Interior Design

Decorating with neutrals: 5 things you should never do – and the secrets to success

Neutral colors tend to be easy and super stylish to decorate with – but what should you avoid when using this calm color palette

decorating with neutrals
(Image credit: Dulux)

It’s a common decorating dilemma, achieving a balance in our homes between what’s beautiful and what’s functional, After years of living in a 'throw away society' we’re celebrating taking a 'less is more' approach by decorating with a neutral color palette.

'The colors on our walls are the backdrop to how we live our life,' advises Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director, Dulux UK.

'For many of us, lockdown has served to emphasise how important our home environment has become, it has been the place where we work, learn, relax. It can lift us up, nurture us, comfort us – so it is important to get it right when it comes to decorating.   

'We continue to live through uncertain times. In 2021, we look to neutral colors to allow us to find certainty in the strength from the very ground beneath our feet, emboldening us to go forward and begin to live again and giving us the flex to adapt to the ever changing circumstances we face.'

See: Neutral room ideas – light, dark and cozy ways with color

1. Forgetting to add texture

decorating with neutrals

Room by Dulux UK

(Image credit: Dulux)

One important aspect to consider, when decorating with a neutral color is to bring in as much texture as possible as it creates interest and layers – important factors when strong colors are out of the picture. Consider warm metallics such as brass and bronze or natural wood elements alongside linens, velvets, sheepskins and chunky knits. 

When it comes to using wood, Barak Alberro, architect and head of design, Banda Design Studio, advises: 'Grey is a versatile color which pairs well with natural wood furniture. It works particularly successfully in large spaces where a bolder color would be too much.'

2. Opting for fussy furnishings

decorating with neutrals

Room by Dulux UK

(Image credit: Dulux)

Using neutral tones in your home is a stylish way to create a look that channels understated chic. And you don’t have to add riotous splashes of color or bold prints to inject interest into a space with muted tones.

Invest in unfussy prints on fabrics for seat covers and blinds. Simple organic shape  designs – rather than an of the moment pattern – will last the test of time.   

Wire, ceramic, leather and stone accessories and vases add further texture while maintaining the natural materials and neutral tones.    

See more: Living room ideas – inspiring ways to decorate and furnish your space

3. Not keeping within a tonal color palette

decorating with neutrals

Room by Dulux UK

(Image credit: Dulux)

Neutrals don’t have to be boring beige – let them sing out with a tonal color palette. 

Choose shades of taupe and mix in chocolate browns, greys and touches of black for a sophisticated take on a natural palette. 

Some people turn to neutral backgrounds in order to pick out accents and highlights with others but providing you stay within the same tonal family, use patterns and textures to add interest and harmony.

4. Overcrowding a room

decorating with neutrals

Room by Dulux UK

(Image credit: Dulux)

There is a tendency to create chaos in a space that is decorated with neutrals – we advise taking a less is more approach when it comes to furnishing.

A simple color scheme is the perfect excuse to create a haven of calm, peace and tranquility. 

For a relaxing space, keep it clutter-free. Simple low-level storage and a few of your favorite, most treasured accessories will add a personal finishing touch.

5. Using the wrong shade

decorating with neutrals

Room by Dulux UK

(Image credit: Dulux)

As a general rule, however, neutral color ideas tend to be calming and easy to decorate with – they work with pretty much every other color but to get it right it’s important to understand the base pigment that suits the light that a room receives. 

'The light in a room is a key consideration when thinking about whether to choose warm or cool tones,' advises Ruth Mottershead of Little Greene. 

There is a difference between a warm neutral (with a green or yellow undertone) which will tend to work well in north-facing rooms as they help to bounce the light around and a cool one (with a bit of pink, violet or blue).

How do you decorate with neutrals?

Decorating with neutrals

(Image credit: Swoon)

The most important element, as we have mentioned before, is texture when decorating with neutrals. Adding texture to a scheme, whatever its base color, will always make your scheme look more interesting, and the room will feel warmer, too. Texture comes in many forms – from rough, slubby linens to woven materials, such as wicker, to chunky knit throws, to rough stoneware in vases.

How do you add color to a neutral living room?

Living room decorated with neutrals

(Image credit: Swoon)

If you want to keep your living room color scheme largely neutral, but like to switch it up every now and then, the easiest way to add color is with cushions or throws, lampshades or occasional furniture, such as footstools or side tables. 

What you choose will largely depend on how warm your room feels already – if it needs cooling down, you can coordinate neutrals with pale blues and greens; if it needs a little warmth, spice shades work brilliantly with neutral color schemes. 

In both cases, picking accessories with texture or a subtle pattern can add extra interest, as we've said above.

What colors go well with neutrals?

Neutrals are truly versatile, so you can pick many different colors to complement them and be successful. What works best, though, is to stick to a limited palette – just two to three complementing accent colors that work with your base neutral will do. 

The easiest colors to add when decorating with neutrals are other natural shades – think earthy or spice shades as a color group; or, choose livelier greens and blues; or the warmer colors you'd find in nature, such as reds and oranges. You can, of course, also choose other neutrals to layer your scheme with – grey, brown and even black will all look elegant.