Expert tips for using colour in your home

Expert tips for using colour in your home

By Emma Wells

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Colour experts and interior designers share their top tricks on using colour with confidence when decorating your home.

So you’ve finally moved into your new home, with the space you’ve always wanted. Yes, it’s exciting, but unless you’re an interiors expert, or keep up with the latest home influencers, deciding on the décor can be a daunting prospect, especially when it comes to tackling colour.

So many of us still stick with tried-and-tested neutrals and pale greys, out of fear of making a garish mistake. 

"Adding a bit of colour in the right places can be the most cost-effective way of making it a truly unique space," says Marianne Shillingford, the creative director of Dulux. "There are so many ways you can use colour to add your personality to each room."

Here, Shillingford and some of the UK’s other top colour experts and interior designers share their top tricks on using colour with confidence. 

Image: Neutral kitchen with bold blue kitchen cabinetry, by Thompson Clarke

Trust your instincts

As a child, Joa Studholme would obsessively arrange and rearrange her crayons, to find her favourite shade combinations. Today, Studholme is colour curator for upmarket British paint brand Farrow & Ball. Their room inspirations section is a must-browse if your nervous about using bold colours and colour combinations. 

"Don’t be afraid of your instincts when it comes to selecting colour," she writes in her book, Farrow & Ball Recipes For Decorating.

"You don’t have to be a slave to colour fads. Make choices that reflect your personality. And while it’s not so easy to control what’s going on in the world, you can create a home where you feel comfortable and secure." 

Karen Haller, who runs a colour and design consultancy in west London and is author of The Little Book of Colour: How To Use the Psychology of Colour to Transform Your Life, encourages us to surround ourselves with shades that “resonate with us, that support, nurture and nourish us”.

Understanding the effects of colour, she says, allows us to understand where they are best applied.

For example, she advises, use an energetic red where you need stimulation, a turquoise, which wakes up the mind, in the bathroom you use in the morning, and an uplifting yellow on the front door, which will welcome you home. Green hues provide an instant connection with nature.

Image: Abigail Ahern's all-black home

Light or dark?

While most of the experts agree that the kitchen, as the heart of the home, is best kept as light and airy as possible, use the rest of the house to let your imagination run free.

"While taking risks with a bright or dark colour is second nature to me, I can appreciate how much of a daunting task it can be, especially if you’re used to living with white walls," says A-list favourite Abigail Ahern, author of Colour: How To Banish Beige and Bold Up Your Home.

"Many people think if you have a smaller space, darker shades won’t work, but this isn’t necessarily correct. There are always ways you can introduce deep and inky hues into your home. No one will be talking about your beige-on-beige home, so go a little crazy." 

Image: Balcony painted in Farrow & Ball Rangwali

Test it out

Before you make a commitment, order tester pots of all the colours you are drawn to. Painting samples onto large pieces of paper or card, and pinning them up on different walls in a room will allow you to see how light hits them throughout the day.

Studholme says you’ll find colours appear lighter and brighter in south-facing rooms, greener in those that face north, and in east and west-facing rooms will vary considerably throughout the day.

But don’t be a snob about paint brands – whether you try Farrow & Ball, Mylands, Zoffany, or the less pricey Johnstone’s, Crown or Dulux, go with what you love.

Just remember matt and flat finishes don’t reflect light, and are good at hiding imperfections, whereas gloss finishes will show up everything.

Take small steps

If you don’t feel ready to paint a whole room or even wall yet, start small. "Paint a piece of furniture, such as a cupboard or chair, in your favourite shade, and make it a centrepiece of the room," Shillingford says. "Then paint the walls in a versatile, neutral colour that works with everything."

However, she adds, when you feel brave enough, commit one special room to an amazing rich colour, even if it’s just the smallest room in the house. "Paint the whole thing: walls, ceiling and woodwork … I promise this will be your favourite room."

Make an entrance

You might prefer to plan a colour scheme for each room individually, floor-by-floor, or by assessing the house as a whole. Whichever way you plump for, the hallway is a great place to be bold. "Hallways always tend to work well, as essentially they are ‘passing through’ zones,” says Sara Thompson, of Thompson Clarke Interiors.

Still nervous? Go wild in the downstairs loo.


Although most of us just go for a standard white, painting a ceiling a vivid colour can bring a real edge to your home, without dominating the space.  It can also hide a multitude of sins, such as low ceiling heights and dodgy joinery.

Image: Kitchen cabinets in Farrow & Ball Duck Green

Accent colours

Some of us just naturally love a neutral wall. So harness the power of accent colours instead. "Pick a few key colours that you want to work with, which may be in something you already have,” says Alexandra Laird, interior design manager at Burbeck Interiors.

"Then keep on adding touches of colour through cushions, artwork, books or vases. It can be as subtle as the piping on a cushion."

Image: Strong blue walls and sofa in living room, by Thompson Clarke

Find inspiration

Hit Instagram and Pinterest, and try out the app Coolors, which lets you generate your own bespoke palettes, or the Dulux Visualizer app, which lets you pick a colour from absolutely anywhere, and then shows you what it would look like on your walls.

Farrow and Ball, Little Greene and Earthborn Paints are all great for room inspiration, and YouTube videos for practical step-by-step DIY guides.


We’ve saved the most important tip for last – though it’s one, says Shillingford, that nobody likes to hear.

“Just as your parents didn’t let you have pudding before you had eaten all your greens, decorating requires you to prep the surfaces properly before you have fun with colours.

"If you do it well, your beautiful efforts will last for years, plus it will be easier to decorate next time."

Clean the walls thoroughly, fill cracks, holes and gaps, and mask off the bits you aren’t painting.

Shillingford’s must-have kit includes synthetic brushers and rollers you can use again and again, a roller extension pole – and plenty of chocolate.  

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