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How to incorporate strong colors into your neutral space

Are you paralyzed by color choices? Do you look at rooms with a lot of color and long for them, but are too scared to pull the trigger?

Are you or have you ever started out a blog post that kinda sounds like an infomercial?

Then you are in luck!!

The answer is a lot easier than you think — keep reading.

I recently designed a living/dining room where the homeowners were a bit color-shy. Unless you really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE color then you often run a risk of getting sick of it. I love it, I can handle it at all times, nay, INSIST on it. But I know so many people who are paralyzed design-wise because they1 are scared to commit to a risky color palette. And I totally get it.

Here’s the room before we entered the scene; the homeowners had just moved in and had sold most of their starter furniture. They were ready to buy a few investment pieces — nothing fancy — but the futon was going, obviously.

The Jonathan Adler rug is awesome, but the rest needed to go except that West Elm martini table. It was a pretty blank slate to work with. It took about three months to fully complete the project (a little bit here, a little bit there, approval, denial, approval, rejection, the usual process), but we finished it, and here you are, folks:

Photo by Lauren Pieri

Ah yeah. Now that’s a proper living room for a very young and fun couple. Let’s break it down:

They wanted something young and Jonathan Adler-esque, without exactly the budget of Jonathan Adler. And they are a little more minimalist and streamlined than yours truly, which is always a good challenge for me. Most importantly wanted the space to feel bright and airy and modern, with some unique pieces and colorful accents that they can change out. Nothing too committal, but definitely still fun.

So here’s what you do and what I did …

1. Start with a neutral/masculine color palette with your major pieces of furniture:


Photo by Lauren Pieri

Navy, black, gray and sisal. All neutrals. There is a mix of warm tones and cool tones, and it’s fairly evenly dispersed throughout the space, keeping it balanced. We kept the walls white since we wanted it to feel bright and airy, and you kinda can’t go wrong with white walls.

The sofa is from Room Service in LA, the Milo Baughman chair you probably recognize from Joy’s house was a vintage find ($1000), the other club chair was a newly reupholstered Craigslist find ($450, I think). The coffee table was a flea market find for $300 (and someday they’re going to get bigger glass, but for now it’s fine), the sisal is from West Elm, vintage black side table, Ikea cowhide, West Elm silver martini table,   CB2 white lacquer console, standing lamp from DWR, and custom roman shades from a place in downtown LA.

But we made one permanent change:  We updated their fireplace from this dated ’70s brick:

To this more modern gray cement situation:

Which is SUCH an easy fix. Basically you pick a color of cement (they come in all sorts of neutral tones) and have it “faced” out. Sure you can re-tile, etc., but this is just way cheaper (around $800, including all labor and materials, which I’m sure you could do yourself). You put it on like grout, layer on top of layer, until you have a fully concealed brick fireplace. It’s a simple update that makes it more modern instantly.

2. Layer on your accent colors, but evenly disperse them and make sure you have at least two pops of the same color. Three is even better, and if you are nervous, keep these really bright colors limited to two colors.

Image 13

Photo by Lauren Pieri

3. Don’t really SPLURGE on these accessories. If you are scared of color, then keep that budget relatively tight so next year when the “it” color is lavender or ruby or whatever Pantone dictates, you can switch it out without feeling any regret.

They actually already had these X benches, which I love, but otherwise all the accessories were fairly budget-friendly. The pillows are both West Elm, the yellow elephant vase/planter is vintage, the black horse head is vintage, that black and white painting is by one Orlando Soria and it’s awesome. You can buy more of his paintings here in his Etsy store that he so aptly named “Storelando“. I can’t get enough, just can’t; the fact that his blog is no longer “Orblogdo” kills me. Why would you change that name? You are fired. The pink and yellow painting we just brought in for the shoot and it’s vintage in an Ikea frame.

The wig lamp you ask?

Photo by Lauren Pieri

This lady is a vintage find for $175, I believe, which isn’t nothing but it — pardon me — SHE has such character. While all the other accessories are more tame in style, she makes the room wildly more interesting. Plus, she’s Italian and every room needs a little bit of Italian design in it.

So there you have it; if you are scared of committing to trendy colors just do these three things:

1. Start with a neutral foundation of both warm and cool tones.

2. Evenly distribute your stronger more “accent” colors in the room.

3. Don’t splurge on the trendy colors, go vintage or big box … nothing too custom.

I even Gif’d it all out for you.

I can’t decide if this is totally annoying or fun or both … but I’m strangely mesmerized.

The great thing about this space is that they can seriously change out their color palette so easily. Those X benches could go underneath the windows and they can store the yellow pillow and planter, and really start all over with new accent colors next year without spending too much money or feeling guilty.

What do you think? Can you handle the hot pink? And do you like seeing the Gif (the moving picture) or is it kinda waste of my time?

And thank you Lauren Pieri for the pretty photos!


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