Designers Never Use These Bright Colors in Small Spaces—Here's Why

Updated 05/31/19

How do you use bright colors in a small space? Decorating a size-challenged space or stylish studio is tricky enough without adding color into the equation, and while we can all agree to open up a space with white (and err on the side of neutral tones in tiny rooms), sometimes we just want to break out of the mold, be bold, and do something different. If the runways are anything to go by, bright color will dominate our homes this year, but the big question is how we apply this to our little homes.

At least according to Emily Henderson of Style by Emily Henderson, that's actually the best place to start. "Small spaces really give you the opportunity to commit to something that would normally scare you in a larger room," she explained. "So have fun with it and allow yourself to make that room special." While 2016 was all about black, gray, and blush, 2017 is dialing it right up. So push pastels aside and turn on the bright lights. Ahead, several designers show us the vibrancy-infused path to a brighter (and happier) studio space.

Play Around With Paint Samples

Sean Litchfield for Homepolish ; DESIGN: Megan Hopp

So you've decided you want to inject a little color into your small space (congrats), but now which hue will you choose? According to Katherine Carter of Homepolish, above all else you should love the color you choose (you're going to have to live with it after all), so be sure to experiment a little first. "Colors can have a strong effect on you," she said. "Grab some samples and play around before you commit to anything. Read up on some fun feng shui tips if you're into that. Overall, go with a color that makes you feel good."

Once you've decided on your samples, Henderson recommends finding an element of your space to experiment with it first. "Keep in mind when selecting a bright color for a small room that the bright color will always look more subtle on a paint chip," she explained. "A bright pink might look great on a small paint chip when you hold it in the room, but then once you paint it on all four walls, it could feel like you live in a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. So find a color you like, then test it out in the room on a large poster board or piece of paper before committing."

Resist the Trends

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While the final decision of which bright color to use is a matter of personal opinion, Farrow & Ball's head of creative, Charlie Cosby, urges us all to resist the trends and select a color that goes with the style of your home. "It is imperative not to choose a bright color just because it is trendy, ignoring your personal preferences in the process," he stressed. "As bright hues are sure to be noticeable, you will likely grow tired of it quickly. Instead, get a sense of the overall feeling you want the room to exude, and choose colors that complement your current aesthetic. This way, you will go with a color that you truly love, instead of one that you will come to regret in several years."

Once you have settled on a color you love, Cosby has a few tried-and-tested tricks for adding depth to a room. "We have found that using a single bright color like Pitch Blue in a room creates the illusion of higher ceilings and loftiness as it is more difficult to decipher where the walls begin and end," he says.

Treat it Like a Jewel Box

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Once you start using bright colors, it's hard to stop. We can all get carried away, but before that happens, use Cosby's rule of thumb: "People often find using a bright color in a small space counterintuitive; however, our color experts encourage it," he said. "As opposed to a traditional white (which can cause the room to look small and dull), darker brighter tones can enhance a small room, bringing the walls to life. We like to say that tiny spaces can be treated like jewel boxes. Instead of using dull colors, which will leave them drab and underutilized, highlight the space with an eye-catching pop of color. By using a bright color, you draw people's attention to the style of the room as opposed to the size, creating a dramatic effect to give these smaller rooms the attention they deserve."

Experiment With Décor and Art Instead of Paint

Monica Wang Photography

If painting is too much of a commitment, then don't do it. Simple. You can infuse poppy, vibrant elements with soft furnishings, furniture, and artwork. Carter's preference? Plants and flowers. "These are my favorite use of color in a space," she emphasizes, "because you can be so versatile and ever changing with plants and flowers. This also brings the subconscious back to the great outdoors giving one the feeling of wide-open spaces."

Henderson prefers soft furnishings to bring in something exciting and experimental rather than committing to a bright green couch or an electric blue chair. "I love a small pop of color in a lumbar pillow or a fun patterned or colored blanket to use on a chair or couch," she said. "And if you get sick of it, then you can swap it out without spending too much." Her rule, though, is to pay attention to the bones of the furniture. "If it has a lot of carving, decorative details, or visual chaos going on, then try to keep the paint color mellow," she adds.

"But if your piece is very simple and modern, then you can go more exciting with a paint color."

Since most of interior designer Tali Roth's spaces are Scandi-inspired and neutral, she opts for color via artwork instead. "Your art does not need to, nor is it supposed to, match your furniture, so go with something that is meaningful to you, and pair it with anything," she said. "I also love brightly colored vessels and vases for subtle yet unexpected pops. Of course, throw cushions and pillows are a wonderful way to introduce color too."

Use Orange, Yellow, and Red in Small Doses

Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton

While it's entirely up to you what color you choose to go with, some hues are better than others when it comes to small spaces. Carter is vehement about steering clear of orange, yellow, and red. "Did you ever notice that most fast-food restaurants use these colors?" she asked. "Literally every fast-food chain uses these colors in their marketing. You think I'm kidding—take note next time you drive past one. … There is a reason for this: These colors are meant to induce hunger in us." So if you want to encourage a passionate hunger when you walk into the room, by all means, paint it red.

Cosby agrees that yellow can be overpowering when used in a small room, so approach with caution. "While we are fans of Yellowcake for very small spaces like washrooms or doors (where it can bring a great energy to the space without taking over), it should be used with care," he said. "If used in a room that is slightly too large and more lived-in, it can be overwhelming, drawing one's attention away from other items like furniture or trim detailing. The same thing can happen if it is overused in a room.

We love the vibrant hue, but be wary, this color isn't for the faint of heart and should be used in moderation."

But if you simply must have one of these three vibrant colors, Henderson has the solution: Opt for the pastel version. "Anything that feels too electric or vibrant will instantly make the room feel small and cheap and bounce light around in a bad way," she remarked. "I also try to steer clear of anything too high sheen in small spaces. Instead, opt for a bright pastel or something that is bright in color but subtle in tone."

Balance Is Key

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Now that you're getting the hang of using vivid hues in small spaces, Roth has one more piece of advice to keep in mind. "My philosophy with any color is balance," she said. "Make sure if you choose one bold and bright color, use a complementary muted color (tone on tone looks cool too) and then fill the rest of the space with neutrals. Too many different colors won't work."

Follow Your Gut

Monica Wang Photography

We could list all the rules in the world to follow, but it's your home, so ultimately do what feels right to you. "Colors can be very personal, but I find rich jewel tones to be very effective," she said. "My advice, however, is to enjoy this process, follow your gut, and don't be afraid of color. The worst thing that can happen is that you dislike it and you paint over it." Cosby concurs and urges us all to take risks. "Don't stray away from bright colors in a small space," he said. "It can create a visual effect that will elevate the overall design of your home to new, unexpected heights." We couldn't agree more.

What bright colors do you love to use in a small space? Is there a design philosophy you stick to?

Bright Bazaar by Will Taylor $13
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Styled by Emily Henderson $18
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Happy Home by Charlotte Hedeman Gueniau $23
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