an accent wall (or even all the walls) a bold color, she opted to expand an accent wall’s reach. Turning the corner with this cranberry red paint, she had the color end in a fuzzy edge rather than a sharp line. This not only looks vibrant — it “tricks” the eye. You don’t readily see the room’s simple shape, and that manipulates the feeling of the architecture. In other words, it feels like there is more architectural interest here than there actually is.

(Image credit: Winkie Visser)

Aysu uses color and shape in her living room to add architectural interest with a feature wall. Though it’s just paint, adding this DIY feature wall to her home instantly adds more depth to the blank space. You can learn more about this feature wall (and how you could translate it to your home).

Using color to enhance architectural charm:

(Image credit: Reid Rolls)

Linda Cava fell in love with her small Brooklyn apartment’s detailed archway. (Who wouldn’t?!) Rather than let it sit in silent whiteness, she painted the inside edge of the archway. This simple coat of paint highlights its beautiful outline.

(Image credit: Viv Yapp)

Fritha and Tom’s UK home has a less-than-prominent fireplace…it’s really just a plain wall jutting out with a cut-out in it. There’s no beautiful fireplace surround or mantel. But adding color to this spot makes it feel like an architectural focal point.

(Image credit: William Strawser)

John and Wesley’s Brooklyn space had a bit of architectural charm when they moved in, but easily could have gotten visually lost, especially next to the collections of decor the couple brought into the space. But painting the living room a deep blue color — and leaving the wall molding white — adds a spectacular contrast, calling attention to the detail.

(Image credit: Jill Ruzicka)

Contrast is clearly a powerful tool when it comes to highlighting architecture, as seen in Matthew’s Chicago rental as well. Instead of color on the walls and white moldings, the walls here are white and the crown molding and window frames are painted a glossy black.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Another great example of using color and contrast to call attention to architecture can be seen in Audrey’s London home. The window isn’t even all that unique of an architectural feature, but painting the inside of the ledge and frame a bold blue — the same color as an accent wall in the living room — really outlines the feature and makes it feel special.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Rather than just paint the fireplace mantel and surround in his living room, Anthony made a bold but wise color choice — he painted everything. This works to enhance the architecture by creating one large, modern composition. The fireplace itself is actually kind of small and dinky! Together though, the fireplace, built-ins and walls — particularly coated in this dramatic color — make for gorgeous architecture.

More architectural charm ideas: