How to add personality to your neutral space

It’s a problem riddling America. People just keep it too “safe” design-wise and end up in neutral town. That’s totally fine if that matches your personality, but it can end up looking way more boring than you are if it doesn’t. And as a person who loves color, it generally makes me sad and underwhelmed. Sure, I love a bright white room, but I don’t love a cream on ivory on taupe room — and yet it’s so easy to find ourselves living in that color palette because making big color choices can be scary.

In this video I show you how to add color and personality to your neutral space. When I started with this apartment it looked like this:

before living room

And now it looks like this:

spanish style makeover

You’ll notice the walls stayed the same (we weren’t allowed to paint) and the sofa is actually oatmeal (neutral) and yet it’s full of color. Check out how we did it in this video tutorial:

To read about the whole before and after with all the resources and tips, go HERE. Meanwhile, have an excellent Monday.

This video was in partnership with West Elm but all opinions, designs, thoughts, feelings, and inner desires are all my own. Thank you West Elm for giving me a lot of creative freedom on this partnership and thank you readers for getting behind the partnerships that keep the blog in business. xx

Resources: West Elm Dunham Sofa sectional, Empire Rug, metallic side table, Origami coffee table, black and white chevron pillow.

  1. Ava

    What a cute video! Informative, yet fun. I loved the dramatic exit. :)

  2. Kristin

    I loved the exit! I actually laughed out loud!

  3. Love this video (especially the dramatic exit)
    All I need to go with these tips is a bit of courage! :)

    Quick note: Your blog does not seem to be working in feedly. I am subscribed to the correct one (with all your subscribers) and have tried unsubscribing and resubscribing a bunch. Maybe its just me, but just in case – I wanted to let you know.

    • Emily

      THANK YOU SO MUCH. Funny timing. I had just emailed my IT person today to see what is up and she is taking care of it. But thank you. Sometimes these problems go on for so long if you don’t know about them. xx

  4. Sarah

    Fact: because of you, I am on my way to buy a west elm sofa today (a business I had never even stepped foot into before discovering your blog about 3mo ago)

    • Emily

      Amazing. Its awesome – especially their textiles and accessories – buy sooo much. That sofa is awesome, you are going to be very lucky. xx

  5. i LOVE a good video! so much more informative and tasteful than what you can find on TV right now. thanks for taking the time to do these!

    • Emily

      Ah, thank you. Seriously means a lot. :)

  6. Your videos are so fun and this one is no exception! I love the tip about plants too, I’ve been trying to add more plants to my place. What kind is that tall one by the chair?

    • Emily

      Thank you so much! I actually forget what its called …. but its something tropical and its fairly common so you could even take the pic it to a nursery and they could tell you instantly. Thanks, again!

    • Amy

      I think it’s dracaena marginata (dragon tree). :)

  7. MicheleLouise

    Thanks for the video! So informative!!!

    I have been thinking alot lately about needing to buy more accessories for our home and this is very helpful. One other aspect that I struggle with that I would love to see a video for is how to figure out what size items to buy. I feel like I have a lot of small or medium sized stuff because at the store the large ones seem TOO big, but at home the others feel too small. Any tips on how to make sure you pick out the right scale of items while out shopping? How to mix in various sizes?

    Keep the videos coming!

    • Emily

      Yep. thats a good one. I talk about that all the time – its so easy to purchase small items because bigger ticket and larger items are more of a commitment but then, YES, people have too many small items. Good idea. xx

  8. If lack of colour is our #1 decorating problem, then being timid with scale has to be #2. A video demonstrating the difference scale makes to a setting would be wonderful. For example, here’s a wall where the paintings are too small, here’s the same wall where the paintings are juuuuust right. Here’s a mantel where the objects are too small, here’s one where they are too big. Here it is just right. You could call it “Goldilocks goes accessorizing.” (or not.) Love your video Emily and Orlando–you are such a great pair.

  9. Super helpful tips! The hubby & I are moving soon and I will totally be making use of these simple & powerful recommendations.

  10. Lucy

    Love all these videos! Please keep them coming. I haven’t wanted to be bothered with the upkeep of plants for some time now but thanks to you showing how much life they add to a room I am definitely going to add them to the decor when I move into my new home.

  11. LOVE. As always.

    By the way, Emily, are you planning on doing another OKL sale soon? There’s one art piece that didn’t sell that I LOVE and I’m hoping to save up for!

    • Sarah

      Good question.
      But…is it the LOVE piece? Cuz I want that too! :)

  12. I’m at work so I can’t watch it quite yet, but I can’t wait! I love how this room turned out; you nailed it, as usual.

  13. What a difference! Totes a problem that I think MANY people fall into. This space came together so well.

  14. Benny

    I just looooove ur videos!! Keep postong them!!

  15. Michelle H

    I shop at West Elm a lot. But it makes me want to shop there even more knowing that they partner with you. Hear that, West Elm?!

  16. Pingback: A Living Room Makeover | peoniesandpancakes

  17. Okay, y’all have mad skills. Because, I’m really great at picking out what I love in a photograph but actually putting it together in a room is kind of hard! These videos really help clear up some questions!!

    Keep ‘em coming!! :D

  18. Pearl

    Great video! The room looked so much after you guys styled it.
    Even though I love color I sometimes find it hard to know how to mix and match different colors and so I often end up choosing neutral items. For example. I’ve just found this awesome mustardy mid century chair and now I’m struggling to choose the color for my couch. Do you have any tips on how to mix and match color?

    Also a video on how to match vintage and modern furniture would be great (but I think I’m becoming greedy now haha)

    x Pearl

  19. Holly

    Amazing room! I love it! Where did you get that awesome blanket for the back of the couch??? I’m sorry if you already linked it but I couldn’t find it in your previous post.

  20. Kelly

    you should have the answer to this, given I know you have a cat (and a very cute cat, too): how do you add plants and not have the cat snacking on them and then making an uncolourful mess on the sofa/carpet? are there kinds that a housebound feline won’t ingest/knock over

  21. Eagle Eye

    Could you do a posting on plants? Especially plants and light – I live in a bit of a dungeon and while I have 2 plants near the window that actually gets light – are there some plants that need less and that I can put on my coffee table/ piano/ bar/ kitchen window?

    Thanks!

  22. Megan

    Great video. Any suggestions or potential video about styling around rugs? I have an awesome red bokhara rug but having trouble styling around it. Worried that throw pillows on the couch competing with the rug and accessories in the room competing and etc. I have read that you treat the rug like a neutral but can’t seem to get around it.

  23. Sabrina

    At first I hated the idea of videos because I couldn’t watch them IMMEDIATELY in g-reader or on the subway, but I’ve come around. I love how this room came out, and I would probably buy that rug if I wasn’t thrilled to have some cool original wood floors for once. Thank god for a rental that allows me to paint, though, because the furniture, art, and curtains in the living room are all neutral. Two small plants, 1 blue vase, and a couple of bookshelves are not enough color for me.

  24. Siki

    Orlando is so damn hot.

  25. Deirdre*

    Hi Emily, LOVE your work! Congratulations on your success and the great news that you’re expecting! I am waiting for the news that you have a book coming out…would buy it in a heartbeat. Would love for a Q&A post if you’re up for suggestions (0; As a do-it-myself-er normal-not-designer-person, lover of vintage, modern, boho, I’d love to hear your answers to some burning ‘reader’ questions–(although the videos are SUPER helpful, thank you!). I’m struggling to make my home cohesive and a little more sophisticated, my visitors think it’s great, but to me it’s a little too thrift-shop-y and swinging from cluttered to bare…argh. Maybe just come over some time? LOL. Take care!

  26. I see what you mean, I love neutral spaces and though on first glance I’m comfortable with the before picture; it’s clear that after your work was finished, the room is much more lively!

  27. Pingback: west elm Fall Preview + How to Add Personality to Your Neutral Space + more! | Front & Main

  28. Pingback: west elm Fall Preview + How to Add Personality to Your Neutral Space + more! | Front & Main

  29. Kim

    Another wonderful video. I love love love that you share formulas that are easy to understand and easy to apply anywhere. My space has color, it has texture, but now I know what’s missing! I’m learning to be so much more confident about making design decisions with intentionality instead of hit or miss, without knowing why it went right or wrong. Thank you & bessos!

  30. Love, love, love the coffee table! We’re looking for a coffee table or ottoman, and I think it’s such an underrated item in a room. Thanks for showing this one, Emily!

  31. Katelyn

    Love your videos! This is what I dream my living room could look like (like all of the rooms you do)!
    Here is my question, what if you have the opposite of big neutral pieces? I have a purple suede couch and a (totally amazing, if I may say) floral loveseat. All of my accessories are pretty colorful, and I’m worried the space is getting a little too color crazy (as if that could be a bad thing).
    Thank you!

  32. Carmen

    I love your style and need to do this with my family room immediately, where is the hanging chair from?

  33. Lindsay

    I am so happy to have found your blog and now your fantastic friend/ assistant Orlando. I just want to be your friend/ your assistant’s assistant. You guys look like you have SO much fun : )

    I have a challenge with a GIGANTIC wall in my apartment bedroom, and it seems that most apartment decorating tips are for tiny spaces. I’m lucky in that my room is large, but unlucky in that I don’t know what to do with the huge blank wall across from my bed on a budget. I’ve gotten some personal photos of trips matted and framed, and did them all uniform at the suggestion of the lady who did them. I LOVE the crazy, big art that you and Orlando have been showing in your spaces though – do you have recommendations for how to find fantastic large prints that can be mixed in with personal photos? Should I just start blowing my photos up to astronomical proportions? How can I mat/ frame things in different colors/ textures and hang them together now – and not be nervous that I’ll hate the crazy color that I chose in a few months (since matting and framing isn’t super cheap).

    Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated! And also tips on how to find fantastic artsy friends when you’re appreciative of design but completely clueless yourself : ) But really the wall is more important. Thanks!

  34. Ash

    Looks great! What kind is the tree you comment on?

  35. Marlene

    Thank you so much for this video! These tips have set me on the right track to transforming my boring beige rental into a much more cozy and colorful space (navy and teal rule!). This video even helped bring my husband on board with pulling the trigger on a pair of gorgeous mid century moody blue armchairs off CL to replace his much beloved beige college couch =D

    In addition to what’s already been mentioned, I would really love to see a video on accessorizing bookshelves in a way that looks cohesive but still exciting. I have two bookshelves that flank my TV console and I’m always wondering how to combine my books, pictures, and knick knacks in a way that looks balanced but fresh. Please help!

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