Fix It Friday: Watch How Just a Few Colorful Design Swaps Completely Overhaul 6 Reader-Submitted Rooms (w/ Real Photos!)

Welcome to another installment of Fix It Friday! This week’s episode delves into color, specifically how to take a lot of your existing items in a room and refresh the palette (or create one when there doesn’t seem to be one). As a refresher, Fix It Friday is a new series Jess introduced where we take reader-submitted rooms and help them by offering suggestions for how to make them just a little bit better. So far, we’ve tackled bedding and foyers, and as I mentioned, today is all about color.

If you’re a reader who has been around for a bit, you know it’s kind of my thing. I love it. Finding new palettes, unique pairings, and just seeing things come to life with a dash of daffodil or a peppering of paprika. So I thought. EASY! Send me your photos of a room you feel stuck on, color-wise, and I’ll whip it into shape.

But, I actually found it a bit difficult not to want to strip the room to the studs and essentially just redesign things. NOT because the rooms were bad, but because what I noticed when evaluating all the 20+ rooms we got, no one really had an established color scheme to work from, so it kind of felt like starting from scratch.

But Fix It Fridays are supposed to be about easy, quick and impactful changes, and telling a reader “hey, maybe let’s add paneling and change all your draperies and strip away all your textiles and start over” wasn’t, uh…the point. So I checked myself, looked at all the submissions with fresh, less ambitious eyes, and thought…”If this were my sister asking me what to do, or my best friend…what would I tell them to do?”

We’ll get to what that ended up being for the six rooms I picked, but first, I have a few considerations, because this wouldn’t be an EHD post without them, would it?

Things To Consider

  • With any room, always try to go into it with some colors in mind. When you just start piecing things together, especially if it’s over several months or years, it can get very confusing both for your brain and the design to not have a loose plan. You want to be able to look at your space and think, “it’s missing some of the yellow I planned for” instead of “I have no clue what to do right now and feel frozen.”
  • There are multitudes of articles on the internet that tell you how to build a color palette, so I’m not going to do that right now in this one little bullet point. Instead, here’s a trick for someone just getting started in the color game: pick three colors…honestly, any three colors you like because most times, they’ll go together (believe it or not). Then, take those three colors and make sure you’re varying the saturation and tone of them throughout your room in the rug, paint, decor, art, and textiles. The biggest mistake I see in a colorful room is using the same shade of the same color over and over again. If blue is one of your colors, use navy, slate, dusty blue. The undertones of the color should be the same, but the “volume” of it can change.
  • You. Need. Contrast. A lot of the homes I saw for this post had beige walls with beige window coverings with beige carpet. Cool. Fine. But then a grey or beige sofa sat in that room and it was all just a bowl of mashed potatoes. You need to introduce contrast and set things apart. For example, add a rug between a light floor and a light sofa to make both their own things, rather than visually run into one another. Window treatments can be the same color as the wall, but it needs to feel purposeful (though I prefer going either 2-3 shades darker or lighter for, you guessed it, contrast).
  • Try to spread color throughout a space in both expected and unexpected ways. If you have some blue in a rug pattern, pull that out by using a blue accent chair, for instance. But then add a blue tassel to the knob of a cabinet or pick a pillow with blue piping. Those are the little moments you don’t always expect that make for interesting design.

I just want—nay, need—to preface everything I share from this point forward with the following statement: color is intensely personal. It’s like underwear. Or maybe a glasses prescription. You may look through a set of frames and think “Wow! I can see so clearly now!” while the person standing next to you will suddenly go cross-eyed and not be able to pick out an elephant in a sea of flamingos. And besides being personal, it’s also uniquely influenced by the space the colors go into. South-facing windows? North-facing windows? Tons of greenery outside of windows? No windows at all? It can change everything. So while I am making suggestions here, let’s use them more as an inspiration for what might be possible. I would never, ever recommend someone just go and buy the paint color I’m saying without ever testing it in their homes. 

Okay, I could go on FOR-EH-VER, but we’re not here for that. We’re here to get our advice on!

But first, let’s study a few pretty colorful rooms, mostly just to whet our palates for palettes (word nerd here, sorry). All of these happen to be my own projects because it’s easier for me to talk about the “whys” when I actually know them.

photo: sara ligorria-tramp | design: arlyn hernandez | styling: emily edith bowser | from: 3 years in the making then an unexpected move: arlyn’s bedroom reveal Is a lesson in the beauty of “unfinished” design

One of my favorite things to do is to use color sparingly but in very bold ways. If you really look at my last bedroom, it’s mostly neutral. A neutral rug, furniture, curtains, key bedding pieces, and light earthy wall paint. But a mustard velvet bed, an olive quilt, and a green blockprint lumbar are all it took to turn this into a “colorful” bedroom. Be daring, people.

photo: veronica crawford | design: arlyn hernandez | styling: emily edith bowser | from: arlyn’s rental kitchen reveal just might have you wishing you had brown—or even cherry— cabinets (yes, really)

In my breakfast nook, I wanted to complement the red tones of the cabinets on the other side of the room, so I went with green, a direct complimentary color. But to avoid things looking like Christmas, I shifted the hue of the green to sage and emerald, rather than textbook “green.” And because I always work from three colors instead of two, I mixed in mustard in the fabric of the chairs since it nearly disappeared against the yellow tones of my wood furniture. Oh, and that unexpected touch of color I mentioned earlier? That comes in the lampshade trim, pulling red ever so delicately across the room. (And okay yes, there’s also blue and lilac and rust in here, but that’s mostly just the styling, not the design.)

photo: sara ligorria-tramp | design: arlyn hernandez | from: arlyn’s moody dining room reveal is all about the insane power of paint

Friends, I miss this little jewel box of a dining room SO MUCH. I will always have a special place in my heart for it. I know that. But anyway, I wanted to show you an example of creating contrast and separation. The dining chairs and table are very close in color to the oak floors, so a rug with a delicate texture and pattern split those up. I didn’t want to detract from the moment in here—the walls and ceiling—so I kept the rug neutral. The dining banquette pulls blue from my sofa in the adjoining room to connect the spaces visually but without trying too hard. And a touch of rest velvet never hurt ANYONE or ANY SPACE.

photo: sara ligorria-tramp | design: arlyn hernandez | from: reveal: arlyn’s bright & happy rental living room makeover

This is the first room I ever designed top to bottom, and looking back at it, I’m sure I’d make some changes if today me were working on it, but I still think it pulled out what I was going for: bold but breezy. Again, using one strong color without being shy about it makes a huge difference. Then that blue is echoed in some of the prints of the throw pillows, in some accessories, and balanced by a near complementary color—rust, instead of orange—and my secret weapon always: ochre or mustard.

Okay, let’s get into some reader rooms.

Wake Up The Palette

From our reader: “I’ve been struggling to make my primary bedroom look finished. It feels bland with the lack of contrast between the green rug, blue curtains, and white. I’ve wanted to change the curtains for months but can’t decide on a color. However, I’m open to all suggestions!”

First up to bat! A fairly neutral bedroom. When I read the reader’s prompt, I had to do a double take at the “green” rug and the “blue” curtains, tbh. I’m guessing it’s just not reading correctly in the photo, but also…we can fix that. If you want to make a color more pronounced, you just have to add more of it somewhere else. Color pulls stronger the more of it there is. Without knowing much about this reader’s style, I can make the deduction that they were going for calm and serene in their bedroom space, so I didn’t want to disrupt that. I’m working with their existing sort-of palette of neutrals, soft blues, and soft greens. I think we can keep the curtain panels and add on to them (hopefully they still sell them) to give them more of a full look because they feel a little too whispy to me.

The white bedding and the white lamps and the beige (gray?) wall are falling a little flat, so we can punch things up by going with a soft blue with gray undertones (the same blue Emily used in her primary bedroom, too—Sherwin-Williams Debonair), adding a dark blue quilt that make the curtain panels feel less intense, and bringing green up into the bed from the rug via a lumbar pillow and a subtle stripe on the sheets. Some pretty, warm leather trays on the nightstands would add a touch of cognac, which can be echoed in some art that the area above the nightstands is calling out for! Oh, and I think it could be cool if she were to paint the tall, narrow cabinet between the windows the same color as the wall (and maybe move it out of that spot so the curtains can have a fuller look?).

Here’s what that would look like:

Striped Sheets | Blue Quilt | Bedspread | Framed Canvases | Trays | Lumbar Pillow | Paint | Curtain Panels

New Slipcover, New Life

From our reader: “I love, love, love your posts and feel like I am emailing a celebrity crush – haha. We recently repainted the room a new wall color and have no regrets about that. But as we’ve started to put back our furniture, some of the old stuff doesn’t look right and the room has lost its zing. I know we need to add pillows, plants, and something to the mantle but I am just feeling STUCK. I want this room to have life and not look like a baby shower. I’ll add that this room gets almost no natural light. It’s north-facing and the front of the house blocks the sun from reaching that one big window. So again, we need color! I’m thinking of switching out that Sixpenny Neva sofa slipcover for the plum version as a start. Also, I just bought [the vintage painting above the left side chair] from Etsy and am obsessed. I’d like to use this as a jumping-off point.”

Number 1: I will always pick you for a post if you tell me you feel like you’re emailing a celebrity crush. Done deal. 🙂 Number 2: I also have big giant windows that are basically decorative because the sun can’t penetrate beyond a fence I have in my front patio or the trees surrounding the property. Bummer. So…let me see how I can help.

I agree that the existing color palette feels a bit underwhelming with the paint color. I can’t quite put my finger on why though. Possibly the soft rug and the soft sofa cover and then just the heaviness of the blue chairs. But I’m not in the business in this post of changing people’s furniture, so adding in a few punchy pieces and creating a new color palette around the vintage artwork she loves is the name of the game.

I opted to pull the plum slipcover she mentioned because she’s already considering it. I think that would be lovely paired with the blue chairs, and work great with the painting. From the painting, I’m also pulling some greens that show up in the new rug via teal and in some ribbon trim I think she may be able to retroactively add to the Roman shades that are disappearing against the wall. The space to the right of the fireplace is aching for some height as all the furniture is roughly the same visual height. I found this absolutely gorgeous cabinet that carries the warmth of the floors without adding a new wood tone into the mix. This introduces an opportunity to use pretty decor pieces, collectibles, books, and small art of her choosing to flush out her new color palette.

A little blue in some vases I found makes the chairs feel more intentional than just the pop of blue they are now. The rug also weaves the plum from the art, the sofa and some new decor items I found through the different visual plains (top, middle, bottom).

Take a look at what I picked as inspiration (as a reminder, my intention is not to tell this person to just go and buy all this stuff, but rather to see what might be possible within the confines of their existing furniture with a few add-ons).

Throw Pillow | Sofa Slipcover | Blue Glass Vase | Pedestal Bowl | Hurricane Candle Holders | Blue and White Vase | Ribbon | Plant | Display Cabinet | Rug

Take It To The Next Level

From our reader: “My struggle is what to do with these walls in my little powder room! I feel like it’s almost there…but missing something. Do I need to paint the walls dark? Put in a gallery wall? Wallpaper? Help!”

This powder bathroom is a classic case of a room design that didn’t plan for color. It planned for finishes, but not color. And that’s totally fine! Neutrals are colors, too, but they need to be used intentionally and with purpose. This spot feels a bit unfinished, like the reader mentioned.

Since she was open to wallpaper, I pulled one of my favorites: Strawberry Thief by Morris & Co. It’s just a delight of a wallpaper while having some gravitas…perfect for a small bathroom. It also plays beautifully well with rich warm wood tones like that of the vanity, doors, trim, and floors. This paper gives us an immediate color palette of blue, green, cream with a touch of red so that’s what I rolled with. The floors could really use a rug to add visual interest (but also comfort to anyone using the room), and I pull this Schoolhouse rug often because I love the shade of green and the speckling of blue. It’s graphic but quiet and modern. A waffle towel is my new favorite way to introduce texture to a bathroom, and I like the border of coral here with the wallpaper. I would love to see two medium-sized framed prints above the towel bar and two small prints stacked vertically to the right of the sink. And since we’re here, let’s swap that neutral vase for something a little more striking.

Wallpaper | Diptych – Left | Diptych – Right | Vase | Towel | Rug | Blue Art Print | Strawberry Art Print

Have Some Fun In A Playroom

From our reader: “This is my family room that also doubles as a toddler play area. We have a really neutral living room so I wanted to do something more colorful in here but I’m out of ideas. I wanted to do a Memphis design-inspired color palette (I’m really drawn to the Nathalie du Pasquier Manifesto prints as an example) but I’m lost. I need help with a rug, pillows, art, etc! “

This reader had me at Memphis style because anyone who could be into that is NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING. This family room slash playroom falls into the mashed potato category I talked about earlier. And I don’t say that as an insult. It’s SUCH an easy category to fall into. Picking expensive furniture in a color you think you might tire of is scary, so we’re told to go with neutrals. But then carpets are typically neutral in homes that have them, and walls start out neutral before graduating to something bolder. My answer, at least for this room? Change the walls and bring in a rug.

Oh, and I know what it feels like to have a living space that half belongs to a kid. A friend (kindly) said my living room looked like a high-end daycare once. So, if this is a family space that functions as a kid-first area anyway, I figured…let’s have some fun with it. This looks like a basement possibly, with low ceilings and very little natural light, so I didn’t want to go all dark and moody since it’s a space for her kids. A swirly twirly wallpaper is the perfect way to bring those wild Memphis graphics in but in a way that’s calmer and gives you the room to add in other art and prints. I pulled a complementary blue for the ceiling and trim to complete the look.

She mentioned Nathalie du Pasquier Manifesto prints which are incredible. Three of them over the sofa instead of the shelf with varied art would feel more intentional to me, so I think she could go that route and then display the existing art on other walls of the room. Instead of adding a floor lamp next to the sofa that a child will 100% try to topple over, I went with a swing arm wall sconce to add some light but also pull red from the artwork into an unexpected place. The rug I picked is from Emily’s line, and I think it would be perfect in this space because it’s modern, punchy, and delivers a lot of impact without being too busy (that’s what the art and wallpaper are for). Also, it’s plush, which would work better on the carpet than a flatweave which would punch up (don’t forget a rug pad!). Some fun new pillows and a throw will be a welcomed contrast to the neutral sofa.

Red Art Print | Blue and Yellow Art Print | Green and Blue Art Print | Sconce | Blue Ball Pillow | Throw | Striped Pillow | Velvet Pillows | Wallpaper | Paint | Rug

Refresh & Style

From our reader: “We live in Seattle so would love a warm color for our living room and ideally something that contrasts with the white trim. Thank you!! Love y’all’s work!”

A reader of few words. But no worries, I’ve got you. I absolutely adore the cove ceiling and leaded glass transoms over the picture windows. What a charming home! And if there is anything I learned from painting a room in my own home with a cove ceiling is that you take that paint all the way up and across. There is no natural stopping place for that paint. They tried to create one here which I think actually makes the ceiling feel lower than it is. This acts like an empire waist on my chesty figure…just draws attention instead of detracting. So first things first, we find a new paint color and we go all the way. And while we’re at it, I know they mentioned their white trim, but let’s make this room glow with a lighter peachy hue rather than the white. They might not go for it, I realize, because it would involve not just the baseboards and door surround but also those window frames. But a girl can dream. I’m suggesting English Scone which I used in my bedroom makeover because it feels warm, soft, happy and bright, which sounds just right for a place like Seattle that could use a break from the gloom.

Now that we have the walls tended to, the small rug in the entryway should be reconsidered. Let’s turn that whole area in front of the fireplace into part of the entryway by bringing in a 5×8 rug. It was tricky to find something that played nice with the rug under their sofa but I think this one is in line with a traditional style in a color that works with the sofa. Plus, this one is washable, which would come in handy in a foyer with heavy foot traffic.

And I think we can make that little cafe curtain work a bit harder with a quiet yet present plaid fabric. (Pssst: I think this would be beautiful in cafe curtains in the entire great room area so give them a little privacy without stealing the beauty of those windows). I also went ahead and picked out some clean-lined decor for the mantel plus a trailing plant which every fireplace needs. For the foyer table, I’m suggesting a fabric lampshade to add some more color, and a cool scalloped bowl for keys, etc. Lastly, if you look at the photos of the whole room, you know there’s a fairly large empty stretch of wall to the right of the television, so I picked a large canvas print in vibrant colors that might be nice to see right when you open the door.

Peach Paint | Light Peach Paint | Rug | Taper Holders | Marble Tray | Canvas | Plant | Fluted Bowl | Pillow | Fabric | Lampshade

Dark To Darling

From our reader: “Our upstairs hallways gets minimal sunlight and always feels dark and dull. How can I brighten it up with all this open concept-ness?! The color here and throughout the whole house is [Benjamin Moore] Simply White with [Benjamin Moore] Chantilly Lace trim, and in this hallway, the yellow undertones reallllly come out. (Please excuse my dirty floors.)”

Okay, ::cracks knuckles:: I’m going to change things up a little here. I don’t have much to go off from these photos to understand this reader’s aesthetic leanings, but the home’s style reads traditional yet updated “farmhouse” (I’m using this term very loosely), and the existing rug tells me they like bleutrals with some texture but not a ton of pattern.

So…what did I decide to do? Bring in some pattern that’s subtle, quiet and soft rounded up by some modern yet playful blues. In a dark space that feels dull, color can go a long way, but pattern can go further. This reader may throw this whole thing away and I’d be totally fine with that BUT I would want them to at least pull an idea for the broad strokes concepts I’m coming up with. I also know this is tricky because it’s hard to completely understand what the walls do around that staircase. I’m going to guess the wall with the window extends out and down to the first level via the stairwell, which makes what I’m going to suggest possibly moot, but there’s also a chance that wall stops and meets a perpendicular wall that goes down the staircase. I wouldn’t stop short of suggesting they carry the paper or the paint in my moodboard below down the stairs to draw the eye up from the first story.

ANYHOW, since it looks like the landing is a playroom, I also wanted to stay youthful and not overly serious in my picks. The speckled Rebecca Atwood wallpaper is a happy little place between adult and sophisticated kid (that’s a category, right?). But because it might be a bit too much in a long hallway and upstairs landing like this, I could suggest adding in some wall paneling and painting that trim work and all other woodwork a whispery putty-like clay. The little window is a great opportunity to use a Roman shade in a playful print like a gingham that still fits the vibes of the home’s architecture. And because I noticed a large gallery wall of family photos, I think some stately framed photos of the family in black and white on the empty wall to the right of the window would look amazing.

Now, the hallway needs a rug…or two or three. The one I found is 12 feet long, and without measurements, it’s hard to know whether that would fit but if anything, get two of these and leave a small gap between them. The gray-blue of this rug works with the existing playroom rug, and the dashes add to the pattern story of the walls and shade. There seems to be a little table near the railings that doesn’t feel like it has a purpose, so let’s make that a moment instead with an upholstered bench in a deep marigold (a great color for a darker space in need of some joy). Apart from that, I recommend adding more art to the walls down the hallway. I think a few stacked pieces of their choosing no larger than 12×16 with matting would work wonders.

Wallpaper | Paint | Runner Rug | Frames | Bench | Roman Shade | Choose a Happy Life Print | Woman in Dress Print | Formes Print

And there you have it! I had so much fun with these and hopefully, you saw some of my reasonings which helped you to grasp some of my color philosophies. I know it’s not easy. It can feel high stakes to play with color and it go wrong. But something I often tell people who choose neutrals only from a place of fear (rather than truly liking neutrals) is that beige and gray are colors, too, and in that same vein, you can tire of them, as well. Don’t be afraid of painting that wall, of picking that wallpaper you’re daring to try, of going for the green armchair instead of the cream one. You can always completely turn around a color palette by just making a few swaps, even when bright anchor pieces.

You’ve got this. And to all the readers who let us into their homes, thank you for letting us share and for trusting us. It’s my pleasure to help in any way, and hopefully, there were takeaways here for those homeowners we featured. We have many more, so if this post does well, I’m happy to keep going with this. 🙂

Your friend in (colorful) design, Arlyn

Opening Image Credits: Design by Emily Henderson | Photo by Kaitlin Green | From: How I Convinced My Friend To Paint Her Room Really Dark: A Kid/Dog-Friendly Basement Makeover With Article Furniture

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