Color is a powerful tool in interior design, but it can be tricky to get right. Whether you’re decorating a living room, dining room or bedroom, these are the most common color decorating mistakes that people make. And some practical solutions to help you create a harmonious, visually pleasing space in your home.
Color is a powerful tool in interior design.
It can transform a space, evoke emotions, and even influence our perception of room size.
However, not everyone is comfortable using color.
And I get a lot of questions on how to make it work in their rooms.
Which is where this list of the most common color decorating mistakes comes from. Along with the tips on how to avoid them.
Note: Some of the images below are from houzz.com and cannot be pinned due to their copyright restrictions.
Mistake #1: Not creating a whole house color scheme
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Creating a whole house color scheme is what keeps your home looking cohesive.
So if you don’t put one together, your house can feel disjointed and like the rooms don’t flow together.
To fix this, try selecting the main colors you will use in your home.
Then choosing combinations of them to make each room look unique, but still connected.
Find out more about how to create a whole house color scheme.
Mistake #2: Being too matchy-matchy
When you’re decorating a room around a color you like, it can be tempting to do the whole room in that same color.
Then you don’t have to make any other choices and it’s easy to tell if things go with the color scheme.
However, you’ll probably live to regret it.
When everything matches perfectly, the room can appear flat and one-dimensional. There’s no contrast to draw the eye which makes the space feel less dynamic and interesting.
To fix it and keep the monochromatic look, add different shades, textures and patterns of the same color.
Or you can expand the color scheme by adding some co-ordinating accent colors around the room.
Mistake #3: Not considering your lighting
Lighting significantly affects how we perceive color. Both the amount and type of light can dramatically change how a color appears.
Which means a color may appear warm and bright in the morning sunlight but cool and dim under artificial light in the evening.
And it’s almost guaranteed to look different in your room than it does under the fluorescent lights in the paint store.
So if you haven’t done a test run of your colors in the room where they’ll be, you may not be happy with the results.
To prevent this issue, bring samples of your colors into the room and look at it many times throughout the day.
Pay extra attention to how it looks during the times that you usually use the room.
Mistake #4: Relying solely on paint swatches
And while you’re testing your color choices, using only the small paint swatches that you get from the store can be misleading.
A color that looks great on a small swatch might not have the same effect when applied to a large area.
Always test your paint choices on a small area of the wall before committing. Then observe how the color looks at different times of the day and under artificial light.
I like to do this by getting a sample can of the color, painting it on a piece of cardboard or poster board and taping it up on the wall.
Then you can move it around to different areas of the room to see how it looks.
Mistake #5: Overlooking room transitions
Even if each room in your house has a perfectly balanced color scheme, failing to consider the transitions between rooms can create a jarring visual experience.
A sudden shift from dark to light colors, or a stark contrast between color schemes, can disrupt the sense of flow in your home.
To avoid this, consider the view into the next room when choosing colors, and aim for a smooth transition.
This doesn’t necessarily mean all colors have to match.
Sometimes a shared accent color or a gradual transition in color intensity can effectively tie rooms together.
Mistake #6: Overlooking the emotional impact of colors
Colors have a strong impact on our emotions.
So ignoring the emotional influence of colors can lead to creating spaces that don’t align with their intended use.
For instance, vibrant warm colors might not be suitable for a bedroom intended for relaxation. But are perfect for stimulating conversation in a living room or dining room.
To avoid this problem, always consider the function of the room and the mood you want to evoke when choosing colors.
For more information, read how paint colors affect your mood.
Mistake #7: Neglecting the impact of Undertones
Almost all colors have undertones. This is the subtle color beneath the primary one that affects how it looks and blends with other colors.
You have probably heard it described as “a gray with blue undertones” or “a beige with green undertones”. And while these descriptions are often used for traditional neutral colors, they actually apply to all colors.
The most common issue is that colors which seem to match on the surface level actually clash to their conflicting undertones. For example, a beige with pink overtones might clash with a beige with green overtones, despite both being broadly categorized as ‘beige’.
This issue is especially noticeable when you are trying to choose more than one color from the same family (such as putting two blues together).
There are a couple of ways to find out what the undertones of your colors are:
- The first can be used for both fabric and paint. Hold each color up to a decorator’s color wheel until you find the section that is closest to it. (It’s usually easy to see where it belongs.) Then make sure all of the colors you are choosing match the same color wheel section.
- The second applies if you are looking at paint swatches. Compare the darkest color on the cards. It is usually easier to see what the undertones are in the dark colors than the lighter ones.
For more details on matching undertones, read how to pick the perfect paint color.
Mistake #8: Fear of using bold colors
Bold colors make a strong statement in a room which makes many people shy away from them out of fear.
If you do so, you’re greatly limiting your decorating choices for adding personality and vibrancy to a room.
They are able to add depth and dimension, highlight architectural features, make neutrals feel more lively and balance out other strong design elements in a way that pastels cannot.
If you’re afraid to jump right in, try start by adding some boldly-colored accessories such as a few throw pillows, some candles or vases and a picture. These can be easily swapped out if you don’t like them.
And you might just find that you love them. In which case, you can expand from there.
Mistake #9: Ignoring textures and patterns
Using textures and patterns is another decorating technique that many people are afraid of.
But they are important for adding visual interest to a space. This is especially important for rooms that are monochromatic or don’t have a lot of color variation.
Textures and patterns interact with light differently than smooth surfaces and can alter the perception of color. A rough texture can make a color appear darker, while a glossy texture can make it appear lighter.
They can also help to reinforce the mood created by your color scheme.
For example, soft textures like velvet enhance the warm, cozy feeling created by a rich color scheme. While bold geometric patterns emphasize the energy of a vibrant color scheme.
This is another area where you can start slowly by adding patterned cushions and accessories. Then expand to bigger areas of your room as you get more comfortable with them.
Mistake #10: Neglecting the ceiling
This color decorating mistake is near and dear to my heart.
The ceiling, often referred to as the “fifth wall” in interior design, shouldn’t be forgotten. And despite what many people think, white isn’t your only option.
It is a large surface area that has a significant impact on the overall look and feel of a room.
Painting it a color other than the standard white makes the room feel more cohesive and thoughtfully designed. Which is why you’ll see a lot of designer rooms with decorated ceilings.
It can also influence the perception of room height.
Painting a low ceiling the same color as the walls makes the corners less noticeable which gives it the illusion of more height.
While painting a high ceiling in a contrasting color will bring it down visually, giving the room a cozier feel.
If all of that makes you nervous, try choosing a lighter shade of your wall color. It always looks great, and isn’t too dramatic.
Mistake #11: Thinking neutral means beige or gray
When someone mentions that they want to paint their house a neutral color, many people automatically think of beige, greige, gray or white.
While those certainly are all neutrals, they are not your only choices.
By definition, neutrals are colors that go with everything.
If you look to nature, have you ever thought that something “clashes” with the sun, grass, trees, ocean or sky?
That means there are shades of yellow, blue, green and even pink (think sunrises and sunsets) that make great neutral paint colors, too.
So if you’re looking for a neutral and find a shade of one of those colors you love, don’t be afraid to use it.
Mistake #12: Forgetting about color balance and distribution
Balancing colors isn’t just about how many you use, but also about where and how they are distributed in your space.
Concentrating a bold color in one area while leaving the rest of the room neutral can make the space feel uneven.
To maintain balance, distribute colors throughout your space.
For instance, if you have a bright red pillow on your sofa, consider adding a piece of art with similar red tones on the opposite wall, and some red vases on your coffee table.
This will help draw the eye around the room and create a sense of balance and harmony.
When doing this, I like to use a minimum of three accent pieces to make it look intentional.
Mistake #13: Using the same color intensity everywhere
Using the same color intensity throughout a room or an entire home can make the space feel flat and monotonous.
While you might love a particular color, adding different shades, tints, and tones of that color can add depth and interest to your space.
To rectify this, try to incorporate a mix of light, medium, and dark colors. This creates visual contrast and adds a dynamic element to your décor.
Mistake #14: Overloading with color
While color is a great tool for expressing personality, too many colors can make a room feel chaotic and overstimulating.
This makes it difficult for the eye to rest and can detract from the overall comfort and appeal of the space.
Which also makes it hard to establish a focal point in the room.
A well-designed color scheme usually has one or two main colors, with additional ones used in accents and details.
The 60-30-10 rule is a great principle to follow if you need some guidance.
To use it, find some color inspiration for the room. That could be some fabric, a piece of art, an area rug or even a piece of clothing that you love.
Then choose three colors from your inspiration:
- 60% of your room should be decorated in the first color,
- 30% in the second and
- 10% in the last color.
Mistake #15: Overusing trendy colors
Using trendy colors just because they’re trendy is a sure-fire way to tire of your room’s decor quickly.
While it’s fun to incorporate trendy colors, relying on them too heavily can quickly date your space.
Trends come and go, but your decor should withstand the test of time.
Instead of painting an entire room the latest trendy color, consider using it for accents that can easily be changed.
Unless you truly the love the color. In which case, feel free to use it wherever you want to!
See all of the current paint color trends.
By understanding these common color decorating mistakes, you can create a space that’s harmonious, visually pleasing, and perfectly attuned to your personal style.
Remember, the best color palette is the one that you love and makes you feel happy to be at home.
Other decorating ideas you might like
- Best living room paint color ideas
- Why you should paint your walls and ceiling the same color
- The color lover’s guide to choosing neutral paint colors
Or browse all of our home decor color ideas.
Have comments or questions about our color decorating mistakes? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on May 18, 2023 but was updated with new content on February 11, 2024.