Decorating with Color: Expert Tips

Our designers and editors dish out their decorating with color tips, including color scheme ideas for green, red, and more. Get our top paint picks for every color, and then keep clicking for color-by-color decorating tips.

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    Shades of blue with a little gray boost a beachy vibe. "A range of blue-gray shades reflects a comfortable, easy lifestyle, whether you're lakeside or landlocked," says Nate Berkus, New York City-based interior designer, TV personality, author, and host of American Dream Builders on NBC. "Camel, natural linens, and seagrass all work really well with this palette, and it pairs beautifully with dark wood finishes and classic black and white," Nate says. Not so hot? "I'd steer clear of honey finishes, earth tones, and warm oranges or reds."


    Get Your Color Match

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    If you're looking for a green with a little zip, give fern greens a whirl. "These greens are energetic. They work well in homes with families because they match the vibrancy of active kids," says Jill Goldberg, a Boston interior designer. To select a fern green that isn't acidic, look for paint colors with gray undertones. "They add longevity to a color and keep it current," Jill says.


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    Creamy neutrals bring layers of warmth to decor, plus they're versatile. "Everything goes with camel brown. It's like decorating with the little black dress. This palette can feel modern or classic. It's very flexible," says Janet Lee, color adviser and stylist, whose small-space decor book, Living in a Nutshell, is now out in paperback. And don't think neutrals have to be boring. "Neutral color doesn't mean neutral personality," Janet says. Varying shades in the same family creates pizzazz -- especially in a small space. “Put oyster and butter with shades of caramel, and the look is so sophisticated," she says.

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    These happy daffodil hues are a sure mood-booster. "I'm hooked on the joyous, youthful, and adventurous atmosphere yellow affords a room," says Will Taylor, the creative force behind the Bright.Bazaar blog and book Bright Bazaar: Embracing Color for Make-You-Smile Style. Will says yellow is a sociable color that works best with other hues. In a broad color scheme, "a peppering of accents -- a vase, throw, or cushion -- will make a room soar," he says. To pick an allover yellow for walls, "Opt for a creamy shade that contains white," he says. "And choose paint that has a chalky finish."

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    Petal pinks are bright pick-me-ups, but they can also be surprisingly sophisticated and livable. To suit grown-up tastes, skip the confectionary pinks like bubble gum and cotton candy. "Choose a pink that is found in nature, like the pink in a sunset," says Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, a designer in Washington, D.C. And what pinks are hot right now? "What I'm seeing is less of a blue-gray pink and more of a coral pink. It's a natural evolution from orange," she says.

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    If tangerine has too much zing, give these softer golden oranges a whirl. "These yellow-oranges create moods in a room. Lemony orange is happy. Reddish orange is welcoming. Brownish orange is more serious," says Asler Valero, a New York City interior designer and color palette creator for California Paints. To use orange as an enveloping room color, Asler prefers the creamier shades that border yellow. "These lighter colors are refined, classic, and livable," he says. But don't let orange stray too far and wash out. "Avoid light yellow," he says. "It disappears. The best shades are vivid and earthy and influenced by browns."

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    Inspired by the summer staple, these tomato reds and oranges are daring picks that pay off. "You have to have a little bit of a fearless streak to use these colors.  But their strength can make a room feel anchored and elegant," says designer Molly Luetkemeyer. "When you do a strong move on the wall, you've thrown down the gauntlet. The other pieces in the room need to have the same level of intensity," she says. Try this trick when choosing colors. Get a sample of the hue you like plus three variations: one lighter, one more gray, and one more brown (look at the adjacent strips on the display for these). "A color with a little bit of 'mud' in it will be more sophisticated," Molly says.

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    Purple doesn't need to mean childish -- a grown-up look is all about picking the right hues. "People think the color is childish or overbearing, but if you stay in the whispery purples, there's a sense of restraint about the color that's really appealing," says Anne Coyle, a Chicago interior designer known for her color sense. But keep in mind that lavender is not a soloist; it needs harmony. "Avoid using it in a kitchen or bathroom," she says. With limited complements of pattern, texture, and color, "it gets old really quick."


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    Blue: A New Neutral

    Searching for a new base color? Try turning to blue and use it the same way some people might use brown or black. For example, paint a room blue, then mix blue upholstered pieces with white or gray pieces and add touches of yellow, green, and orange.

    -- Sasha Emerson, interior designer

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    Blue: Expand Your Horizons

    Combining blue and brown is a go-to color palette. "The way to update this classic pairing is to bring in bold leaf green, ivory, and citrus orange for your throw pillows. Every room needs a bit of citrus pop."

    -- Elaine Griffin, interior designer

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    Three Must-Know Decorating with Color Tips

    No matter what color you're choosing, keep these three tricks in mind and you'll always land on the right one.

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    Blue: Picking Favorites

    When choosing a blue hue, consider how often you're in the room. For example, don't choose a very bold blue for a living room -- you might tire of the color. Save it for a den or a playroom and pick a more serene tone for central living spaces.

    -- Sasha Emerson, interior designer

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    Blue: Icy Cool

    Frosty blues are elegant with soft creams and shiny accents such as glass. Take the chill off icy colors by teaming them with warm browns, reds, or oranges.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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    Blue: Warm Front

    Natural wood tones, sandy beiges, and limewash finishes balance barely-there blue rooms. And don't forget about paint finishes. Chalky flat finishes are warm, while shiny blues will give a bit of a chill.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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    Blue: Perfect Pairing

    You can't go wrong with pairing blue-green and white -- it lets the color be the star. Other sure bets for pairing with blue are coral, red, hot pink, sandy tans, and yellow-green.

    -- Kelly Berg, interior designer and color consultant

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    Blue: Color Contrast

    When an all-cool blue room needs livening up, be bold and try a dash of vibrant lemon yellow, zinging fuchsia, or fiery red.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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    Decorating with Color Tips: Refresh Classic Blue

    Beloved for its timeless appeal, blue can still be fresh too. Watch and see how.


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    Green: Nature's Hue

    Look outside to see what colors are paired with green. Usually those deep pinks, blues, browns, and whites will look great inside, too.
    -- Stephanie Wohlner, interior designer

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    Green: Location Matters

    In places where there isn't a lot of light, don't go with grayed-down colors. Choose ones that have a little more white. "Moody" gray-greens hold up better in sunnier locales.

    -- Kishani Perera, interior designer

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    Green: Go Bright

    Pair bright citron with blue-green, coral, or raspberry colors as accents to make the yellow-green hue all the more striking. Pair citron with lattelike browns on the walls and introduce a muted citron via furniture fabric and accents.

    -- Philippa Radon, color expert

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    Green: Big Picture

    Celery green is a natural for all-over color. But pick one with some yellow in it so it doesn't come off as juvenile mint green. And don't ignore the ceiling -- cover it in either white or a 50-50 mix of white with the wall color.

    -- Kishani Perera, interior designer

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    Green: Making the Grade

    One rule of thumb: Always test paint samples. It's especially a good idea when you want a muted green -- what seems like khaki on the chip could be vibrant olive on the wall. But to prevent earthy greens from looking drab, keep potential accent colors in mind. Try pairing lighter shades of green with creams or butter yellows to wake them up a bit.

    --Ruthie Sommers, interior designer

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    Decorating with Color Tips: Pick the Right Companions for Green

    See what colors pair well with green and what other hues to include in a color scheme starring this earthy shade


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    Purple: The Right Pairing

    Purple stems from both the cool and warm side of the color wheel. When choosing pairs, designer Jeffrey Bilhuber says for a glamorous look, pair purples with gray. For a more feminine approach, partner it with white. Brown tones warm and enrich a purple palette.

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    Purple: Purple Power

    Stray toward purples featuring more of a blue hue than that of mauve or pink. Purple with a touch of blue can be energizing.

    -- Sara Story, interior designer

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    Purple: Just Plummy

    Rooms bathed in natural light balance saturated plum walls. In rooms with little light, use the hue as an accent.

    -- Elaine Griffin, interior designer

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    Purple: Sweet Lavender

    Once on the walls, paint colors intensify, and lavender is a strong paint color. A rule of thumb: Choose the top (and the lightest) color on the paint card when selecting lavender for the walls.

    -- Jeffrey Bilhuber, interior designer

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    Decorating with Color Tips: How to Use Purple

    Purple is having a bit of a renaissance. Here's why you should use it in your decor next and tricks on how to pull off a look starring purple.


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    Neutrals: Khaki Foundation

    Incorporate tan walls and khaki upholstery fabrics as backdrops that spotlight a diverse array of colors and patterns.

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    Neutrals: Know Your Mark

    If a lighter cream tone is what you're after, watch out for green or gold undertones. Hold the colors you're considering against a true-white paint chip to look for a rich cream with a brown base.

    -- Mary McGee, interior designer

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    Neutrals: Give It a Boost

    Avoid beige boredom by using a variety of finishes and textures in a room. A dark leather coffee table, a bright citrusy chair, patterned drapes, and a great rug give a latte-color space more richness.

    -- Mary McGee, interior designer

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    Neutrals: Out of the Box

    If you're looking at neutrals on a paint chip, go one step more colorful from what you're thinking to ease you out of the "safe" neutrals. Just keep in mind that most colors look darker on walls.

    -- Kelly Keiser, interior designer

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    Neutrals: From Blah to Beautiful

    Rethink beige. It runs the gamut including grayish mushroom, greenish khaki, and rich cafe au lait. If you're most comfortable in the beige area, use variations like those to change things up.

    -- Kelly Keiser, interior designer

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    Gray: Undertones

    When decorating with gray, it's important to match its undertone. If you look carefully at grays (or any neutral), you will notice most have a hint of color, or an undertone. A gray with blue undertones (shown here) works well with white woodwork, tan accessories, and pickled furniture finishes. Use gray with green undertones with dark wood finishes, clear-glass accessories, and stony surfaces to advance peace and harmony. Grays with warm undertones are a fresh alternative to beige.

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    Gray: Welcome Neutral

    "Because we live in such a color-filled, busy world, coming home
    to a calm, neutral space feels like a breath of fresh air."

    -- Kelly Keiser, interior designer

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    Gray: Go to the Source

    Identify the source of your gray obsession. Was it a trip to Oregon? A cashmere sweater? Once you identify it, compare the item (or a photo) to paint chips. Try to match both the color you like and the mood you're going for.

    -- Jonathan Rachman, interior designer

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    Gray: Natural Influence

    "If you're the kind of person who agonizes between six blue-grays, use a natural material you love, like tile or stone, to help you make the selection." 

    -- Rebekah Zaveloff, kitchen designer

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    Gray: A Rush of Warmth

    Combine the right materials to keep gray from being too cold. In a gray room, add patinaed furniture, natural rugs, lots of linen, and warm accent colors.

    -- Jonathan Rachman, interior designer

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    Yellow: Just Golden

    Golden yellow can be tricky in the way it reacts to light. Fluorescent light tends to bring out the green in golds, while natural light makes shades more yellow. A combination of natural and artificial light is the best way to showcase gold in all its glory.

    -- David Bromstad, interior designer and TV host

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    Yellow: Shades of White

    If you're using a light, creamy shade of yellow, paint woodwork a warm white. Bright whites tend to make yellows look gray, and warm whites will keep yellow cheerful.

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    Yellow: Color Shift

    Put a twist on accent walls by using different strengths of one paint color. Ask the paint store to make a 50-50 mix of your chosen yellow and white. Paint the full-strength color on the wall opposite the room's entry so it draws you in. Then use the lighter mix on the rest of the walls.

    -- Marlaina Teich, interior designer

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    Yellow: Hues of Change

    Resist matching wall colors perfectly to a favorite fabric or rug. It makes your room feel flat and one-dimensional. Try going two shades lighter or darker.

    -- Sara Gilbane, interior designer

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    Yellow: Lighten Up

    Yellow walls work best in a room with a lot of natural light. Dark rooms can make yellow look dingy and drab.

    -- Sara Gilbane, interior designer

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    Decorating with Color Tips: How to Feature Yellow

    Nothing boosts a room's mood quite like yellow can. Watch and see how to incorporate yellow in big and small doses and perk up a room.


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    Pink: Purely Pink

    Pale pink looks best in a room with abundant natural light. That way the color can glow and step forward and away from the neutrals.

    -- Lori Deeds Carlton, interior designer for Kemble Interiors

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    Pink: Gender Neutral

    Men and women wear blush pinks as an alternative to creams and beiges. The same is now true in the home. A blush pink is a great neutral that can be used for carpet, on a wall, or on a big piece of solid upholstery.

    -- Brandi Hagen, interior designer

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    Pink: Cool Down

    To put a chill on bright citrus hues, add a splash of turquoise. Or for a sophisticated look, pair a rich grapefruit color with dark chocolate. Pair it with soft yellow for a young, cheery look.

    --Kelly Berg, interior designer and color consultant

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    Orange: Unexpected Elegance

    If you're thinking of painting a room red, consider a peach or melon color instead. Both are saturated colors but they're more elegant, unexpected, and sophisticated.

    -- Katie Ridder, interior designer

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    Orange: Yellow to Red

    Integrate oranges from both sides of the yellow-to-red spectrum to create captivatingly high-contrast compositions.

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    Orange: Pretty in Peach

    Gravitate toward hues that are hard to put a name on -- peachy pinks or orangey corals. These hybrid colors are always interesting and give the color depth and softness.

    --Katie Ridder, interior designer

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    Red: High Intensity

    Pair terra-cotta with equally vivid colors for impact: gorgeous golds, a purple so deep it's almost brown, olive and sage greens, and fiery oranges.

    -- Allison Smith, interior designer

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    Red: Dramatically Dark

    Use a deep color such as chestnut or rusty red for dramatic effect in a powder room or small den. When you have a really small room where there's no way you're going to make it look big, make it more of what it is -- small and dark -- but make it dramatic.

    -- Cecilie Starin, interior designer

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    Red: The Right Dosage

    Decide how much and what intensity of red you want to use. Go bold by painting walls orange-red, but ease red's impact with neutral furnishings. Create spaces that demand attention by introducing glimmers, flashes, or explosions of red—the warm shade that burns the hottest. Take the middle road, using rosy red as the dominant color. Or simply spark interest by adding a red chair or burgundy sofa. The red velvet sofa in this living room attests to the principle that a little goes a long way.

  • Next Slideshow Nature-Inspired Color Palettes

    Nature-Inspired Color Palettes

    Bring the great outdoors inside! Take your hue cues from Mother Nature and build decorating themes and color schemes that are sure to please through every season.
    Begin Slideshow »

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