There’s a part of my design process I left out of my MOTO introduction from a few weeks back, and that was all the variations of color combinations I played with (even if just in my head-slash-Instagram bookmarks) for specifically my living room. I went back to look at all my saved images halfway through making firm decisions about the spaces, and you guys…there was SO MUCH yellow. To say that surprised me is an understatement. Who even am I? Aside from my blue-and-yellow moon and stars themed bedroom as a kid, the golden hue has rarely ever been a consideration for me in decorating. Sure, I had a gray-and-yellow phase, but really all that was was me buying a set of floral Target pillows from the now defunct DwellStudio line. The draw to the earthy hue lay as forgotten in my brain as all the decimal points of pi I diligently memorized as an overachieving high schooler. BUT THEN IT CAME BACK (the yellow lust, not the numbers).
This was the photo that kickstarted it all for me. The White City House hotel (photographed by Ellie Lillstrom) popped up in my Instagram feed and I stopped and stared at it for maybe 10 minutes. I love a box pleat, so I wasn’t exactly surprised by my visual lust for this room, but there was something about the warm mustard velvet paired with those crisp white bed linens, the mid-century palette rounded out by the icy blue radio and nightstand, and green table lamp…it felt nostalgic yet new. It’s a room that feels robust yet casual, and that is not an easy combination to achieve.
In terms of tone, I’m not necessarily talking about buttery yellow or anything too creamy. This is not to say I don’t love a bright, sunny yellow—is there anything happier than that?—but what really has my eye (and I’ve been seeing used in a fresh, forward-thinking way) are deeper, richer shades like mustard, ochre, butterscotch. Anything almost gold like; all the richness of the metal but none of the glam. In fact, these yellows tend to be very grounding in a way that makes my eyes relax when I see them in a space. They’re a “deep breath” moment in a design for me, and I can’t believe I’ve overlooked it for myself all this time.
Here, in a relatively neutral bedroom by Cortney Bishop Design, the mustard rug rounds out the blues, whites and weathered wood tones. Without it, it would be a beachy, light-filled room that was a bit floaty, but with it, it’s a beachy light-filled room that feels balanced and tethered. Do me a favor. Take your hand and cover up the rug (and the bed’s base). What do you see? Pretty, sure, but almost too visually empty. Now remove your hand…can you see what the yellow does to the space? It’s like your eyes refocus and it just feels…right.
I very much appreciate someone who leans into a color. If my living room is any indication, I LOVE a bold sofa moment, but you rarely see a yellow one and now the inside of my brain is screaming WHY NOT?!? The room above was designed by Alison Cayne (founder of Haven’s Kitchen), and if it looks familiar to you, it’s because it was inspired by the previous (internet-famous) home of Jenna Lyons, yellow velvet English roll arm sofa moment and all. Sure, decorating with yellow can feel like the path of a truly daring design braveheart, but Alison’s home is any indication, it can actually be very mellow and serene. It’s all about what shade you choose to work with and what you pair it with, which brings me here:
I didn’t want to just do a piece that was like “yay yellow” and send you off into the world with yellow fever (hopefully) all willy-nilly. The mission of this blog is to inspire and educate, so let’s move on to the “educate” part of this blog post, mkay?
Because yellow can be a bit tricky, I thought it would be a fun exercise to narrow in on some color palettes that work well in real rooms so either 1: I can further convince you that yellow is wonderful and not scary or 2: I can help usher the color into your home effortlessly for anyone already on board.
Let’s start with one of my favorites that makes the bright hue feel hip and edgy:
Yellow + Slate Blue + Black
This is one of those photos I mindlessly bookmarked in my Instagram account, forgot about, then re-fell in love with when I went back to look. The deep goldenrod yellow of the bedspread mixed with the black rug and leather bench could have felt a bit heavy if not for the white walls and linens and the cool casual nature of the slate blue/gray nightstand. Those walnut-hued herringbone floors certainly don’t hurt either. The room feels worldly, eclectic yet minimal and just plain cool. ::runs out and buys a yellow throw for her bed immediately::
Yellow + Neutrals
In a similar vein is this next idea for how to work with yellow: just pair it with a bunch of neutrals. The above photo (a room by the crush-worthy Studio Ashby) brings ochre in via multiple textiles to create variety but a concise color palette. White walls keep things light, and black lighting and art injects a bit of modernity and, well, downright “coolness” to the vignette.
Ochre is a clay-like hue that is not-quite-yellow, not-quite-brown and probably the most “popular” yellow right now. It’s the cool kid in the crayon box and elicits desert vibes. To me, it’s pretty calming and earthy, and works best paired with a whole lot of nothing. White, cream, wood tones, maybe a tiny bit of black, brass…okay that’s not “nothing” but they are tones and materials that act as great support to the star that ochre is in its own right.
If you stopped at that last image and thought it was too “trendy” for you, may I offer you up this warm and welcoming bedroom? This is the room of my vacation dreams. Who wouldn’t want to wake up here every day? I can almost feel the cool mountain breezes and the mosquitos buzzing in my ear. Ha, yeah right. Mosquitos would see this room from the window and know they don’t belong in there. It’s too chill for them. Anyhow, this is just a puffy cloud of neutrals that’s kicked up a notch by the pigment of the linen bed throw. The yellow brings the rest of the wood tones to life in a way.
Yellow + Teal
Moving away from the safer yellow path is yellow + teal. It can be as simple and subtle as the above Paris home by Jeancharles Tomas or as daring and saturated as the below room from Soho House Berlin.
I think what’s important to note here is something we’ve seen in the other palettes already discussed: yellow (in any shade) needs to be “grounded” by wood tones and can be “kicked up” by matte black and brass if you want to lean more modern. Creams and shades of white also help to make a much brighter hue—like the hand-glazed tile in the below kitchen by Lynn K. Leonidas—feel natural and, dare I say, calm?
Yellow + Mint Green
This specific hue or yellow is a little too buttery for me but I like the idea of a deep, rich yellow with a light and playful mint green (grounded by black and wood, as always). The painted black millwork is a bold move, but I think I like it? White might have felt too childlike and playful.
Yellow + Ice Blue
If yellow + mint green isn’t your slice of life, may I suggest yellow + icy blue? There’s really something nice about a warm golden yellow mixed with a light-as-air pastel like sky blue. Be careful though, because this could easily turn the corner into “baby room” territory. Be sure to keep things a touch more serious by adding in plenty of warmer neutrals and “grown up” textures like linen, leather and wood. The gray linen curtains are particularly nice here to add in another neutral layer that isn’t more white (particularly because of all the snow out the windows of this particular room).
Keeping furnishings more abstract or artful is another sure-fire way to make this perfect-for-a-nursery-but-also-adults palette clearly in the “adult” category.
Yellow + Pink
Alot of what I’ve already shown you has, I’ll admit, felt a bit serious. Yellow is supposed to be a “happy” shade after all, so let’s bring in some pep via blushy pinks (and in the case of the below room, shades of blue). If you go this route, be sure to keep your yellow firmly in the mustard or ochre family if you want things to still feel fresh and modern.
Yellow + Rust + Navy
And finally, the earthiest of all the palettes I’ve explored with you today: yellow (mustard) + rust and coral + navy via boutique hotel El Rey Court. Cool tones tend to marry really well with other cool tones, and the same goes with warm tones, but don’t be afraid to cross over, even if just a little bit. The addition of the navy (which is delivered here through the art) balances all the earthy hues nicely here. This could have also been achieved through a navy throw on the sofa or an armchair.
Notice how all but one of these didn’t have bright yellow walls. That’s where things can get scary. I applaud you if you’re willing to plunge into the yellow deep end and go all in, but for anyone looking to round out or add some depth to a palette they already have going, I hope you saw something here that got you excited. As I get to work on some other rooms in my home, you can bet that ochre or mustard will likely make a cameo. It’s hard to beat the warmth or comfort those hues can bring to a space.
Let me know if you’re into the color or even this type of article. I’m not calling yellow a “trend” necessarily, just trying to bring attention to something that’s on our radar. Something doesn’t have to be in vogue for us to love it/want to talk about it. Chime in in the comments friends. I love to hear from you!