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Living Room Mini Update: Can I Handle Bright Red in My House? An Analysis (& the Answer)

design by ioa studio | photo by tom ross | photo via yellowtrace

Now that the mountain house is done and revealed, I’m restraining myself (both physically and mentally) from starting a new massive project until I finish my book that’s due in December. But the stylist in me, the one whose mantra is “style play every day” loves to do just that, so I’m turning my attention back to our LA home, ready to push it to the next level. Keep in mind I actually “borrowed” a lot of stuff from myself to bring up to Lake Arrowhead (or donated to our recent Flash Makeover recipient).

I like so much that is in the living room, but my home is my style lab, an alive organism for me to express my creativity, so in the spirit of such creativity, I’ve decided it’s time to embrace my true love of the color RED.

You’ll see where we are with the living room next week (before switching out too much or adding this bold color), but know that it’s still really eclectic, with a big dose of midcentury, ’70s, utilitarian/primitive and modern traditional and yet still and always casual and comfortable. But it looks a little too “designed” and I want to make it more exciting without making it too crazy.

I think that adding a small but very intentional jolt of red is going to push it in an unexpectedly good direction. Need some examples? Here you go:

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 3
design by studio robert mckinley | photo by nicole franzen | photo via coco kelley

Executing red is hard, but I really love it in painted metals OR in really luxurious fabrics. I have no idea why I think that is the rule, but for me and my space, I want it to feel chic in that midcentury French way, not just like a red and cream plaid blanket.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 14
design by studio robert mckinley | photo by nicole franzen | photo via coco kelley

It just feels so exciting, modern and unexpected, but like I said, I think it’s easier said than done. Our house is really traditional looking and my window treatments are SUPER traditional so I’m a bit nervous that it won’t read as chic, and instead just wrong.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 8
design by kingston lafferty design | photo by barbara corsico | photo via yellowtrace

But when done right, it can really add a jolt of boldness and fearlessness into a space.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 1
design by maurice scheltens & liesbeth abbenes | photo by bart kiggen | photo via coffee klatch
Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 5
design by studio gum | photo by filippo bamberghi | photo via archilovers

Red velvet chairs are like the flourless chocolate cake of the furniture world. SO rich and enticing, but if added to a full “meal” of a room (you know…something over stuffy or “designed”), you’re left feeling bloated or just…overstimulated.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 7
design by arent pyke | photo via paper & stitch

I LOVE it on the edge of that table. It picks up the red from the super traditional rug, but the chairs, table silhouette and basically everything else in there is modern. Also, it’s so nice against the soft yet rich wood and caned chairs.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 10
design by emmanuel de bayser | photo by erik melvin | photo via dore

I also love it in a pretty neutral room. It’s a nice POW to the eyes, but it has to be a fire-y, not-too-orange red. Like a maraschino cherry instead of a dark, sweet cherry.

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 12
design by sascha callaghan | photo by nikki to | photo via the design files

In an unexpected shape, it just comes off edgy and cool but still somehow…comfortable?

Emily Henderson Waverly Red Accent 13
design by sabrina de sousa | photo by brian w. ferry | photo sight unseen

When I see it done right, I say to myself “they went for it and DID it,” followed with “this room is a total badass” just for having that one bright red moment.

Now I have dabbled in red in the past, and have always liked it; case in point:

My Biggest Design Regrets Emily Henderson Living Room Couch Blue Couch Sofa 2

The red cross really SLICES through the natural wood and wicker…plus I’ve always loved blue paired with red.

Styled The Book Emily Henderson Design Designbyemilyhenderson 0346

Remember this?!? My old Glendale house was much more mid-century than my traditional Los Feliz Tudor, but that didn’t stop me:

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Tudor Living Room Reveal10
photo by tessa neustadt for ehd | from: our modern english tudor living room

This was the first iteration of this room (well, the first pulled-together “reveal.” I later swapped out the red rug with a more subdued blueish and white rug.

I’m obviously VERY comfortable wearing it, in fact it is my favorite color.

Emily Red Fashion New

So I found myself shopping for and pinning so many red elements, toying around with where to bring it in.

At first, I felt confident I could handle one major piece of furniture, either a chair in the corner or even two matching chairs (#2 and #5 have pairs). I even thought to try #3…reupholster it and add a fringe trim.

Red Chairs

But then I realized that more likely, what I’d do is bring in a modern lamp (like #1 or #3). A pendant could be cool like #5 or an unexpected sconce, but I’m not sure that’s what the living room needs.

Red Lights

I actually bought a pair of  #7 from Schoolhouse for the kids shared room (they both love red, too).

I think it might take a little playing around to figure out exactly what that red power piece addition would be for the living room. Again, I’ll probably just go the route of a punch accent piece like a lamp, but I still haven’t ruled out a rad vintage armchair, it’s just about finding the right mix with the rest of the furnishings and decor.

What do you guys think? Into it? I love it in my closet, so why wouldn’t I love it in my home? Do you think I should go big with a larger furnishing or go “home” with something small that I can test out and more easily swap out if I grow tired of it? As always, appreciate your thoughts. See you in the comments.


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92 thoughts on “Living Room Mini Update: Can I Handle Bright Red in My House? An Analysis (& the Answer)

  1. This blew my mind! I’m so excited to see more! I think this may be just what my neutral place needs….

  2. When I was a kid and Crayola was my daily go-to, I never felt a coloring page was complete until I added red. I remember my 6 year old brain going “there! Now it’s finished!”. I got into the habit of coloring with red last just for that feeling of completion!

  3. I have a feeling that for me it’s easy to get quickly tired of large red pieces, so maybe a small accent like a lamp is a more universal approach to test out red. But such an interesting topic, I never thought about using red to solve a challenge to make a room more exciting! Thank you Emily for making dedicated posts to such intricate yet super important details!

  4. I did like a couple photos that you posted! But, I think you either like red or really don’t like it. It’s not a color I typically embrace. ? But I’m sure you will make it look beautiful!

    1. I just REALLY like red. its 50% of my wardrobe these days, so I think i can handle it … but i’m going to have to be SUPER picky about the piece.

  5. I love red, too! And I’m totally aligned with you that certain colors look best in certain materials. For me, red is also great on painted wood and especially CERAMIC! Excited to see how you bring it into your space. Maybe with your traditional surroundings you need to look more toward swedish red painted wood things than slick mid century metals?

      1. I would even go a step further and add a red element to every room, maybe except bathroom. Unless it’s a branch of red berries. It would look a bit autmnal and cohesive while bringing unexpected element to the design.

  6. I have a wooden Ikea step stool that I painted red many years ago. I use it as a step stool and also an end table or extra seating when needed. Whatever room it ends up in, the jolt of color always makes me happy.

        1. HA. i know. its long gone, but maybe if I had had a neutral sofa on it and quieted the rest of the room down it would have looked more modern. i just overdesigned that room with too much going on and i blamed the rug. poor rug ….

  7. Since you’re busy until December anyway, what if you decorated your living room with traditional reds for Christmas this year? You usually do a Target Christmas post anyway, so you’ll have less of an investment and by the time the holiday is over you’ll probably have a good sense for whether or not you like the red in there long-term.

      1. OOH. challenge accepted! (I think). I LOVED our portland holiday design with a ton of red against all the neutrals so maybe i’ll bring this to LA (in November, obviously).

    1. Go get a giant bouquet of bright red tulips and stick them in there! See how it looks! That’s my favorite way to get a dash of red in my living room room. But then again, I’m a totally commitment-phobe 🙂

      1. I thought about this but I dont think this will work because red in a flower is the wrong vibe. it has to be a really severe shape, super angular or graphic. I think …

  8. If you take down those sconces from the fireplace wall, thus tightening the focus on the sofa area, I think one of those red metal standing lamps would be absolutely brilliant. As long as the sconces are up I think red accents would be tough to sustain.

  9. To be honest, I can only tolerate red in my home at Christmas. Otherwise, it makes me feel stressed out and like there’s too much going on. I have red in very small doses at home, like a red and cream vase, a blanket with thin red stripes and my daughter’s wooden horse that has a red seat. For me this is enough.

  10. I recently went to a full day class on colour theory taught by a complete colour genius, and aimed towards illustrators but we spent the entire day making colour palettes. one of the mantras of the day was dirty dirty dirty, clean ( as in you have three dirtier or more muted and neutral colours and then one very clean colour), and the other was “where’s the cherry” so when cresting a colour palette you need to consider a small dash of colour that will make the whole palette sing. that’s what the red does!! I love it

  11. I am here for this! Squee!

    Question: would a pop of red work for a home with low ceilings? All of the inspiration images in this post except the one with pink couches in a curvy brick “tunnel room” in this post have relatively high ceilings, but in my region (mid-Atlantic U.S.A.) 8 ft. ceilings are very common, especially in older homes. Just wondering if this is executable for me. TIA

  12. Wait, WHAT?! Emily Blue Henderson loves red?! Way to keep us on our toes! I’ve followed you since design star and this is NEW to me. Love it and love your work!

  13. Yes, a good blue based red could ground the room. The beams are very traditional and makes it hard for me to see the mid century elements. Might do the trick!

  14. Excited to see some red! My favorite living room is Kathryn M Ireland’s with her large red suzani and red sofa, so good! Also vintage red blankets.

  15. I’m so happy to read this post because I just ordered a burgundy colored velvet sectional sofa – and I’ve been questioning my choice and thinking that maybe I made a huge, expensive mistake. Reading this makes me feel so much better! Thank you!!!

    1. you didn’t make a mistake! I’m on my second pink sofa (first one was HOT pink) and you just make the room work with it. you’ll love it.

  16. I really liked the red rug too. I thought it made the room warmer. That said though, that wouldn’t be the modern pop of red that your pics convey. I did think it added warmth and coziness.

  17. My mom is a (wildly talented) landscape designer, and she swears that every garden pops more with a splash of red — even if you think it wouldn’t typically “go.” The kids’ book, “A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin” makes a similar argument. All of which to say: Go for it! Can’t wait to see the results.

  18. Red is so interesting since it connotes danger, anger, and energy … some negative and some positive.

    I like red, but not when it is an isolated, big, bold gesture such as the red lamp in that bedroom. I think big pops like that work better when a room either contains (1) lots of smaller uses of red sprinkled throughout or (2) many other single-color bold elements so that the red is an iteration of that overall design aesthetic.

    For me, my favorite is the initial example with the red chair frames. They are a nice introduction, one that echoes the rust in the painting. That room could now take on more red because of the context which has been established.

    In my own home I tend to use it more in art, accessories, and fabric blends than on furniture.

  19. I think this room is begging for dark walls!!! This room has such a moody vibe and an Emily blue or black would look amazing!!! Or some super bold wallpaper…

  20. I think you should go small first like the lamp shades above the bookcases and a small solid sculpture on the coffee table. Your cherry red is a good idea. I can’t wait to see what happens!

  21. I like the #2 chair in the corner where the chaise used to be. But only one of them!
    Can’t wait to see what you choose!

  22. I like a Power Red Punch, but I do think it’s important to tie it in with a few much smaller and less punchy pieces. Like a pillow that’s mostly blue and cream with just a hint of red, and a piece of art with a thin red frame or something. I think the ONE RED YELLING THING ONLY trend only works in super-mod minimalist spaces.

  23. I love a little bit of red! Gen from Pencil and Paper Co is my favourite for using red sparingly like that.

  24. My very stylish grandmother always said there should be a little “pop” of red in every room. You don’t have to get crazy. Doesn’t have to be a piece of furniture, but a fantastic accessory, painting, rug, etc. She always held true to this statement. Despite having 7 kids, her house was always styled just right. Go for it!

  25. It’s about time you started using red! The first iteration of your living room is still my favorite. Now you need some red in your mountain house too.
    You know how in your first book you recommended adding brass to a zen room? I took that advice to heart–it really does add a little zing.
    I feel the same way about red. Just a touch perks things up.
    On the other hand, once I made a terrible mistake with red. We had a basic Ikea sofa and chair that had beige slipcovers. Around Christmas time I decided to buy bright red corduroy slipcovers. I thought it would make our LR cozy. I was wrong. I hated it so much I almost started crying. I had to take them off almost immediately!

  26. I still really love the first living room reveal with the red tones in the rug. It’s very cozy and feels appropriate with the style of your house. I feel like the upcoming holiday season is the perfect time to insert some red. Then if you don’t like it, you can lose it in January. The warm tone will work so well for Thanksgiving and Christmas!

  27. Red, like green, definitely brings a room to life. You have a great idea. I’m excited to see the form in which it plays out. Now, you have me thinking where I can add it to my house.

    Thinking on it, I have all liquor stored away in the bar, except for the few bottles with red labels… red naturally pops!

  28. I have a 1930’s colonial, and my 6 year old son is DYING for a red room, and I’m at a total loss!!!! I’m considering color blocking the bottom half in red with a creamy white on top… I’m like you though – normally terrified of red in design, but my own son is challenging my style!

  29. You already had the perfect jolt of red in your living room … that to-die-for vintage rug! Still. Mourning. That. Rug. 😉

  30. Heh, I don’t get it. I don’t think I have ever been “over stimulated.” I can’t get enough of color and pattern. I tried to pare down about 10 years ago, but it didn’t last. I just find all neutral rooms kinda dull and dingy and boring. But Yay! I guess….

  31. I’m freaking in love with the pop of red! I also like a pop of orange or fuschia. Practically makes me salivate! HaHa

  32. and i thought i was alone in my fear of red in decor, stemming from my mother’s all (fire engine) red room of my childhood! wall to wall carpet, sofa, club chairs, painted trim, curtains…all red. Surprises me that I’m not more mental than I am! that said, one stroke of red, like red lipstick finishing a neutral ensemble, can really make a look sing. my votes on the lamp. kind of says “sure i live in a traditional house but I’m the cool mom”

  33. I loved this post! It really resonated with me since I have a splash of red in my fairly neutral living room. I have a red Murano glass chandelier over my Noguchi glass coffee table. It’s so glorious but a friend suggested I get rid of it because I don’t have any red in the rug or furniture. Thank you!

  34. I don’t normally gravitate toward red, but I really do love it when a pop of red is well done. I loooove the chairs and tables with red accents that you included above, as it’s an interesting and unexpected surprise without smacking you in the face. It’s just enough to be playful and pull someone into the room.

  35. I love these spaces that use Mid Century elements in a collected way that doesn’t feel like a Mad Men set! I too loved your original rug in the living room, can’t wait to see where this room goes next!

  36. I just added two burnt orange pillows to our very blue and white and beige living room. They pick up the needle felted pumpkins on the mantle and the embroidery on my Shinto wedding kimono hanging on the wall. So go for it. You need to tinker. And if you hate it or love it, we’ll get a great blog post and learn something. And you can return anything that didn’t or stash it for future projects. Win win.

  37. Can’t wait to see how you incorporate RED. In my home, there is always a bit of red. Cool or warm, that is the question.

  38. I have red geraniums in several rooms in my house. When they have blooms the vibes of the rooms are cheerier and more complex. Even a single bloom does it. It never occurred to me that I might get that same feel with a red object! Going to try it!

  39. Definitely go for a larger piece of furniture. You have the talent to pick the right piece and make it work. Go for it!!

  40. Excited to see how this turns out! I’m attracted to red, but can’t always figure out how to incorporate it into my home —

  41. Really surprised that red is your favorite color! I assumed(my apologies) based on the color in your home that blue was your favorite. Love red! It is wise in small doses especially if you get bored easy?Every year I put up red curtains panels from Nov until March. They make me very happy. At the end of March I’m done?

  42. I’m very torn, it’s not my fav but I love it at my home at Christmas time…can’t wait to see what you do. My favourite of all the images you shared was the one you styled with the Red Cross and blue couch ☺️

    1. Ditto! That blue couch with the Red Cross hanging above it was the first EH image I ever saw! I’ve been hooked ever since~☺️

  43. I love RED. It is an energizing, feel good, confident color. I can’t live without it! Front and center. So glad to hear you love it, too.

  44. I’m sorry, I have to agree, you either love or hate red. I hate it, although I love orange

    On a different note, the pic of you in the red boots, with the very blonde hair, is the cutest pic I have ever seen of you!

  45. . Lamps… 6-9-11-12 they may be vintage, but they look like they would look better in a college dorm than in your beautiful living room, no? I don’t know would you be able to prove me wrong? Haha!

    personally, I’d start small… a less expensive commitment, just in case. Probably lamp 3 or something smaller or I would incorporate it in a pattern. But I’m not a designer… I’m more of a blue girl myself!

  46. I dig that 1950s French floor lamp and then maybe a small red flower vase with white flowers and one more red book on the bookshelves

  47. Your home is beautiful! I prefer pops of color, so I’d go with a more subtle introduction. But a bright chair isn’t so bad, either. Anything more that that, I think, would be too much.

  48. I have a mid century wall clock with the spikes all the way around, the spikes are red. I love it and with a shorter lumbar in a great red textured color it brings out a bit of red I. A painting. It’s all just enough red!

  49. I LOVE red, full stop — mainly in textiles (kilims, pillows, tablecloths) and art. It’s always such a frustration to me that US mass-market decor (ahem, Tarjay) seems to do tons of blues, tans, grays, even orange/coral, and so little red. Lead the way, Emily!

  50. This was so helpful for me because my husband LOVES red but I find it too overpowering. I love some of the examples you have here and can’t wait to see what you do with it!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  51. Yessss! Red accents are my weakness. In our recent renovation I tried so hard to push my design boundaries, but I’m such a sucker for red, black and white…and wood. That’s a color right? My wow piece is a red Smeg in the kitchen. Excited to see what you do!

    1. This post is so exciting-just reading about the addition of red has me thrilled. Was not a big fan of the red rug but a huge fan of a different addition of red. — I cannot wait to see what you do!!

  52. Mixing it up, yeah! Red is really coming back into the spotlight and I am all for it. I prefer a bigger statement, like a chair or two, big art, or a rug. I am not sure about just a skinny-arm sconce or one little pendant, it’s a bit weak, unless the whole space is very very minimalist. So in Emily’s living room I am looking for something grand with a dash of modernist whimsy. Hmmmm….. looking forward to seeing this.

  53. The red is definitely not for me (I don’t feel drawn to – and in fact feel a pull away from all of the images you posted above), but I still look forward to seeing you Emily-ize it! Maybe you’ll make me a convert. 🙂

  54. The painters Turner, Constable and Gainsborough usually added a touch of red to their masterpieces, sometimes at the very last minute just before the ‘ reveal’ . They knew a thing or two.

  55. I love red, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done red a few times and, while I love it at first, have found it to be too aggressive for EVERY day. As in a leave-me-alone-I’m-busy-feeling-other-things-than-RED-today.
    It will be interesting to see how you do it.
    PS I still have red in my home in the form of oriental rugs. They are not as aggressive as buffalo checked wallpaper in your kitchen (oh yes I did!).

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