Overlooked Colors Designers Actually Love—Plus How to Use Them

Living room with brown and red color scheme

Sims Hilditch

If you’ve been following 2022 color trends, then you know that green has been the mainstay of almost every major paint company’s palette. Green was so ubiquitous that we nearly started taking bets in advance of Pantone’s Color of the Year announcement—and were delighted by the surprise of their periwinkle pick, Very Peri.

But somewhere along the rainbow, there are colors that are far too overlooked in the design world. While we can all appreciate a stony gray and the perfect shade of warm white, a true pop of unexpected color makes a room sing. We turned to some of our favorite designers to ask which overlooked colors deserve a second glance and get their tips for how best to incorporate these oft-ignored beauties into our own homes.

Dare to Go Dark

“Understandably, many people are nervous about dark colors due to a fear of creating an oppressive and uninviting space,” says Louise Wicksteed, design director for interior design firm Sims Hilditch. “However, we tend to find that these shades have the opposite effect.”

If you’re considering a darker shade but not sure which way to go, Wickstead has a few suggestions. “A deep blue or red can create a cozy, cocooned feel, making a room feel welcoming and homely,” she says. “[Pairing] with accents of lighter shades (such as pinks, terracottas, and neutrals) in the soft furnishings can help to cut through the darkness.”

Use Black as a Neutral

While a black room can feel bold and dramatic, Tanya Hembree, owner and principal designer of Onyx + Alabaster, sees this shade differently. “Black is the new white,” she says. “We use it often and everywhere we can to augment neutrals, contrast with color, and make an unexpected punch.” 

Don’t Fear Aqua and Turquoise

Much like green, certain shades of blue still strike fear in the hearts of homeowners and designers. Aqua and turquoise tend to fall under that umbrella, says Hembree: “We have been utilizing various aquas and turquoise. [In a] recent master bathroom remodel, [we showed] its punch.”

Bathroom with teal cabinetry

Ruby & Peach Photography / Courtesy of Onyx + Alabaster

Lean Into Soft Pinks and Warm Neutrals 

While millennial pink is inching toward outdated these days, Victory Colours color expert Zoe Burford-May insists that warm neutrals aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. “Soft pinky beiges can bring a warmth to a room without clashing with existing furniture, perfect for a new year freshen-up,” says Burford-May. “A simple, subtle change in color will have a dramatic impact on how the room feels.”

Bold blue study with pink sofa

Sims Hilditch

Nicole Fisher of BNR Interiors agrees that pinks and even plums deserve more love. “Pinks [along with plums] are often very overlooked,” she says. “Not in your typical little girls’ room, but on millwork, in kitchens, and in primary bedrooms. They’re very soothing colors and very dramatic in a large space.”

Brave Bright and Bold Hues

Neutrals are an easy mainstay in most design plans, but Burford-May tells us she has a soft spot for everyone who dares to be daring. 

“I love it when homeowners embrace bold colors,” she says. “The world has been turned upside down these last two years, so I think people should surround themselves with colors that lend themselves to positivity. Think exuberant yellows, warming oranges, and bold reds.” 

Decorist designer Casey Hardin agrees: “In a design world that has seen a large movement toward earth tones and muted neutrals, bold primary colors have a notoriously bad rap. With that said, I think in the right context, they can add pizazz and visual interest to a space!” 

“I particularly love incorporating bold red to add color to a masculine space or electric yellow to a maximalist boss babe home office," says Hardin. "The key is to balance these hues with the right textures, complementary colors, and furniture pieces.”

Try Shades of Yellow

On the subject of yellow, Burford-May admits, “I would really like to see yellows, in all their happy glory, to feature prominently in 2022. Yellow is such a versatile color but homeowners can be intimidated when it comes to using it in the home.”

“The options are endless,” she assures anyone who isn’t sure which shade of yellow to try. “You can go for mustard, gold, lemon, the palest sherbet color, or even an acid bright yellow if you wish. A delicate creamy-toned yellow pairs with almost any color. I personally love it with [a dark blue] or even charcoal grey. It contrasts beautifully to create a balance between light and dark.”

Hardin agrees that yellow is at its best when paired properly. “Yellow is a color that makes people think of the oh-so-dated builder-grade wall paints of the early 2000s, but the right bold yellow can take an eclectic, maximalist space to the next level!” Hardin says. “Pair it with electric pink and teal blue, and make sure to pull in lots of plants to create a space that is anything but old-fashioned.”

Reconsider Brown and Reds

Anna Franklin, interior designer and founder of Stone House Collective, feels we need to give this popular combo from the early 2000s another look. 

“Brown and red are colors that I encourage people to give a chance. When we think of these two colors, we tend to think of how horribly the early 2000s used these colors in design and how we ultimately swore we would never use them again,” she says. “We often paint over them when renovating a home for various reasons. However, when used correctly and done right they are beautiful and have been making a comeback.”

If you’re not sold on the pairing, Franklin has another suggestion for working with brown: “Since they are both earth tones, brown and green work beautifully together. For any other designs that include earth tones other than green, brown is a great color to include as well.”

Nook with red accents and brown walls

Sims Hilditch

How to Use Overlooked Colors in Your Space

Pair Your Bolds Together

If you’re planning to incorporate a more daring shade into your scheme, Burford-May suggests working in pairs. “Bright bold eye-catchers, like a gorgeous shade of magenta [with a] striking blue, work really well together,” she says. “It’s amazing how bright orange goes well with dark grays and navy. Bright pink and teal works beautifully together too, so I say grab that bright teal and use it alongside a striking floral pink wallpaper. The bolder the better.”

Work With Your Room’s Elements—Not Against Them

“The key to embracing a divisive color in a design is to carefully edit your furniture choices, textures, and accent colors,” says Hardin. “There really aren’t any colors you have to avoid if you use them in the right proportion and context in a space.”

Experiment in Small Spaces

“Scary as it might sound, we find these ambitious color combinations work brilliantly in small spaces,” says Burford-May. “Create a vibrant bathroom with some statement wallpaper or even a bright wall tile, letting people have a real wow moment in a space that’s often overlooked.”

Bathroom with bold wallpaper

Sims Hilditch

Use Color as a Focal Point

“When using a bold color in a space, avoid putting it in multiple places—such as on the walls, furniture, and in a rug,” says Franklin. “Instead, pick one of these focal spots in a room, and add neutral colors around it. This keeps the focal point on the bold hue instead with neutral accents, and prevents the color from overwhelming the space.”

Keep Your Location in Mind

Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch of Southampton’s Hidden Gem shop suggest assessing your location when considering your bold picks and planning according to your desired aesthetic.

“Colors like greens and oranges pair great with the more coastal color palettes,” they say. “It’s also good to remember that each color has various hues and shades. If you love lots of colors as we do, we have a lot of fun mixing pinks, oranges, along with blues and greens.”

Add Colors for Upbeat Energy

“One of our favorite rooms to play with colors is the living room or TV room,” say the Hidden Gem sisters. “Unlike the bedroom, where you’d want your space to be calmer and more relaxed for ending your day, the living room is often filled with movement and energy. Because these spaces are frequently occupied and used for multiple activities, it’s the perfect space to play with bright colors and patterns.”

Work in the Details

As you’re testing out your color preferences, don’t commit to a full color overhaul. Fisher suggests instead playing with the details. “Artwork is a great place to add color without changing your design scheme,” she says. “I love mixing mediums, scale, and colors in space.”

Willock and Willock-Morsch agree: “Adding color in your space with interchangeable pieces allows you to play around with what areas you highlight with your new addition of color. If you’re looking to add more color or a softer touch to an already colorful space, a great place to start is with smaller accent pieces. If you are more drawn to whites and creams, try adding in a pop of color in the form of vases, pillows, or throw blankets.”

Start Slow

If you’re still not sure going totally bold is for you, Burford-May has some final words of wisdom. “Start slow,” she says. “If the idea of a whole room in the same shade is too overwhelming, then break it up. Use a feature wall as a starting point and work outwards to tone down the rest.” 

Hardin suggests the same: “I love playing with unique color palettes in small bathrooms because you can always change it up with minimal investment down the road. Powder rooms are also a great spot to create an unexpected surprise for your guests.”

“There’s no reason to not choose a color you love just because ‘it might be too bright,’” Burford-May says. “We’re true believers of letting your home reflect you. You’re the one who lives here, let’s make it all about you—a home you can sit back in at the end of a long day and think yes, this is a bit of me.”