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The Danger of ‘High Contrast’

What happens when you go too far with color and pattern? What if you forget to use restraint? You get the room above – where everything in it is awesome, but collectively its a competitive, brain distorting, conversation-stalling mess.

There are a lot of fine lines in interior design. It’s like texting after an unexpectedly good first-time hookup with a really old “friend”. You have to be EXTREMELY careful or else you could ruin the whole friendship, not to mention the potential for more.

When Nicolette told me what she and Ali loved, design-wise  – the palm wallpaper, lots of pink, black and white stripes and a heavy dose of glam, etc – I was very excited, but I also knew that we would need to properly navigate the design and use restraint.

As a reminder, at the beginning of the project she sent me this mood board:

Nicolette Moodboard_Nicolette

I knew instantly that while this looks good in a board and I was excited to take this as an inspiration, that the level of energy and contrast could go bad if I didn’t control it. So, I did two mood boards as options for her, below. As a reminder she already had the sofa, the coffee table and the black and white curtains (which she hadn’t installed yet, but she owned them and wanted us to try to use them which I was more than happy to do):

Nicolette_Moodboard_Pretty in Pink

Nicolette_Moodboard_Regency Palm

Mood boards give you a good idea of where the room is headed and we rely on them VERY much for planning, sure, but NOTHING compares to being in the space and actually seeing things in person. It’s like ordering a dress that might have your perfect measurements – you still need to try it on before you are sure it’s for you.

Before the makeover we decided on the wallpaper, but the curtains and the rug were up in the air and neither of them could be viewed in person. I loved both rugs, but knew that the pink had potential to look either nuts or amazing with the wallpaper. So we ordered both options to have on set that weekend.

As far as the curtains, she already had the black/white striped set and buying a few sets of white curtains to have on hand as an option in case those striped ones looked nuts was an easy thing to do (and could be returned afterwards). So we were prepped for all scenarios. All options on deck – but you simply have to play that game to really win an interesting room.

I figured that I’d show you what would have happened if we hadn’t used restraint. It’s like Sliding Doors for styling (the early 2000’s movie, not the actual entrance/exit of a deck).

Pink Rug with Striped Curtains

This room is full of things I love – there is nothing I don’t like in here, but all together its just. too. much. Remember that the more contrast you have the more energy you have. If you want your room to feel SUPER energetic, frenetic, and wild, then go for something like this with a lot of contrast in it (could be good for a night club or say a room meant to keep narcoleps awake). It’s dangerous because contrast also makes spaces feel small, busy and can go tacky really fast. It’s the same in fashion – the more color, pattern, texture and styles you shove on your body (huge earrings, big hair, shiny fabric, ) etc, etc … the more you look like a street-walker.

The hot pink rug, palm wallpaper and the striped curtains are all WAY too strong to be friends. They compete so hard, your eye doesn’t know what to look at and you end up feeling frantic and full of anxiety. It’s like you are in a haunted house and while one zombie is distracting you on your left, the real scary 12 foot dead baby is jumping right in front of your face. If the curtains were white and the walls just painted, then yeah go for that beautiful pink rug. But all those strong elements together are just too much.

For this below rendering we replaced the hot pink rug with a quiet solid (that is also a better size – 9×12). It’s already so much better. With one REALLY strong element gone, you can start to see more of the room and really breathe a little bit.

Green Rug with Striped Curtains

But the black and white curtains still really occupy your eye and the fact that they are on the walls, next to the busy wallpaper make the walls feel so heavy and loud, especially now that the floor is so quiet. It’s all off-balance.

What if we got rid of the black and white curtains and instead kept the pink rug? Check this out:

Pink Rug with White Curtains


Now, i think for the right personality this could work. It’s still busy … but it’s also pretty fun. I feel like this person probably goes for the all-you-can-drink-mimosa brunch – although she probably gets a bit too drunk … and she wants it on a Tuesday. My issue with this rug is that this room really did need a 9×12 which you can’t tell in this photo, and that rug was an 8×10 (I think they were out of stock on the 9×12 at the time). So it was too small and still a bit loud … and I’m ME – someone who can handle more than a lot of people.

Last but not least (BEST, actually) is what we ended up doing and what I feel solidly confidant standing behind:


Ah. So pretty, calm and happy – still high energy, but pulled back and sophisticated. We let the wallpaper really be the star and let those hits of black be the co-stars, but we stopped there. The rug, chairs, and sofa were all in solid colors that blended in and the coffee/side tables (which she already had) were visually VERY quiet as they were just glass, mirror and brass.

Is there still energy and contrast? You betcha. But there is now only one main focal point, instead of 3; and the color palette was reduced to green, white, black and gold with just hits of a more muted pink.

To recap – here are your options:

High Contrast_Wrong Kind Of Crazy_Pink_Mint_Living Room_Nicolette Mason_Roundup

1. Green Rug with White Curtains (my winner and what we ended up doing).

2. Pink Rug with Striped Curtains

3. Pink Rug with White Curtains

4. Green Rug with Striped Curtains

Now, I am curious if any of you would go for #2, #3 or #4. I think if I didn’t know that #1 was an option I could be happy in #3 and #4 (with hesitation that maybe I went too far) but #1 is by far my choice. I love that room VERY much.

No comparison post is complete with a gif between the two looks: ‘Quiet and Happy’ versus ‘Crazy and Chaotic’. It’s a backyard amateur wrestling match and one of these rooms is going to win:


The clear winner to me? ‘Quiet and Happy’ all the way.

And that, folks, is what happens when you step over the line and put too much contrast in color, pattern and style into a room. The goal? To create one main focal point that has a strong pattern or color, with one accent to support that focal point and to keep the room balanced, but then make everything else recede. Because even if you are crazy, you still want it to look classy.

*Photos by Zeke Ruelas (although #3 and #4 were photoshopped renderings for this posts purposes).

The rugs were courtesy of our friends at Lulu & Georgia and the pink and green (although they call that color fog) rugs can be found on their site as well as many other options that we had a hard time saying no to when pulling the plans together.

Want more about how we got to here? Check out the design plan post, the full reveal including the video as well as the feature on Refinery29 and if you want more Weekend Crashers? Check out our Mid Century Eclectic Makeover.


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8 years ago

I have been guilty of the crazy mid jarring room, where I put all my favorite things in one spot. Even when I look at my wardrobe, I wonder how I can wear a crazy pattern shirt with crazy pattern pants. I need more neutrals, but fun neutrals, you know?

In my room design, I began to replace the crazy pattern with whites and metallics like gold, silver, mirrors, etc. I still have the fun and interest and most importantly, the sparkle, but without the headache!

Analog House

8 years ago

I tend to be on the more colorful/crazy side myself, though I’m trying to pull in the reigns a bit in my house. That said, I pick #3. I feel like #1 is a little to safe and restrained for my tastes. I see what you mean about the rug being a little too small but that shade of pink looks great with the mint. Maybe if the chairs in #1 were a solid pink instead?

8 years ago
Reply to  Eve

I am with you! I am a big believer in having a place for the eye to rest so #1 is my favorite. However, I find that I’m missing the pink. I was also wishing the two chairs were that pink rug color so they didn’t match so much with the wallpaper

8 years ago

#1 feels very “Traditional Home”, and #2 feels very “Domino”.

For a living room, I’m all about the crazy. But if this were a bedroom I’d totally keep it more calm. To each his own.

Also: ALWAYS GIFS. Love ’em.

8 years ago

I could totally go for #4, but I really love the final room you designed.

8 years ago

I like the idea of #4 and would love to try it. I am very impressed with the final choice, #1.

8 years ago

The whole time I was reading I was thinking I like the pink rug, the curtains just need to be changed. And then you gave that option! I have to say I like number 3 which is crazy cause I’m a minimalist. I love that rug. But I totally understand a room looks/feels so different in person than a photo.

8 years ago

I love #3-a fun warm carpet makes the room feel more organic and less designed IMO. But #1 is also lovely.

8 years ago

I love the way the room was designed. Very classy and calming. Not sure where those curtains would ever belong, but clearly somewhere where they are the star. I do like the pink rug a lot, but still the end result is more pleasing to me.

8 years ago

Hi, Emily — I love that you walked us through this!

I like #1 the best – and think your reasoning is solid. I do love the pink rug, though, and could see a variation of #3 being the uber best, but only if you also swapped out the back-and-white art (for the same reason that you ditched those curtains).

(I guess I am not particularly a fan of the black and white “high contrast” look. It’s not “happy,” and it’s not “peaceful.”) The pillow can stay, though. 🙂

8 years ago

Emily – It looks like the green rug could be the one they call Glass? It just looks so different on their site vs in your room.

Jenny B
8 years ago

Gorgeous as always. As most people do, I love that pink rug, but it is so clear when looking at the two pictures that the other size is 100% better. I think I would love #3 but with the wallpaper from your “pretty in pink” moodboard – with the green chairs, pink rug and more neutral wallpaper that might be wowza. But I also see how having the statement on the walls instead of the floor can be better. Your final room is impeccable.

8 years ago

#3 might be doable, but you definitely settled on the best option.

It’s really fun to see the process, though. Sometimes I feel guilty when I don’t know the “right” answer ahead of time when I’m helping a client design. So it always encourages to see other designers going through the process!

8 years ago

I actually like #3 the best! That being said I have a pink overdyed rug in my house as well as metallic and graphic elements so it sort of feels like me. Overall AMAZING either way! X

8 years ago

#4 isn’t thaaaat bad, either.

8 years ago

What a fun exercise…thanks for letting us participate! I love the one you chose but I actually like #4 better. Which surprises me as I usually go for the muted, calmer option. But it has the right amount of drama and “play” with the striped curtains…or at least I think so. Nice work!

8 years ago

Nope. It was right from the get-go. #2 is perfection. I identify as a maximalist – “calming” is boring.

Also, I’ve never understood bland living rooms. I want my eyes to bounce; I need that energy! That makes good entertaining!

8 years ago
Reply to  Kristin

Im with you Kristin….total maximalist all the way.

8 years ago

Your final room is perfection. Although, I also really like #4 too. I’d probably end up changing the curtains every few months to get the best of both. Thanks for sharing this process!

xo, Sarah

8 years ago

#4 is my favorite, although I’d be happy to live with #s 1 or 3. I like the weight the striped curtains provide on that wall but they are indeed too much with the pink rug, as in #2.

8 years ago

I find the curtains a little too beetlejuice in any configuration, but i don’t mid the pink rug+wallpaper. If anything, I might like the combination better if the window wall was also wallpapered. Something about the contrast between white and palm walls adds more distraction for me. The final version is definitely nice though.

Lisa Taylor Whitley
8 years ago

I love reading your design process. It really helps an amateur like me in making design decisions. Thank you!!!

8 years ago

I’m all about #3. It’s a lot to take in, I absolutely love the contrasting pink rug. The blue rug in #1 is too tonal for the room and I’m already bored of it. If I were to do anything different to #3, it would be to switch out the coffee table to something more organic…wooden, to bring it back down to earth. There’s also a lot of gold, glass, and glimmer in there, so wood would keep it grounded. Wait, did you even want my opinion? 😀

8 years ago

I love the final room and I’m so happy to see this wallpaper in action. For myself I probably would go #3 because I like crazy, and that pink is too pretty to pass up!

8 years ago

I like your final room but I would add back in some pink with pillows or the ottoman. Maybe a fun floral with pink and black/white. or maybe change the art that has more color.

8 years ago

This post was really interesting! I love seeing the thought process behind the room. Knowing the things you didn’t pick and why is so helpful and informative.

8 years ago

I like number 1 best as well. I have crazy days so coming home to a crazy house does not sound inviting. Number 3 is my second favorite but I would always stress about it being perfectly clean because it’s a little much (and therefore not forgiving of clutter.) Number 2 is absolutely too much. I have seen rooms like that and it doesn’t say “well decorated” to me. I agree that the one you ended up with is the perfect styling for the space.

8 years ago

Thanks for the detailed explanation here. This is really helpful to me since you broke it down so succinctly. I am in the planning process of redesigning my bedroom using a large scale mural behind the bed so you are definitely speaking to me on this one. At the end of the day I love #1 so much. If I saw #3 on Pinterest, foe example, I would love it too, but I think you nailed this room with the soft and understand rug and plain drapes. It’s beautiful. Visually exciting but not so much so that I would tire of it in a short time.

8 years ago

Objectively, I think the one you picked looks the best. I get why you went with it. Still…I think I would pick 3. I would walk into that room every day and feel happy. And for me the way a room makes me feel is more important than anything else.

8 years ago

love quiet and happy, but also love number 4 as a more energetic version. I also just love black and white striped curtains, so for me-the wall paper would go and they would stay, if I HAD to get rid of one.

8 years ago

This is the best post ever in the history of EH posts! I didn’t “get it” when I saw the first picture–but by the time I got to the four side by side–it was clear how LOUD it really was. Thank you so much for this. More please.

I could live with #3–but I would want more pink in the room–pillows and whatnot. Would that work or just look too busy?

8 years ago

I’m really drawn to the pink rug as in room 3. If I could convince my brain that in the long run the less pattern green rug would be a much wiser selection room 1 would be my favorite.
I really enjoyed the posts regarding this makeover and the finished looked. Your blog has been on fire recently, not that I haven’t enjoyed it since the first read.

8 years ago

Oh I love the calm version of this room! You did such a great job toning it down!


8 years ago

You made the right choice- it’s gorgeous!

8 years ago

Well, for me..I feel anxiety when things are too matchy-matchy, perfect & linear & sparse..I’d go for #3 out of those choices, but I’d have to put color in the curtains & some more pink in pillows & those two stools just look uncomfortable. It’s probably why I’d never hire a designer, I’m a color, pattern lover & that’s what makes me feel calm.

8 years ago

I would choose #4, the curtains create a nice contrast and they kind of complete the whole design, make it more defined. I love number one too! And the pink rug is fabulous. I would like to see you create a room around it!

8 years ago

the website is loading the current posts now, fyi! (i was one of those chrome users who thought you had stopped posting!)

8 years ago
Reply to  melissa

Not for me. I have to go clear my cache every day if I want to see the latest post. I’m really tired of it.

8 years ago
Reply to  mary

I have the same issue.

8 years ago
Reply to  melissa

I have the same problem. Every day. I have to refresh my browser or I wont see emily’s posts.

Susie Q.
8 years ago

Glam is so not me. Looking at these photos, I also realize that mint green is not my color. I’d go with #3, but ditch the wallpaper–white walls, graphic art, white curtains, pink rug.

8 years ago

#2 actually feels more balanced than #4 which feels very top-heavy with the drapery pattern up high. And how crazy is it that in #3 the pink rug, without the striped curtains, I think the colors look kind of too “nursery colors”!! See I LOVE these lessons!! I learn so much about WHY things aren’t working instead of just seeing that they are not right, but not knowing why?!!? Thanks Miss Emily for being an awesome teacher!

8 years ago

you win, kemosabe. altho i love those prison striped curtains.

8 years ago

I would like 3, but only if we got rid of the two black stools. They look, unusually for you – regimented Ralph Lauren American preppy – it’s the overdone symmetry, I think. I love your style usually but this isn’t my taste.

8 years ago

Number 4, please! I like the Beetlejuice meets mint humbug vibe of the curtains, & because it’s still neutral it doesn’t feel too crazy for me. Agree that mint green and pink is a candy colour explosion gone too far.

8 years ago


Cynthia Waide
8 years ago

They’re all beautiful, so it’s hard to choose; I keep going back and forth. I like the striped curtains, but they do make the room a little too busy …I love the pink rug but I’m not wild about it with that green. That said, I think the room needs a third color, so I’m going with number 3.

8 years ago

I mean…all of them still look the same…it’s energetic and colorful minus the rug or the curtains. I think they could go either way as most of these changes aren’t terribly significant. Yes, the colors might sit differently but it’s still lively! And it that’s what they are going for then great! It all looks great. I think the contrast is amazing – to each their own!


8 years ago

I mean…all of them still look the same…it’s energetic and colorful minus the rug or the curtains. I think they could go either way as most of these changes aren’t terribly significant. Yes, the colors might sit differently but it’s still lively! And it that’s what they are going for then great! It all looks great. I think the contrast is amazing – to each their own!


8 years ago

I love # 4… love those curtains…

8 years ago

I really love the pink rug too, so for me I would have to go for #3 (although I think the final version still looks amazing) however the black and white prints are far too dominant on that wall and I think a softer option would be more calming.

8 years ago

I love the pink rug, but I’m sure it’s different in person.
The black and white curtains?
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!

8 years ago

I love that you went through the whole process and explained every step. These happen to be the colors that I currently have in my home right now and at first I also mixed a bit too much for my relaxed calm mind. LOL
As a result I’m in the process of going back to a little more of a sophisticated relaxed look. I love your number 1 choice and think if one is dying to introduce pink in some way or another, fresh flowers is an easy way to do it. Much more temporary too.
So many ideas with such great style. Hugs!!

8 years ago

I’m sure you’re right that No. 1 is the best, but I think I’d rather live with No. 3. I love the pink rug; it adds some life to the room. I think I’d bore quickly of the white drapes and blue/gray carpet. I could live with white drapes if I could have that dreamy pink carpet, even if it is a little small.

8 years ago

I love #3, I like the contrast of the rug, and the eclectic touch it adds to an otherwise elegant palette. The striped curtains were just too much.