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Update Rooms with Easy Color Accents

Revive your rooms fast with these easy ideas for adding pops of color

Written and produced by Debra Steilen
  • Nancy Nolan

    Bored with a basically blah room? Afraid of committing to a strong color? Dying to update your decorating? Then you’ll love these easy ways of adding color to a room—in smaller doses. Keep clicking to learn more from some of our favorite designers.

    Shown: Bright colors on pillows and end tables make brilliant bookends for a plain white sofa. “I love to use complementary colors, like oranges and blues, for a pleasing pop of brightness in a room,” says designer Tobi Fairley about the arrangement.

    Designer: Tobi Fairley

    Get more color tips from Tobi Fairley.

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  • John Bessler

    Paint an Accent Wall

    Not ready to commit to contrasting color in a big way? Compromise by painting a single accent wall. Limiting the square footage means you get quick results. And that means you’ll look forward to changing the color again when inspiration strikes.

    Shown: A single sky blue section of wall turns this banquette into a fine-dining focal point. 

    Design: Eric Cohler

    Get color tips from designer Jennifer Flanders.

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  • John Bessler and Squire Fox

    Stylize a Sliver of Space

    You don’t have to wallpaper an entire room to change the mood it creates. Sometimes papering just a single accent wall makes all the difference, as shown in this otherwise all-white butler’s pantry. The wallpaper pattern is “Seaweed” by Katie Ridder.

    Design: Kate Ridder

    Learn how gorgeous wall coverings can accentuate any space.

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  • Photo courtesy of Taylor Borsari

    Wow ‘em With Window Treatments

    Introduce color-drenched curtains, drapes, or Roman shades to enliven a space in an unexpected way. “While it can be a large statement, it’s also relatively easy to change should you tire of your choice,” says designer Taylor Borsari.

    Shown: Bright pink and burgundy curtains add a dazzling dose of energy to an otherwise neutral beach house. 

    Design: Taylor Borsari

    Gather more color tips from designer Taylor Borsari.

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  • Photo courtesy of Kara Mann

    Boost the Color Quotient with Art

    Show off your personal style by using a painting, print, or wall hanging to inject color into an otherwise lackluster room. You can use the artwork as a springboard for the whole color palette, of course. But it’s also fun to jazz up neutral walls with different artwork throughout the year.

    Shown: “This painting by Wolfgang Tillmans cannot be ignored,” says designer Kara Mann. “Plus, eye-catching art is always a great conversation-starter.”

    Design: Kara Mann

    Get more color tips from designer Kara Mann.

    Check out these ideas for arranging art.

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  • Tim Street-Porter

    Display Dazzling Decorative Art

    White or beige walls will always be in style. But some people want to have their neutral rooms and enjoy their colors, too. Isn’t it lucky that neutral walls provide the perfect gallery space for everything from decorative plates to wall pockets? Let your imagination be your guide.

    Shown: An informal arrangement of colorful dishes is as free-spirited as the family who uses this festive kitchen. 

    Design: Louise Voyazis

    Tour more of this colorful manor home.

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  • Photo courtesy of Lisa Sternfeld

    Pile on the Pillows

    Interior designer Lisa Sternfeld certainly knows how to update a room. Her advice for a quick makeover? “Use decorative pillows to instantly change the feeling of a sofa or chair. Choose similar colors and tones to make stronger patterns more versatile and softer on the eye. But don’t be afraid to mix.”

    Editor’s Tip: Put your smartphone to work in creating a pillow arrangement. Try different variations of colors, sizes, shapes, and upholstery fabrics. Take pictures of each arrangement, then compare. Choose the one you like the best. Return the pillows that don’t make the cut.

    Design: Lisa Sternfeld

    Get more decorating tips from Lisa Sternfeld.

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  • Mark Edward Harris and Michael McCreary

    Roll Out an Area Rug

    Give rooms with hardwood floors or neutral carpeting a quick makeover by adding a colorful area rug. That way, you can jazz up the room in a matter of minutes (excluding shopping time, of course). “Not only are rugs decorative, they create a sense of grounding, anchor a furniture arrangement, and define a space,” says designer Timothy Corrigan, whose work is shown here.

    See a more contemporary room on the next slide.

    Shown: An antique Tabriz rug lights up the foyer with bold color. The walls are painted with Dayroom yellow from Farrow & Ball. 

    Design: Timothy Corrigan

    Learn how a single item can inspire a color palette.

    Browse the befores and afters of this remodeled Hollywood home.

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  • Werner Straube

    Choose a Riveting Rug

    Rugs can revive contemporary interiors, too. This modern dining room is warmed by both a fireplace and a spice-colored Ventura wool rug from Oriental Weavers.

    Design: Erik Kolacz

    Tour a vacation home filled with barn-red accents.

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  • Francesco Lagnese

    Slide in a Stand-Out Sofa

    Your sofa is probably the largest—and maybe the most expensive—piece of furniture in the room. So make that couch a focal point by choosing a model blessed with extraordinary color.

    Editor’s Tip: Set out a few accessories in the same hue to carry the accent color throughout the room.

    Shown: A tufted velvet sofa by Tilton Fenwick anchors a seating area with a blaze of color.

    Design: Anne Maxwell Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham 

    Tour a NYC loft filled with bold choices.

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  • Nancy Nolan

    Select Seats That Sizzle

    Jazz up any room by upholstering seat cushions in attention-getting colors. You may want to pull the accent color from the largest pattern in the room—an Oriental rug, for example. Or make the seat cushions stand out even more by having them contrast with the background color. Redoing the room? Simply re-cover the seats with different fabric.

    Shown: Lucite barstools with yellow vinyl seats glow against the kitchen’s neutral background palette and natural stone surfaces.

    Design:  Tobi Fairley

    Check out this home’s stylish palette.

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  • Photo courtesy of Mary Douglas Drysdale

    Place a Piece of Painted Furniture

    You don’t have to limit your use of color to the walls, the drapes, and the throw pillows. Choosing a single strong hue for a piece of painted furniture is a great way to add color to any room.

    Editor’s Tip: This also works in the kitchen or bathroom. Count on a brightly painted island or vanity to energize a sedate color scheme.

    Shown: A single hue from the patterned Oushak rug inspired the paint color for this secretary, which now glows against a neutral wall color.

    Design: Mary Douglas Drysdale

    Nab color tips from designer Mary Douglas Drysdale.

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  • Francesco Lagnese

    Colorize a Bookcase

    You’ve got the urge to update a room without investing a lot of effort. Happily, that vertical space behind the bookshelves provides a blank canvas for adding a color boost with wallpaper or paint. Choose a background color that contrasts with your collectibles to make them pop.

    Shown: The dining area’s built-in bookcase gets an energetic color fix from having “Pheasant” wallpaper from Twigs, Inc. applied to the back wall.

    Design: Anne Maxwell Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham 

    Enjoy seeing more rooms in this NYC loft.

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  • John Granen

    Set Out Fresh Flowers

    Just call on Mother Nature for help if you need to liven up a lackluster space. Do as homeowner Mary Silk did here in a neutral entry: Display an arrangement of vibrant blooms in an equally dazzling glass vase. Even branches with autumn leaves still attached add a welcome splash of color.

    Design: Mary Silk with Danielle Krieg

    Tour this color-confident new home.

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  • Gordon Beall

    Hang a Fab Fixture

    Some experts consider hardware to be jewelry for cabinetry. That’s true, but we happen to think that chandeliers and pendants do the same thing for rooms, but in a much bigger way. Check out this screened-in porch: The blue Venetian-glass lantern stands out like the necklace on Kate Winslet’s neck in Titanic. All eyes are drawn to the blue glass, then to the white wicker set below. The coordinating striped pillows are from Ralph Lauren Home.

    Design: Erin Paige Pitts

    Tour this blue-and-white waterfront home.

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  • John Bessler and Squire Fox

    Layer on Luxe Fabric

    At their best, neutral interiors offer elegance and serenity to all those who enter. But sometimes they can be borderline bland. For a quick fix, add color with a coverlet or throw tossed across the sofa, daybed, or overstuffed chair. Change the color or pattern with the seasons or special event.

    Shown: A bright orange cashmere throw juices up a master bath dressed in a quiet palette of blues and grays. The geometric wallpaper and custom window treatment are from Holland & Sherry.

    Design: Brian Brady and Franco Biscardi

    Get color tips from NYC designer Jennifer Flanders.

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  • Photo courtesy of Connie Beale, Inc.

    Arrange for Some Tabletop Flair

    Add color, character, and style to your interiors by displaying decorative accessories on coffee tables, end tables, mantels, and nightstands. Group items of a similar size or hue to make a stronger impact.

    Shown: Pottery in different sizes and shades of turquoise lift the room’s palette without jarring the restfulness of the space, says designer Connie Beale. “Turquoise can provide a terrific spark without being overwhelming as a red or orange accent might,” she says.

    Design: Connie Beale

    Browse “20 Designers, 20 Favorite Palettes.”

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  • Werner Straube

    Light Up the Look with a Lamp

    Looking to boost a room’s style quotient without painting, wallpapering, or investing in new furniture? Turn to lamps. They can spark your style with either their shades or their bases. And they’re easy to swap out for models adorned with different colors.

    Shown: A deep fuchsia-color lamp stands out against Tiffany-blue walls. This children’s bedroom is furnished with three matching beds dressed in white. 

    Design:  Elizabeth Schmidt

    Visit a lake home bursting with vibrant color.

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  • Tim Street-Porter

    Insert a Contrasting Piece of Furniture

    Update the look by pairing larger foundation pieces, such as neutral sofas, with a contrasting coffee table, accent chair, ottoman, garden stool, or pouf. These smaller, less expensive pieces excel at adding personality, but can be easily changed out later when your color preferences change.

    Editor’s Tip: Slipcovers offer another affordable way of making accent chairs or dining chairs stand out—temporarily.

    Shown: In this softly colored room, all eyes are drawn to the tufted ottoman upholstered in “Union Linen”/Aqua from Pindler & Pindler. The sofas are covered in “Bastide”/Taupe by Manuel Canovas, Cowtan & Tout.

    Design:  Louise Voyazis

    Walk through this spirited manor home.

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  • Photo courtesy of Mary Douglas Drysdale

    Rev It Up with Removable Wallpaper

    Create a colorful accent wall with peel-and-stick wallpaper that goes on—and comes off—in a flash. “Like painting, it’s a quick way to provide drama,” says designer Eileen Kathryn Boyd.

    Shown: Lipstick Plus-Faux Linen removal wallpaper from the Drysdale Signature Colors Collection through Casart Coverings.

    Get more color tips from Eileen Kathryn Boyd.

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  • Dana Gallagher

    Give Your Bed a Boost

    Energize your bedroom by layering the bed with a comforter and throw pillows in saturated hues and bold patterns. For an even livelier look, include the sheets, pillowcases, and dust ruffle in the fun.

    Shown: Coral is the dominant bedding color in this room, with splashes of pale blue in the pillow shams echoed in the table lamp.

    Design: Allison Johnston

    Get more ideas for colorful bedrooms.

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  • Nancy Nolan

    Tour the House of Hues

    Get more color inspiration by visiting designer Tobi Fairley’s family home. “To live with me, you have to love color,” she says. You’ll soon see why.

    Tour Tobi's suburban house with great color.

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