How To Liven Up A Neutral Color Scheme

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Neutral color schemes can really help create a welcoming environment in a home. "Neutral palettes are perfect when we are going for rejuvenation, restoration, and relaxation. They act as a wonderful backdrop for furnishings, art, and accessories allowing statement pieces to shine," Sandra Funk of House of Funk told Elle Decor. The varied tones are the perfect colorless background for a residence, but without the right combination of decoration, the neutral palette can easily fall flat.

Although neutral color schemes technically lack color, they are often full of tones and undertones that help develop depth and layer dimension in an interior, eliminating the need for bolder shades. Neutral color palettes for an interior are commonly composed of a combination of beige, gray, white, cream, brown, and black tones. The best neutral-inspired rooms have mastered the necessary qualities of balance, texture, patterns, and tones. Invigorate your neutral oasis like a pro and continue reading for all the ways to liven up a neutral color scheme at home.

Have moments of texture

One way to instantly take your neutral color scheme to the next level is by adding tons of texture to the interior. Texture is always a part of designing a home, but it's significantly important when filling a neutrally decorated one since it helps the look come alive. "Texture in interior design is about creating moments that invite touch both in person within the space and through photographs," Lance Thomas of Thomas Guy Interiors told Better Homes and Gardens. Invite texture into your home by layering elements into the design that make you want to reach out and touch them.

When a room feels and looks flat, it is flat. A room can appear one-dimensional when it's missing texture. Weave moments of interest throughout the home by decorating with dressers with fluted designs, chunky knit throws, velvet ottomans, and leather accent chairs. These are just a few elements that will help add dimension to a neutral home. Other textural additions could include small accessories, pillows, rugs, curtains, and other furnishings adorned with designs and markings to create visual levels of interest. 

Add drama by mixing metals

Choosing to layer metal finishes to contrast the neutral design is anything but boring. Be intentional in your selections when accessorizing with mixed metal finishes in your neutrally decorated interior. "I feel like it keeps a space from feeling too one-note, and it gives a more collected and layered look," interior designer Zoe Feldman told The Seattle Times. Multiple finishes in the same room create a more curated and vigorous neutral aesthetic.

Shiny details play well in a neutral interior and dramatically elevate the elegance of the space. Effortlessly mix metals into your neutral design by switching out the door handles and drawer pulls in the kitchen and living areas, updating light fixtures, or adding accessories like picture frames and candlesticks — just be sure to vary the finish type. Breathe new life into your neutral decor by creating moments of mixed metal finishes throughout the home in matte black, oil-rubbed bronze, brushed gold, silver, nickel, and chrome. When mixing hardware finishes, note if the ones you love are cool or warm, and add complementary metals to finish the pairing. Popular combinations include black and gold with stainless steel; brass and matte black; and nickel and brass. Metal finishes are a deliberate focal point in a neutral landscape, perfect for attracting the eye and livening the appearance.

Decorate with fun-shaped furniture

Neutral homes don't have to be boring, and you don't need a ton of color to make them interesting. Instead, you need some fun-shaped furniture. Try to furnish your place with a bit of personal flare showcased in the sofas, chairs, ottomans, and tables placed throughout the home. "Think scalloped shapes and curvaceous silhouettes that lend themselves to playful, artful, and frivolous spirit," designer and founder of Society Social Roxy Owens told Forbes. Not every piece of furniture for your neutral domain needs to have an embellishment or adornment; just have a few select pieces with flair to help break up the monotony in the room.

Consider adding a fluted china cabinet in the dining room or a pair of velvet boucle chairs to the living room as functional decor that's also pretty to look at. The unique ornamentations and profiles of the furniture will pop against the neutral background. The wavy lines and fun shapes add movement to the space and take the eye on a journey throughout the interior, creating a lively juxtaposition across the home.

Adjust the pillow sizes

Switching up pillows in an interior can be an easy way to liven up your neutral space. Nothing adds personality like a pillow. It's the perfect accessory for the bed or sofa. "Mixing in different textures is a good way to stick with a monochromatic or neutral palette, but still add some visual interest," interior designer Paula Gaull told Mental Floss. Texture guarantees added dimension and style, but in a neutral interior, you need a little more variation than your typical sherpa pillow.

It's simple to change the look and feel of any bedroom or living room by upgrading your pillow selection with a new set of covers or including pillows with ornamentation, but did you know the size of the pillow will also impact the display? As per Studio McGee, you should have a varied assortment of different-sized cushions layered into your neutral abode. Altering the size of the pillows directly impacts the visual landscape without the need for busy patterns and designs that could muddle the look. Basic pillow sizes range from 18 inches to 30 inches or more. For a plumper look, buy larger inserts than what the cushion cover measures — just be sure the height does not tower over the furniture as this could overwhelm the design.

Include objects with character

When decorating a neutral room, focus on curating unique or expressive accessories. "When working with a neutral color scheme, you need to add depth and objects of character to bring life to the room," founder of The New Design Project, Fanny Abbes, told Livingetc. These little bits of character can be added via accessories in your home. It's amazing how impactful small decorative items can be to a space when placed with purpose in an interior. 

Spruce up your neutrally designed home by adding sculptural busts, clay bowls, ceramic vases, and marble trinket dishes to the shelves and table tops. Small accessories placed intentionally around the house give guests an inside look at your interests and help break up space and fill in voids. Before placing them around the home, be sure the proportions are appropriate for your dwelling. Consider the size of the room, furnishings, and decor to choose appropriately scaled pieces that stimulate the space.

Compliment the neutrals with other neutrals

Using varying shades of color in a space adds sophistication to an interior. You can easily complement a neutral color palette with other neutral tones — no color wheel required. Just choose neutrals based on the existing ones in the room. 

When selecting other neutrals to mesh into your scheme, try to establish a base neutral color first. This foundation shade will anchor all the different colors and make it easy for you to pair other neutrals with them. With this color in hand, you can adjust your accent color preferences to a few shades lighter or darker to find which ones will best go with the base tone. In color theory, all of these shades within the color range will blend harmoniously in an interior. Just make sure you pay attention to the undertones. The undertones are the slight differences in the shade that make it appear to be a different color, as per Kathy M. Interiors. For example, you can find blue, yellow, pink, green, or orange undertones in different gray shades.

If you're asking, well, how do I find what undertones match? Compare the samples in your actual home. The colors will change depending on how much natural and artificial light you get in a particular room, so you will need to see how the tones shift in that specific area. Then see how they mesh — does the sandy brown pillow work with the icy gray wall paint? It's easier to decide when you see it in action.

Update the plants with new planters

Decorating with natural foliage is always trending, so naturally, it should be included in a neutral interior. The bushy green leaves add a little vibrant pop of color that compliments a neutral color scheme so well. But what about the vessel it's in? Picking the plant species is one thing, but the planter it sits in is a whole other element all on its own. You could decorate with or change up the planters for a simple way to liven up a neutral scheme and tie together a space.

Planters are available in various sizes, designs, shapes, and colors, but not all are meant for a neutrally decorated interior. While black, white, taupe, tan, brown, or even woven planters are beautiful choices, one could consider investing in more stylish finishes to rejuvenate the place. "Rustic finishes in gold, bronze, and copper add luster and sophistication to indoor planters," creative director for Napa Home & Palm, Andrew Palm, told Furniture, Lighting & Decor. Glance around the interior and see what plants could use an upgrade in appearance. From potted plants to hanging ones in corners, they will add some dimension to your space.

Mix in little bits of muted color

If you're not too shy about adding a little bit of color to your neutral landscape, now is your chance. "You can still have color, just make sure that it is desaturated," Catherine Heraghty, creative director of The Stables, told Home Beautiful. "I tend to stick to my muted pastels and soft blues when doing my interiors, but there are some lovely warm rusty oranges and olive greens out there to give you a more earthy look." These dulled hues pair well with neutral color schemes because of the low color saturation and complimentary undertones.

Muted tones in a room full of neutral colors can elevate the level of sophistication and add a touch of modernity to the interior. Incorporate low saturated colors as secondary shades. This allows the colors to complement the neutral foundation, not overtake it. "When adding colors, I always like to add them in my smaller styling pieces, like cushions, throws, and decorative accessories. Artwork is also another great way to reinforce your color palette," Heraghty shared. Soften the aesthetic and enliven your neutral interior by decorating with understated color combinations in muted tones.

Choose a patterned rug

While the rest of the room may be void of prints, let the floor be the one area in the home where patterns can play. Not all interior decorators are crazy about incorporating patterned rugs, but when the furnishings, walls, and decor are all solid neutral hues, motifs can really help bring the room to life. Use rugs to create an atmosphere in your humble abode.

Incorporate throw rugs into the living areas, entryways, and hallways with designs that elevate the furniture and complement the neutral color palette. "For more laid-back, Zen environments, there are fantastically beautiful sisals with patterns in them, like herringbones and subtle stripes," interior designer Richard Mishaan told The New York Times. Oriental and Turkish styles in neutral tones are also trendy and good at hiding any dirt or markings left behind in high-traffic areas of the house. Decorating with a patterned area rug adds structure to a space and can be the perfect accessory to help you balance textures and liven a neutral color scheme.

Warm it up with wood tones

Natural wood is one of the best items you can use for decor in a neutral home because natural beauty is always in style. Incorporate wood accents and furnishings to liven the neutral aesthetic. It's no secret this material adds warmth while still being a classic design staple. Dressers, tables, and other fine furnishings crafted of poplar, oak, maple, cedar, or pine woods are all welcomed additions. The question is, how can you incorporate wood into your interior design in ways (other than furniture) that elevate the neutral color scheme?

Whether your vibe is rustic, traditional, contemporary, or boho, different expressions of wood in an interior can help contrast the neutral palette for a modern aesthetic. From the floor to the walls to the ceiling, wood can be the sophisticated finish you didn't know the interior was missing. "A wood accent wall is amazing because it also doubles as a piece of art," interior designer Amy Peltier told Realtor. "You walk into a home and are hit with this focal point." A gorgeous wooden accent wall could be a bold yet complimentary statement in a neutral living room or bedroom, adding texture to the space. You can even include shiplap or wood paneling on the ceiling, up the staircase walls, or in the entryway for a show-stopping feature element.

Use mirrors to brighten up the place

A neutral interior's best accessory is a mirror. Mirrors can add style to any room, visually make a space bigger, and brighten the place up. "It helps to completely mirror a wall or to add a decorative mirror opposite the windows to bring in the light," interior designer Jessica Schuster told Elle Decor. They magnify and reflect all the neutral beauty you have going on inside or out. Use floor-standing or wall-mounted mirrors to set the tone in your color scheme.

Mirrors don't have to be one specific design since the frames mesh well with all interior design styles. Mirrors with ornamental features, abstract shapes, and traditional forms may all have a place in your space. Decorate with mirrors in multiple finishes like bronze, black, white, and gold, as well as mirrors made of different materials like wood, metal, and plastic. The best mirrors are ones that reflect your personal style. 

Light it up

With a flick of a switch, alter the mood in your neutral oasis. Selecting the proper lighting for your space can draw out the right kind of attention from the furnishings, accessories, and neutral color palette. "Investing in good lighting is paramount to the quality of any space we inhabit," designer Kenneth Boyer told Lonny. "One simple way to achieve good lighting is through switching your existing bulbs in your table and floor lamps to full spectrum, as color renders much better." Light fixtures are sort of like the jewelry of the house — they can literally make it sparkle.

Illuminate the neutral interior with the kind of lighting that brightens the place without heating it up. The "heat" of a light bulb has nothing to do with the temperature in terms of degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius but rather in Kelvin. A light bulb ranges from a warm yellow to a bright blue hue. The color of light a bulb emits will most definitely impact how the neutral color palette appears in your interior. Adjust how bright the lights are around the house — from the table lamps to the pendants and wall sconces — to liven up your neutral color scheme.

Add dimension with wall moldings

If you are looking to enhance the visual appeal in your neutral space, consider using wall molding on the walls. Trimming and molding will instantly give a drab room a bit of depth and increase the dimension. How you want to install the wall molding is up to you. With proper measurements of the given wall space, a general design idea, and some basic mathematics, you can determine how much material you will need to create the look with customizable trim, or you can purchase some pre-shaped molding like the ones available at Home Depot. With all the different trims and endless layout designs, you can introduce an elevated sense of custom design to your neutral walls.

Using neutral tones as the foundation color of your home is a mod way to create a chic look. Liven a neutral color scheme by complementing the interior with shiny accessories, wall trimmings, brighter lighting, fun-shaped furniture, and texture. All of these elements combined with a neutral color palette will make the interior as interesting as you are, which is anything but boring.