Sunday, January 8, 2012

Decorating, Simplified: Pick Just Two Colors!

Kristie Barnett at The Decorologist had some fantastic advice in her recent blog post, "Decorating Your Home in the Right Order".  She tells us to stop getting side-tracked with buying accessories until we first have a color scheme in place, and second, that we've tackled the furniture arrangement.  So simple!  This is solid design advice, distilled down to its essentials.

Now, I've had color schemes on the brain recently.  Color is getting lighter, fresher.   Just look at grey's new popularity, and the release of "Tangerine Tango" as Pantone's 2012 Color of the Year.   Like Kristie, I love distilling design concepts down to the basics.  So, in my ongoing quest to simplify color advice, I'm going to use grey and tangerine to illustrate my take on Color Schemes, Made Easy:

Pick Just Two Colors!

Now for the nitty-gritty:  The first color should be a neutral, such as grey, or cream, or tan.  (Yes, strong colors like red or navy can be neutrals, but only a select few of us will be brave enough, or have enough design experience, to go there.)  The second color should be what is typically called an "accent color" - tangerine, teal, maybe black (if you're bold), or even another neutral (I'll show examples, but do NOT pick another neutral just because you're scared of color!).

With just these two colors - let's call them your Main Neutral and your Main Color, for simplicity's sake - you can choose paint colors, rugs and fabrics, which cover the greatest visual territory in a room.  If your flooring is already in place, such as tile or hardwood, just make sure the two colors don't clash with it, and you're good to go.  

Whenever I see interiors that have two "main" color choices (as opposed to more complex, multi-color schemes), usually the Main Color falls into one of three categories:

  • Option #1:  A Soft Tone or Pastel as the "Main Color"

Pale blue with cream, or with grey, are a very popular combination:

Here the "Main Color" is a soft mossy green:
And here it's a soft tangerine-y pink:

  • Option #2:  A Bold, Bright Color as the "Main Color"
  Strong red:

 Deep green (don't see this color much nowadays):

Magenta or hot pink:

 Bright green:

 More pink:

  • Option #3:  Another Neutral, perhaps a dark tone, as the "Main Color"

Love this cream-and-charcoal combination:

 Soft grey and tan:
 Cream and greenish-tan:

Cream and grey-brown:

Deep rich grey and soft pale terra-cotta:

Pale tan and chocoloate:
Often these "two neutral" schemes are what we think of as "monochromatic" color schemes:

Must everything in the room be one of those two colors?  No, it's fun (and more realistic) to bring in little accents of other colors as well.  If those accents are pre-planned (not just knick-knacks that you inherited, let's say), then you can incorporate an intentional third color (either another neutral, or another accent color) that will really take your room's sophistication up a notch.  Lots of examples here:

Cream, warm grey (the two main color choices), and soft violet:

Cream, pale blue (the two main color choices) and celery green:

Robin's egg blue, charcoal grey-brown (the two main colors here), and salmon pink:

Cream, orange (tough call, but I'd say those are the two main colors), and pale grey-green:

White, warm tan (two main colors), and red-orange:

Pale pink (walls), greenish tan (sofa, drapes), and warm orangey-pink (chairs, pillows, shades):
Based on the walls and drapes I'd say the main colors here are cream and pale blue.  The third little accent color is the pale green:

These two are classic "beach" color schemes:  cream, tan (the two main colors), and then pale blue as the third accent color.  They threw in touches of yellow too... nice!

Cream, taupe-y grey (the two main colors - you can see them in the rug), and magenta:

Cream, a linen-ish tan, and pops of yellow:

Despite the fact that this is a very simplified way to look at color, it can be useful.  If you're like me, you'll start noticing "main neutrals" and "main colors" everywhere.  Even better is when you step into your living room or bedroom with a fresh eye...  You'll notice obvious changes that can make a big impact (removing the rug or drapes that take over the room because they just don't "go") or see where you have a color gap (the whole room is brown, and you really need a "main color" to use in pillows or drapes or an area rug).

Hope this helps!  

Lisa (whose living room is cream, soft grey, and bits of pale warm green)


  1. Good explanation..good photos....Decorating 101.

  2. Fantastic post! I love all the examples you gave. It really is so simple -- pick two colors and go from there. I'm currently on lime and chocolate (with the "intentional" orange) and would love to change it to yellow and gray...and white. Wish me luck!