How to Let Go of Plain White Walls and Use Colour Confidently
White walls are great... until they stop being inspiring. Five paint colour experts share how to transition to colour
Homeowners are often nervous about venturing beyond white walls, says Frances Cosway, design director at White Pebble Interiors. “They worry the colour will date. They’re also unsure of how to blend and coordinate coloured walls with other elements in the room.”
“White walls may be the safe choice, but they can lack warmth and emotion,” says Jono Fleming, interior designer, stylist and co-host of the House of Style podcast. “Paint colour can transform a room and affect your mood, calming you down after a long day or even giving you the energy to get out of bed in the morning.”
As well as lifting the mood of a room, colour can also detract from less-than-perfect features or highlight ones you love, says Bec Farrow, interior design consultant at Elska Interiors. “When you paint the wall around a window in a dark tone, for example, the wall appears to recede and the view becomes a focal point,” she says.
Looking to liven up your home with colour? Find local painters and decorators on Houzz.
“Here’s the thing with paint – if you get a colour wrong, you can always paint over it,” Jono says. “Ideally, you won’t have to, but knowing this can give you the confidence to experiment with new things, which can sometimes lead to unexpected and happy surprises.
“The key to getting colour right is to test it with swatches and larger patches on your walls first,” he continues. “Be sure to look at these samples at different times of day and with the lights on and off, as the colours and tones will change in different light conditions.”
You don’t need to use colour on every wall to make an impact, says Alexandra Ferguson, creative director at Alexandra Marie Interiors. “Small amounts of colour can inject warmth, personality and energy into a space and are sometimes all you need to refresh a scheme without having to go to the trouble or expense of a full decorative overhaul,” she says.
If diving into the world of colour feels daunting, begin with baby steps, Bec says. “Try soft, muted colours, such as buff, green-grey or soft blue. They will give you the satisfaction of colour, but are a gentle transition from a neutral.
“The back wall of a study nook, a child’s reading area, a bathroom or cloakroom are all fantastic places to start adding colour with paint or wallpaper without going gung-ho,” she continues. “If you’re keen to try the permanence of tiles, add them to a bathroom niche or laundry splashback. They’re tiny spaces, so the investment is small and the installation time fleeting.”
“Think about how you use the room, how much time you spend in it and what its main purpose is. This can dictate the direction you go with your colour choices,” Jono says. “For example, in a TV area that you only use in the evening, navy can create a sense of cosiness.”
Bec concurs, adding, “If you’re choosing a colour for a bedroom, a soft, quiet hue might be appropriate, whereas a space such as a playroom calls for some fun colour.”
“Also remember, rooms don’t have to all be the same colour,” Jono says. “Each serves a different purpose and deserves its own personality.”
- If your room is dark and north-facing, adding a dark colour will enhance this, which is fine if you’re looking to create a room filled with drama.
- Consider whether you need to soften the light bounced back into the room or enhance it. Adding light, bright colours will help bounce light back into a space.
- Northern light lacks warmth and tends to make paint colours appear cooler, meaning a grey with cool undertones could appear blue. Conversely, warm undertones can appear more yellow in southern light.
- When picking a colour, take into account shades already in the room, such as the flooring, brickwork, sofa or adjoining kitchen cabinetry. Placing two hues together can reflect colour onto the other surface. For example, a deep red might throw pink onto an adjoining wall or it could amplify a colour in the other material, creating a clash.
No clue where to start when it comes to colour? For ideas, Bec suggests looking to:
- Your natural environment The perfect place to find colours that ground and soothe your soul, whether it’s the turquoise of the ocean or a beautiful tree in your garden.
- Houzz When starting a project, I always ask clients to show me images they love on Houzz. You quickly start to see patterns emerging of the colours they love. A quick look at the photos on Houzz will not only give you ideas of where to start when it comes to picking colours, it will also remove the options you don’t like.
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- Art Painting your wall in one of the minor colours in an artwork can highlight the piece and give a curated, designer feel to a room.
- Favourite fabric If you have a piece of furniture upholstered in a coloured fabric, create a tonal space by picking a wall colour a shade away from it.
- Plants If you’re a plant lover, look for a colour that makes the green of your plants sing, such as a greeny-grey.
Nurturing, grounded colours are popular in 2022, Bec says. “The impact of global events over the past couple of years has seen people reaching for comfort, and that’s playing out in interiors as well. While bright white won’t go away, it will take a step back to see warm whites, nature-drawn colours and earthy tones with a little charcoal take centre stage.”
“A bit lower on the trend radar, and possibly fleeting, are retro colour palettes of playful pastels and warm, muted 1970s shades,” she says.
“Regardless of trends, though, if you’re not planning to sell your home, whatever brings you happiness is where you should be heading,” she adds.
Texture is another big trend, he says. “Limewashes, French washes and Venetian plasters are also having a moment, led by a desire to create homes that feel more organic. They’re a beautiful and timeless way to add visual movement to a wall.”
Have you added colour to your walls? Share your thoughts and photos in the Comments.