How to Decorate With Neutral Colors


diy caning wrapped glass vase
Caning-Wrapped Vases. (via Martha Stewart)

Neutral tones help to create a soothing environment. Your eye isn’t distracted by busy patterns or garish color. Instead, a pared-down palette inspires focus, calm and relaxation. Neutral home decor, done right, is elegant and easy on the eye. Decorating with neutrals for an event is also a sure-fire way to make the occasion feel airy, effortless and sophisticated.

Neutral shades are classic and versatile. But creating a cohesive design scheme isn’t always as easy as it looks.

Here we give you the lowdown on neutral shades and offer our tips for creating neutral decor that stands out from the crowd.


What Are Neutral Colors?

Neutrals are any shades that don’t appear on the color wheel. Think brown, white, gray, and black. The varying hues in between may include beige, ivory, taupe, and any off-white shade you can imagine.

neutral home decor color palette
Neutral coffee table styling. (via Minimax Life)

These hues don’t leap out at you. Instead, they create a feeling of calmness and elegance.

For home decor, neutrals can be adapted to any season. But for an event, we think they’re particularly suited to the warm summer months.

What Colors Go Well With Neutrals?

Sometimes colorful elements can spark joy in neutral spaces. A bold or subtle coloration offers a way to make a personal style shine. The eye-catching details can also serve as year-round delights or celebrate seasons, holidays, and special occasions.

Luckily, almost any color can match the right neutral interior designs. With thousands of hues to choose from, it’s best to consider the mood a room should convey. Bright shades and light hues can make a room feel peaceful, happy, or fun. Dark shades and jewel tones can make a room feel rich, elegant, or sophisticated.

To create a cohesive and masterful space, implement the 60-30-10 rule. About 60% of a room should consist of a background color. The 30% is a secondary color that supports the main color with enough differentiation to add visual interest. The 10% applies to an accent hue that should add character with materials, textures, or patterns.

How Can You Add Color to a Space?

While neutral home decor can match almost anything, consider choosing a specific color palette. Repetition makes the choices look purposeful. You can explore ways to add a preference of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, or pink with the following:

Walls: Walls create a lasting impression in a space. You can enhance neutral colors on walls with textures like wood paneling or shiplap, board and batten, brick, stone, or tile. Colorful paint, murals, or wallpaper can create more visual interest or evoke a desired mood.
Plants: Realistic faux plants and trees add a subtle touch of greenery, making an area look earthy and relaxed. The foliage or flowers can introduce a variety of unique shades and hues, and an added benefit is that they can maintain their ideal appearance over time.
Textiles: Window treatments, pillows or throws, and rugs impact the overall look of a space. These pieces allow creativity and experimentation with different choices. The items can be rearranged or placed into storage to switch things up.
Decorations: Different decor and accent pieces add character to a space. Similar sizes, shapes, materials, and textures can create a thematic look. The rule of thirds guideline suggests grouping objects in sets of three or odd numbers to produce a visually pleasing appearance along walls, tablespaces, furniture, and other areas.

How Does Lighting Affect Color?

Natural lighting changes throughout the day based on the weather, the position of the sun, and the seasons. The location of an interior space can impact the appearance of colors, causing wall paint and decorations to look different.

Generally, north-facing rooms look cool and bluish, although daylight or halogen bulbs can help you achieve more accurate coloration. East-facing rooms often appear warm and glowing in the morning and cool and shadowy in the evening, while west-facing rooms look cool and bluish in the morning, brilliant in the middle of the day, and warm or glowy in the afternoon. South-facing rooms have more light and look ideal with both cool and warm colors.

Light-controlling window treatments and artificial light sources can help with controlling how colors look in these spaces.

So What Do You Need to Look Out for When Decorating With Neutrals?

Firstly, however neutral a shade, it will have underlying warm or cool tones. Mixing and matching warm with cool can be a challenge so approach this with caution.

Secondly, don’t presume that a neutral scheme is easy just because you’re not matching bold color or pattern. Decorating with neutrals requires a good understanding of tone, texture, materials and structure.

Fail to incorporate some or all of the above and you risk creating a scheme that feels boring or bland.

But don’t worry! We’ve got all the tips and inspo you need to create an utterly elegant and beautifully cohesive neutral space.


6 Neutral Home Decor Ideas

1.  Create Warmth With Wood

Wood is the perfect partner for a neutral scheme. It brings warmth and character. And it ensures your space doesn’t end up feeling cold or clinical.

Choose a natural wood finish for big furniture pieces. If a whole redesign is possible, consider revealing wooden floorboards or installing a parquet. That way you create a wonderful wooden base on which to build your neutral home decor.  

The next step? Add in yet more warm tones with wooden accessories, like wood shelving or wood picture frames.

outdoor dining tablescape with wood lanterns
Woods all around, from the chairs to the lanterns, the chargers, cutlery, salt and pepper cellars, and the salad bowl. (via Martha Stewart)

These Chinese & Bell wood hurricane lanterns have the added benefit of bringing warm welcoming candlelight, as well as those rich wooden tones, to a tablescape or dresser top.


2.   Layer Natural Materials

When decorating with neutrals, using different neutral tones, throughout a space, gives a feeling of depth. So too does layering:

  • Layer natural-toned blankets and throws on top of sofas
  • Layer rugs to create a sense of luxury
  • Opt for fabrics like linen, cotton, and wool to enhance the neutral, natural aesthetic
stones sand driftwood candle display
Size, texture, weight, and hardness mixed beautifully using stones and sand, still manage to have a soft and calm look. (via Sköna Hem)

Take layering one step further by applying it to room accessories. Take a clear glass vase and fill it with neutral colored pebbles or superfine sand (or both).

This display of natural tones and materials can be used as a candle holder, a home for succulents, or even a vase for a few dramatic silk blooms.


3.   Go Bold With Shape and Structure

With neutral home decor, you can’t rely on color or texture to catch the eye. But choose the right furniture and decorative elements and there will be plenty of added interest.

When picking out furniture, opt for striking silhouettes. An architectural armchair. A table with shapely legs. Perhaps a curved coffee table, rather than something predictably angular.

As long as your furniture pieces follow a similar structural theme, they will add drama without creating visual chaos.

coral candles wood cutlery beachy tablescape
Beach neutral: Natural linen hues, wood, and antique brass for candlesticks. (via Castlefield Design)

Take a similar approach to room or event accessories. And remember to incorporate any wider theme too.

For example, for a seaside inspired interior, pick structural accessories like artificial coral and white starfish. Their beautiful shapes bring texture and depth whilst maintaining the calm and cohesion of a neutral scheme.


4.   Embrace Texture

Texture brings movement and life to a room. And texture is best created with natural materials like linen, raw timbers, rattan, raffia, cane, jute, wool, and earthenware.

diy rope mirror mantel decor
Loop lengths of sun-bleached rope around a few looking glasses, and you can deck out your home with the fairest maritime style of them all. – Martha Stewart

Choose furniture and room accessories in highly textured materials. That means neutral-toned, natural fabrics for carpets, rugs, throws and cushions. And wooden furniture with grain and character. Even mirrors can be given a little added texture with the help of a thick, rope frame.

For tablescapes, dress tables with reactive glazed dinnerware and linen napkins. Design centerpieces set on rattan runners and foliage.

summer wedding raffia table decor
This raffia mat from ‘good things’ as a table runner; matching placemats are also available. (via Martha Stewart)

If a complete renovation is in the cards, go for textured wall paint or wallpaper, in neutral tones, of course. You could even add painted paneling to your walls.

All of these changes will bring subtle texture and character to your neutral decor.


5.   Add Vintage Elements

When decorating with neutrals, some homeowners and designers choose to go minimal and modern. But that’s not the only way to create neutral home decor with the power to wow.

Vintage or distressed furniture and accessories tick lots of the boxes when it comes to neutral design.

They bring texture and depth with beautifully imperfect finishes. They also add structure, with interesting shapes and silhouettes.

diy sand pot urn
Classic designs like this urn take on an old-world appearance, but more modern shapes look great with a stonelike, sandy finish as well. – Martha Stewart

Take this antique stone urn and this old gold effect urn, with their neutral color palettes, classical design and antique finish. They’d give exactly the right amount of interest to a neutral scheme. Just fill with some neutral colored flowers to really set the scene.


6.   Incorporate Metallic Pieces

Metals bring shimmer and shine to a neutral scheme. A reflective surface introduces a play of light and that elegant interest you’re looking for.

Bronze, brass, and golden tones bring warmth. Stainless steel or darker industrial-style metals can also look striking when paired with warmer neutral tones.

bar cart with nickel cake pedestal
Elevated treats: Layer donuts on a nickel cake pedestal.

You can incorporate metals into your decor with light fittings and furniture legs. For room accessories, pick out metallic vases, candlesticks, and collectibles.

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