One of the first questions I’m usually asked when designing a space is whether to use color, or keep it neutral. The answer when choosing between neutral tones vs color is actually quite simple: both are very important elements influencing every interior design creation – the secret is how you combine the two.
Neutral tones is the term usually applied to black, white, greys and all the shades from beige to brown – yes, I know it sounds boring, but there’s a vast variation across this spectrum that will provide a perfect canvas for any design, leaving the colors and shapes free to add personality, individuality, temperature or interest.
When designing your room there can be a temptation to block one wall with a trendy color, then work backwards to try and tie in an overall design. In my experience this approach rarely works well. Very few spaces can take big swathes of color and you risk being stuck with something that will dominate for years.
A better effect is often had by using a neutral background and layering the color palette on top – just like an artist paints a picture. In other words; there’s more than one way of achieving the effect of color in a room.
To begin, when choosing both neutral tones or strong colors, it’s important to consider the overall style of your home, as well as your personal preferences. Think about the period and feeling of the house itself and the spaces that adjoin the rooms you’re refurbishing.
I’ll start by explaining a bit more about how to best use neutral tones.
Some of the best known neutral tones are white, beige, cream, grey, and black. Both black and white can look incredibly chic, yet easily overwhelm a space, so they are best avoided unless you are planning to achieve something very dramatic. Greys and beiges, however, provide the perfect backdrop to accentuate whatever you plan to add, in the same way that a cornfield shows off a handful of poppies.
Neutral décor is a great way to create a calm and relaxing space. Think about health parlours or clinics; it’s no accident that they’re always decorated in neutral tones to create a soothing, healing atmosphere. Beiges and greys can be tempered with gentle licks of color to produce restful effects in the home without the cold clinical elements.
When choosing neutral tones, it’s important to begin by looking at the amount of natural light in your space. Lighter neutral tones will reflect more light, making a room feel brighter. Darker neutral tones will absorb the light, making a room feel more intimate. This same effect makes a room feel larger or smaller. Just as lighter tones will make a ceiling feel higher; darker tones will pull it down.
In the 21st century, with the trend for biophilia and sustainability all over design ideas, it’s the neutral tones that knit perfectly with natural woods, stone and plants – or showcase whatever you want to place in front of them.
Whereas neutral tones provide the perfect backdrop to a space, it’s the strong colors that add personality and interest and will be remembered, even in the smallest splash. Color creates a mood or atmosphere and can even change the perceived temperature of a room.
The base for all color combinations is red, blue, and yellow – a mix of these will create almost any shade you can imagine with an added dash of black or white. At the beginning of 2023 Pantone launched their Color of the Year as Viva Magenta, a luxurious echo of new red wine with a dash of fresh indigo, reflecting trends for the rich shades of the 1950s and signalling that years of pandemic were over; it was time to have fun again!
If you’re looking for a little vibrancy there is now a massive choice of diverse, top-quality colors available in paints, fabrics and furnishings. If you’re creating a calm space, maybe with links to the outside, greens and blues are a perfect way to include color without losing the serenity. A dull space can be totally jazzed with a few touches of red, orange or yellow. You honestly don’t need much to entirely transform a room so long as the colors connect.
When choosing strong colors, it’s important to use them sparingly. A huge amount of feeling can be conveyed with simple splashes of color on just the soft furnishings – so get your base layer in place then add or remove rugs, window dressings, cushions, throws and ornaments until it feels balanced. It’s easy enough to swap out a few pillows if the color feels overbearing; but much harder to repaint a ceiling!
Don’t forget to consider the other colors adjacent to your space, especially the adjoining halls and rooms. Strong colors will clash with other colors, so it’s important to choose themes that thread them together. Always a good tip is to test each color in both daylight and artificial light, because they will change at different times of day.
Combining Neutral Tones and Strong Colors
Neutral tones and strong colors are two of the most important elements of interior design. They sit comfortably together especially when neutral tones are used as a canvas for the colors. When choosing neutral tones and strong colors, the best place to start is with the overall style of your home, any focal pieces that will be in the space and, of course, your personal preferences.
Think about the purpose of the room, do you want excitement or restfulness? Some rooms, like a nursery, might need stimulating colors in the day and restful shades in the evening. Use a neutral background with colors that self-cancel in artificial light, and you have the best of both moods, at the flick of a switch.
A useful tool to help combine neutral tones and strong colors is a color wheel. A color wheel can help you pick colors that complement each other.
There are three main types of color wheels:
– The primary color wheel consists of red, yellow, and blue.
– The secondary color wheel consists of orange, green, and purple.
– The tertiary color wheel consists of all the colors that are created by mixing primary and secondary colors.
When choosing colors, it’s important to remember the psychology of color. Warm colors, such as red, orange, and yellow, are associated with feelings of excitement and energy. Cool colors, such as blue, green, and purple, are associated with feelings of calm and relaxation.
Remember you also need to consider the space: Lighter colors will make a room feel larger, while darker colors will make a room feel smaller. A color wheel will help your choices but ultimately, whatever the top trends, you should always do what makes you happy because you will be looking at it every day!
Neutral tones and strong colors are two of the most important elements of interior design. They sit comfortably together especially when the neutral is used as a canvas for the colors. When choosing neutral tones and strong colors, it’s worth considering the overall style of your home, any focal pieces that will be in the space and, of course, your personal preferences.