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  • Writer's pictureEileen Kupperman

The 3 Biggest Color Palette Missteps (& How to Get it Right)

When it comes to picking a color palette, it seems easy enough, right? You pick some colors you like, paint some walls, buy some things in said colors and boom, room done. But well, sadly, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Maybe in your mind, avoiding “ugly” colors is half the battle, but let’s stop for a second to say that there are no ugly colorsjust unfortunate pairings or use of color.

We're going to walk you through a few color “scenarios” and show you examples of rooms that didn’t quite get it right and rooms that did...


Why it isn’t working: While the above room isn’t “bad” per se, it’s definitely heavy-handed in the brown that many might not like. It’s one tone of brown used over and over again. Whatever color you use (in this case brown), you need variation in tone. All your eye registers are “white” and “brown” with very little else in between and it falls flat.

Why it works: The architecture does a lot on its own by adding a ton of visual interest, making the brown/neutral color palette totally doable. Plus, in this case, the heavy lifting is done by all the wood tones with less stark contrast because the walls are taupey gray rather than white. While the rust chairs don’t necessarily fall under a neutral category, they almost blend right into the rich wood surroundings, and in this case, act as a neutral.

Why it isn’t working: Let’s look at another example. We love a neutral room, but they are really easy to get wrong (because they are so hard!). Here, the amount of tan shades simply turns into one giant mushy beige room with some pops of brown. Sure, the yellow helps, but if you stripped away the pillow and throw, it would be pretty monotonous. You don’t necessarily want high contrast, but you do want variety. This is a study in making sure not everything in your room is the same hue.

Why it works: A neutral color palette needs to be coupled with complexities via textures and tones so that color doesn’t need to be the main event, but the room is still not boring. The rug with its off-white and darker gray adds a bit of punch and visual interest while the white curtains set themselves apart from the linen, flaxy seating.


Why it isn’t working: That is just so. much. light. blue. If it isn’t beige or gray, it’s the same tone of blue. We understand the intent here, though because light blue can feel calming and seemingly safe in design, BUT every color has its limit. This room is dying for some darker blues and grays to really balance the palette. A good rule of thumb, if you want to go mostly neutral but sprinkle in one color, is to make sure you’re bringing in a sampling of hues of said color. It’s like a long paint chip from the hardware store, right? The lightest tone on top down to the darkest hue on the bottom…use them all. You can even pull in other shades of your color of choice, but it’s best to bring in at least one more color so your room doesn’t feel one-note.

Why it works: Just like room above, blue still feels like the star here, thanks to the art and wall color, but the wood finishes create a calm and organic feel. The throw is a softer blue, the art is a brighter aqua, the neutrals that complete the palette are varied, from charcoal to gray to neutral woods and seagrass. Speaking of, the textures are also varied, bringing in more visual interest so the colors don’t have to be the main focus without feeling like a “beige” room.

Why it isn’t working: This green and gray combo is a GREAT example of something we see done often: take your one color and match it in EVERYTHING you put in your room. Really look at that room. Does it feel a bit flat? Does it invite you in and make your eye want to wonder? Honestly, probably not, because a space full of the same shade of everything is just not visually compelling enough.

Why it isn’t working: This looks like it may have been a staged room back in the early 2000s so we’ll give it a pass, but let this be a lesson for us all: too much matching does no one any good. Instead, give your eyes a treat and add variation to your color palette. Instead of six framed pieces of art containing the same color green, go for one statement piece that incorporates other shades and colors, and sprinkle those colors throughout.

Why it works: Two words: textures and variation. Here, the tonal grays feel purposeful, and the couch gets to be the real wow factor. The rug appears to be a slightly different shade of green which brings in that variety the other previous rooms craved so badly.

Why it works: Not many would lean toward this specific shade, but we can’t deny that it is working here. With a primarily green room, the secondary green hues come naturally and within a green palette, it always feels cohesive to bring in wood tones and textures, to create that good “nature” effect. The worn leather chair adds warmth, and the softer lighter greens and olives cut through the sharpness of the chartreuse.


Why it isn’t working: This room is not not working, it’s just a lot of color, which if that makes your heart sing, scroll along. Here, the wall, sofa, chairs, ottoman, and accents are all calling out for your attention. There doesn’t seem to be a “grounding” piece where the palette is being pulled from, so everything stands on its own without a touchstone, which can leave a space feeling busy and overwhelming.

Why it works: Each color present here has an anchor, which really is THE rule for choosing your color palette. The bold orange couch anchors the orange accents in the pillows and on the shelves. The blue carpet ties in the patterned blue coffee table. The plants allow for some pops of green and since the wall color is neutral, there is room to play with the more bright and bolds on the color wheel.

Why it works: For a quieter, minimal yet bright colored space, this room plays with oranges, pinks, reds, and that powerful velvet blue. It all makes sense and is not overwhelming but is still bright and fun.


Step 1: If you are completely starting from scratch, pin or bookmark inspiration until your head spins. Then, take notice of your research. What are your consistencies? What colors are you drawn to? You might be surprised by what you find!

Step 2: Once you see your color preferences, imagine how you want the room to feel, and further narrow down your search from there.

Step 3: Start with an inspiration piece you want to use. That can be art, a textile, or a rug From there, pick 3-5 colors (including neutrals). Any more can start to make a space feel chaotic.

Step 4: From those 3-5 colors you picked, 1-2 are for your key furniture pieces. Of course, neutrals are your safest bet, but by all means, live a little.

Step 5: With the remaining 2-3 colors, this is where you play. Bring in these colors via soft goods and textiles like your curtains, rugs, pillows, or art. Because you want balance but effortless interest, remember to keep things varied. Just because you have those 2-3 colors doesn’t mean you can’t move up and down the tone range for each. A good ratio to remember for your selected colors is 10/30/60... meaning 60% of your room is one main color family (this is usually your neutrals), 30% is an accent color (or two), and 10% is usually that last punch or metallic. Be sure to mix up the tones and play with texture!

And finally, if you'd like personalized expert advice, we are always here to help you bring your room and home visions to reality! Contact us here.

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