Color Injection: Tips for the Timid

By Kate Riley March 30, 2011

Every now and then I get an email from a reader that makes for a great post, so rather than a quick email response, I like to answer them here from time to time.  Like this recent question from Jaime:

“Hey Kate!  We’ve been living in our first house for almost a year with mostly leftover furniture from our college days and everything is sooo beige and brown, including our sofa and walls.  I’m really tired of it being so boring, and I’m craving color, but nothing too crazy.  I like neutrals, they feel safe to me, but I’m wondering how to bring some color to our home.  I’m a little afraid of picking something and then hating it.  I’m really not sure where to start.  Could you help, maybe offer a few tips?”  ~ Jaime

Hey Jaime, great question!  I know there are so many people out there who love the idea of color, but tend to play it safe with neutrals.  Having a neutral base in shades of gray, taupe, cream, white, or brown will stand the test of time, and also allow you to experiment with color in different ways.   

First, when thinking about color, my best advice to you is to ask yourself how you want to feel  when you enter your home.  Color is so closely tied to emotion.  Do you want to feel energized, stimulated, and inspired?  Then you’ll likely be looking for bold vibrant colors.  Do you want to be soothed and nurtured?  You are probably more drawn to muted tranquil tones.  Asking yourself how you want to feel is an important first question when looking for ways to bring color into your home.

ideal home magazine wallpaper 2Ideal Home

Next, find your inspiration.   Your source for choosing color can come from absolutely anything, whether it’s a fabric, a favorite flower, collectible, piece of art, a favorite article of clothing or scarf, or even something more intangible like a favorite vacation destination.  Perhaps you love the colors of the sea, or the vibrant hues of a sunset?  The opalescent tones in an abalone shell?  The intensity of a magenta orchid?  The deep red skin of a ripe heirloom tomato?  Nature is always a great source of inspiration.  Choose something in your home that you love, or look to nature.  Find something that makes you feel good when you look at it, that’s your best cue. 

Once you’ve decided how you want to feel, and what specific things inspire you, then it’s easy to choose a favorite color or colors, and you build from there.  Now that you’ve picked your inspiration color or colors, here are a few ways to incorporate them into your home.

1.  Paint One Piece.  Choose a piece of furniture in your house and paint it that color that speaks to you, like this beautiful desk painted an intense peacock blue. 

peacock blue desk elle decorElle Decor

Or this high gloss bold tomato red!

red dresser apartment therapy

Grange via Apartment Therapy


2.  Panel Panache.  Pick window treatments that really stand out against a neutral wall, and complementary pillows in a similar shade. 

yellow floral drapes decorpadvia Decorpad


meg adams atlanta homes and lifestyle 2 via hoturqMeg Adams Design, via House of Turquoise


3.  Accents + Art.   Colorful accent pillows paired with a vibrant piece of art never fail to bring fresh color into a mostly neutral space.  

yellow and pink style at homeStyle at Home


Tobi Fairley Designs


3) Be brave with your chairs.  Keep your furnishings, rugs and window treatments neutral, then add bright accent chairs.  A few more accessories in that same shade will pull the space together. 

style at home persimmon chairs

Style at Home


coral chairs and lantern windsor smith

Windsor Smith

4.  Choose a colorful rug.  A bold color for your accent rug is a guaranteed way to bring color into your home.  The fact that it’s underfoot makes it a bit more subtle, plus you can take cues from your rug’s colors to add a few accents around the room. 

Emily Henderson for HGTV

wallpapered white office via the decorista

via The Decorista


5.  Pick A Pair.  There are many color pairings that always work well together, hot pink + turquoise, yellow + gray, orange + blue, lime green + teal blue, coral + citron, gray + pink, the list goes on!  Pick two colors you love that also work together, and pull both of those colors into your home with accessories and art. 

beach cottage style at home via hoturq


martensen jones interiors bedroom

Martensen Jones Interiors, Manny Rodriguez photography

painted bookcase martha steward

Martha Stewart


6.  Fabric Cue.  Pick a fabric with a pattern you absolutely love, then pull a color from it, and paint the walls that shade.  It works every time!

kate schintzius skinny console via designsponge

Kate Schintzius via Design*Sponge


jennifer flanders bedroom

Jennifer Flanders


7.  Accessorize!  Collect items in your signature color, then play off that bold color in a softer shade on the walls. 

massuco warner miller bookcases via hoturq

Massucco Warner Miller


8.  Color Only Your Walls.  Stick with wood and neutral furnishings, then paint the walls a bold color.  You’ll have tons of impact at minimal cost. 

lonny dining room wingbacksLonny


plain turq wall via hoturq via canadianhouseandhome

Style at Home

green walls and legs elle

Elle Décor


9.  Think Monochromatic.  The restful bedroom uses several shades of green including apple, celadon and spring green. 

phoebe howard green bedroom

Phoebe Howard


Various shades of blue are mixed with white and rich wood in this dining space.

phoebe howard dining room

Phoebe Howard


Rich eggplant and aubergine pop against the crisp whites in this bedroom. 

kishani perera bedroom

Kishani Perera, photography by Jean Randazzo


I hope this has given you a few ideas for your home Jaime!  Always keep in mind how rooms flow together, and ask yourself how the choice to use color in one room can affect the other, and whether those choices reflect your lifestyle and personal style. 

Related articles:

Color Crush: Seaglass

Decorating with White Walls

Color Spotlight: Orange and Blue

Decorating with Yellow


Happy colorful decorating!

cg kate signature





  1. I very easily tire of a certain color, so I definitely want all my rooms to have a neutral base.

    I add color through window blinds, blankets, cushions, ornaments and art. Sometimes also through some inexpensive thrift store piece that I pain in the color of my liking. It is easy and a good way to start, and really – the small details makes a huge difference. You do not need that much or such a big colored area, just keep it constant in the room.

  2. I took the risk of adding color in my home office. I’m usually a neutral person and add color with my decor. I’m happy how my office turned out. These pic just motivated to finish decorating it.

  3. This was an AMAZING post! I just loved looking at all the pictures. They are each gorgeous in their own way. Thanks for all the great tips in the post too. I have been wanting to add bits of blue to my living room and now I can see orange and blue go great together (already have orange in the living room now in accents). Thanks for the great article!


  4. Love this post! I’ve been working on injecting some color into my living room through the artwork and pillows. Thanks for sharing these great inspiration pics.

  5. Thanks for the great tips – I think I will return to this post again and again to remind myself not to be afraid of colour. My rooms never seem to be complete – the last touch is colour, a great post, thanks for sharing.

  6. Great inspiration pics! I’m currently searching for a table to paint peacock like the desk in the first pic. Love it!

  7. Our new house is WAY more colourful then our last one. After a few years, the neutrals were just making me crazy! I am loving how colourful everything is becoming and even injecting colour in small areas makes me extremely happy! I just re-did a sign in our kitchen and every day it makes me smile. :)

  8. I was once told that a great place to find color inspiration for your home is your own closet. Seems to make sense that the colors you cover yourself with, are ones you are comfortable with. Great post Kate! :)

  9. So glad you posted this today! I’m wanting to sell my house within the next two years, and hesitant to paint the walls. However, I want color!! This post has shown me that there are lots of things I can still do to get that POP! Thanks so much!

  10. Great advice!! And great inspiration… the neutral/yellow living room picture from DecorPad (from #2) was partial inspiration for our living room and that Lonny image in group 8 was THE inspiration for my navy dining room : ) Great minds think alike! xo

  11. You gave some really GREAT tips! I have that mirror in the first image in #6! and the navy blue room is saved as inspiration for my room for Room Service Atlanta! Oh, and that purple room just made me want to paint my room purple! But my husband would think I have lost my mind with purple paint in our room so I’m only adding accents!

    Great post, Kate!

  12. This is a great post! Thanks for your time to write all this. It helps me, the color challenged girl! I was just telling my DH that I feel the need to update our family room, now I’m inspired!

  13. Great post, Kate! Given that I’m in the midst of making color decisions right now, it’s nice to read this that helps bring my focus back on the fundamentals. Sometimes it can be overwhelming trying to make color decisions and translating what’s in your head to what’s in your room!

  14. Great tips. As someone who lives in an apartment, decorating can often be a challenge. Everything is defaulted to neutral tones, so figuring out how to add color and interest without being allowed to modify much is always a challenge for me. I have already incorporated some of these ideas, but definitely plan to use more. Thanks for the post!

  15. Thank you for this great post! I am an everyday reader but infrequent commenter! I love every tip you provided, and those gorgeous pictures! I saved half of them for inspiration to access later.

  16. Great advice!!! Your inspiration pics clearly illustrate your exapmles!!! This is a must bookmark article for me!

  17. I love your pictures, and I love color. I will be looking at these again for ideas!

  18. Wow thanks so much for all of these ideas, I too feel like Jaime!
    My walls are currently beige and all our furniture is tan or brown even our curtains!!
    I love the patterned curtains and pillows idea, I think I will start there!

  19. great tips! My house desperately needs these tips. I fall under the same brown, beige, darker brown, ligher beige category…haha :-D Now I just need to dedicate myself to changing it!

  20. Thanks for answering that question. Mine would have been that exact one! Everything in our new construction home is brown and boring. Now I have a starting off point! Thanks!

  21. this is a great post kate! i love all the different ideas for bringing in color – in my head all i can come up with is to paint the walls!

  22. I love this post! I’m graduating from college in May, and I know I’ll be taking my brown and white furniture pieces with me to my new apartment. Thanks for the helpful tips and inspirational pictures!

  23. If a picture is worth 1,000 words then this post surely speaks volumes. Your format, a guideline followed by multiple interpretations, is one of the best.

  24. Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I know I’ve heard most of these ideas before, but they were random — just one tidbit here & another there. I love that you posted a whole, cohesive list. Bookmarked? You betcha’!!!

  25. This is a beautifully written and illustrated post, Kate! You give very good and workable tips for easing people into color. Thank you for answering this reader’s question so thoughtfully–we all benefit from your knowledge and your insight!

  26. This was such a fun and informative post to read. There were so many great pictures. I especially love what you said about choosing colours based on how you want to feel. It’s so true. I want to feel happy and refreshed in my house, so lots of white and colour for me!

  27. Thanks Kate! I’m like Jaime – too much brown/beige college stuff taking over my house. This post is a super helpful way to “inject color” – I just never knew where to start and this gives some great ideas!

  28. Wow! I just looked around your blog and I love it…how did I not visit before now? Thanks to Karen I’m here and I’ll be back! Great post!

  29. Awesome Janet, so glad you took the plunge! Happy shopping Joanne and Heather!

    Thank you Richella and Karen, how kind!

  30. Great advice! I am a victim of my own poor choices. I am trying to get back down to a neutral base so that I can accessorize my home with some cheerful colors and more modern patterns. I’ll be featuring this on my own blog this Friday. :) I think your helpful tips will encourage a lot of readers!

  31. Great summary! I’m an architectural color consultant (and lurker of this wonderful blog) and have to commend you for a fantastic low down on how to get your feet wet with color. For those looking for more in depth info on color, there are some great blogs dedicated to that very topic. I’ve listed my favorite colleague’s sites on my blogroll

  32. LOVE your post today! Serious eye candy!!!! Great tips for color! I will be coming back to these for future reference.

  33. Hey Kate,
    When I was a young newlywed(36 years ago) we lived in an apartmnet and we were not allowed to paint. I craved color, so I wenty to KMart and bought some inexpensive print king size sheets. My husband chuckled as I stapled them to our bedroom walls..Perfect! Instant color that was not permanent and could be changed easily.

    Loved this post

    Have a lovely day

    Janet xox

  34. Hi Kate, thank you for such a timely and helpful guide to being more daring with color around the house. I loved the blue dining room picture you took from Lonny – can you please let me know which issue that was? I went to the website and did a search through all the issues but I must have missed it somehow. Thank you. Grace

  35. I’m having similar color anxiety, so what I’ve decided to do in my new place is pick a general neutral scheme I know I like (grays + white), and add a different color to it for each room (+ teals and blues in the living room, + yellow in the bedroom, etc). I figure if it looks horrible I can always swap out the colored accessories and the basic neutral room I know I’m fine with will still be there.

  36. This was a great post, Kate! Jaime had a great question and your post was perfect. Lots of great tips and beautiful photos for inspiration. I’m following your fabric cue tip. I found some gorgeous fabric today and am trying to pull one of the less dominant, but really fun colors, out of it and paint the wall. It’s a bold move for me but I’m going for it!

  37. I am saving this post. There are too many inspirational photos for me not to. That first one especially – WOW!

  38. Hi Kate, I am so inspired by the Martha image with the orange chair I need to go post it :) Thanks for the inspiration! My favorite color used in a traditional setting — true love!

  39. I really love this post and am just returning to read it for the second time. I recently looked around my house and was struck: blue of some type is a dominant color in my: 1. dining room, 2. kitchen, 3. master bedroom, and 4. children’s bathroom. I think I need to work on varying that a bit! For me, it just works so well into any type of room. I’ll flip through these ideas with the thought of changing at least one of those, probably my bedroom. Just cannot say how much I enjoy your writing and thought processes. Thank you!

  40. WOW! What an inspirational post, Kate! I love the precise way you present your ideas! Just a perfect article with such beautiful images! Thanks for so many great ideas!

  41. Hi Kate

    I love the examples that you have here. I am looking to redecorate but have a base colour problem. I love this website and it has such great ideas. Keep it up. Very inspirational.

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