When a ‘Pop of Color’ Goes Wrong

The changing season is the perfect time of year for freshening up your home. An inexpensive way to rejuvenate your look is to add a “pop of color” to the existing palette.


Shades of blue would give your bedroom a breezy, coastal beach look.

A touch of coral will turn that monochrome living room into happier, sunnier place.

Orange will infuse a room with more passion and life.

Green tones will bring more serenity and calm to your sitting room.


Whichever color you choose to spruce up your house for the season, the below design tips will keep your pop of color choices from going horribly wrong.


Warning: Adding pops of bright, saturated color in an otherwise calm, muted room may result in severe eye exhaustion.

Pops of color with neutral grey can be a wonderful color combination when executed properly and also can be quite agitating when done poorly.


In the photo to the right, the eye is immediately drawn to the very bright yellow that contrasts sharply with the muted greys, beiges and creams of the living room.


The eye is not allowed to rest when taking in the scene, bouncing back and forth between the yellow pillows and the accessories.




Tip #1: Remember ‘Tint, Tone and Shade’ when adding color to a room


Photo Credit: Ballard Design

Choosing the right tint, tone, or shade of color is important in balancing the current feel and mood of the room.


In this room, pillows and ottomans in a paler toned-down yellow retain the overall serene feel of the room while still adding gorgeous color.


Integrating additional patterned pillows in colors that coordinate to the room gives your eye a chance to rest and take in the overall room.



What are Tint, Shade and Tone?


Tint: Hue mixed with white making it paler.


Shade: Hue mixed with black, darkening the color.


Tone: Hue mixed with grey, reducing the overall intensity or saturation of the color.


(Source: HGTV Color Wheel Primer)




Below is another pop of color gone slightly amiss due to lack of layering.


The shade of the red used in the pillows and accessories works well, however, the eye still jumps back and forth between the red pops without resting.


The beautiful coffered ceiling and the lovely architectural details are overlooked when they should be the stars of the room.


Layers of color in a rug and draperies as well as using pillows with a pattern would help integrate the red into the overall plan of the room allowing the eye enjoy the wonderful millwork of this residence.



Tip #2: Think about creating layers of color and pattern versus pops of color so the eye can rest on the whole space.

The eye rests in this lovely room. Pops of color are subtle and layered. The intensity of the orange-red hue of the patterned pillows is toned down. The creamy white of the walls and sofa is incorporated into the fabric. The complementary soft blue color creates harmony for the eye.


The architectural elements like the arched doorways are not overshadowed by the pops of color. Note how the designer brings in a more intense color via the flowers and the leather bench.



This pretty ivory, baby blue and orange room creates a lovely, rich layering of color.


The orange hue brings out the warm finish on the two tables. Both subtle and bold color is infused into all corners of the room with the complementary tint of soft blue on the fabrics and accessories, the fresh geometric wallpaper and bright floral draperies.


A summer refresh will not usually consist of new wallpaper (unless you are very daring). However, new draperies, rugs, and accessories can make a big impact on achieving layering of color in your room.




Photo Credit: Ballard Design

Tip #3: Inexpensive pillows, draperies and slipcovers are great options for refreshing for the summer months.


This room is an example of adding inexpensive pillows and draperies in gorgeous blue tones and patterns to a neutral colored room to make it breezy and airy. The two chairs upholstered in blue paisley fabric pull this room together. If reupholstery is outside of the budget, try slipcovers for refreshing your accent chairs.



Warning: Using bright primary hues incorrectly can look like a children’s party exploded in your home.

The overload of bright color can be overpowering and chaotic even in a room that has strong fundamentals like this one: grey walls and a modern cozy sofa in a neutral dark grey shade.


This room also suffers from a scale issue. This artwork sits too high on the wall and seems too small. The cocktail table is a bit too large for the sofa. The rug is too small for the space.


Let's quickly move along lest our retinas burn out.


Tip #4: Artwork is a fabulous way to bring in seasonal color into a room. Change up art regularly to bring in new energy and color to the space.


Don’t be afraid to employ larger scale artwork showcasing bold color, especially with a neutral wall color. It will draw your eye immediately at first. Then, the eye will anchor to the 'like' colors in the room.


The bold and colorful pieces including the teal geometric rug create a beautiful balance to the abstract artwork.


Notice the designer did not add colorful pillows or other accessories. The color is layered simply and boldly.


I would love to see what the rest of this room looks like. Unfortunately, the designer is unknown.




Tip #5: Pops of color can go amiss when you are not 100% committed.


Restraint that comes from fear of color can result in a room that is not quite right. The bedroom to the right feels like the designer was not 100% committed to a color refresh. Even the photographer seemed to realize this and added a pair of red Keds to the photo.


It is a gorgeous bedroom that is so close to feeling layered and cozy. However, the red feels slightly forced to me.


Let’s imagine there is an accent chair or pouf hiding just out of the photo frame that is upholstered in a gorgeous patterned fabric of grey, beige, red, and cream. Can you also see a breezy drapery fabric next to the sheers that brings color into the corner of the room? Ahh...thats better.



Tip #6: To achieve a refresh that is infused with activity and color, choose items that are opposites in one aspect and the same in another aspect.


This designer fully committed to color. The eye is drawn to the bold color of the rich blue sofa and the bold fuchsia pouf. The color is expertly sandwiched between two contrasting black and white elements. Bold stripes on the area rug oppose the abstract art on the wall creating energy.


Low backed sofa and low pouf create opposition in bold colors. A modern red bar cart is placed nest to a traditional red area rug. The tiny bits of color from the books in the room play well with the expanse of color from the other elements.


This is a room that I would love to explore.




Significant changes do not have to be expensive or take a long time.


Below is a beach rental house on Coronado Island in Southern California that I helped transform from a 'chaotic carnival' to a peaceful and serene retreat. The inexpensive updates took a few weeks and the house was immediately rented out. The owners are thrilled with the results and plan on updating floors and artwork in the future.

Before: Coronado Living Room

The 'before' shot of the living room to the left is another retina-burning experience.


The eye is drawn up to the citron outline of the ceiling coffer. It is then is distracted by the hanging kite-like structure. It moves to the bright teal walls (actually a really nice color) and is then lost in the chaos of mishmash furniture and accessories.

After: Coronado Living Room


A warm white paint color provides a restful background for the simple and restrained beige, white, and blue-toned furnishings.


The eye is drawn down and rests at the human level. The architectural elements can be appreciated in a more subtle way.



Before: Coronado Kitchen


In the 'before' kitchen to the left, the coolness of the silver cabinets and metallic backspace compete with the warmth of the granite countertops and the wood floor.






After: Coronado Kitchen

Refreshing the cabinets and doors with a warm white eggshell paint brings a crisp, fresh look to the kitchen. The silver metal backsplash was replaced with white subway tile with white grout so as not to complete with the busy granite countertop. These simple changes bring a new warmth to the granite countertops for a completely new fresh look.




Go ahead and use these tips to help you expertly use pops and layers of color to refresh your home for the summer!




Please share your mistakes and successes in adding pops of color to your home.

If you like these tips, feel free to share with friends on social media.


Wishing you peace and joy,


Donna Fedor-Brann

Owner and Designer

Donna Brann Interiors, LLC

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