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Paint the Room Red! How to Use This Off-Limits Color in Your Home

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“All my life, I’ve pursued the perfect red,” Diana Vreeland, the late former editor of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, explained in her autobiography, “I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple’—they have no idea what I’m talking about.”

And of course, Vreeland wasn't not alone in this pursuit: Finding the “right” shade of red, one that appropriately conveys your desired mood and atmosphere and fits within the context of your home, can be a challenge—but with some of the most arresting visual results! So below, I've laid forth a few tips for finding the right red for your interior.

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Where to begin

Context is paramount to choosing a bucket of red paint: It will do more harm than good to have even the perfect shade of red in a less than ideal location. Living rooms, kitchens, and dining rooms are especially popular areas for an injection of red, and for good reason: Red excites movement and energy.

In a living room, red can make your guests more conversational and lively. It's also been proven to make individuals eat more (even if they claim to be full), so putting the color in a dining room just might make guests all the more impressed with your culinary acumen.

In some spaces, however, red can be too stimulating. Even though some designers have broken this rule with impressive results, the color isn't really intended for restful environments like bedrooms. (In fact, in one study red was shown to raise the blood pressure of those in its presence. It also can inhibit concentration, making it an unwise choice for offices or study areas.)

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So now that we know the where, below are a few favorite permutations of this powerful, dramatic color.

Earthy Red

The earthy red is cozy and intimate, reminiscent of rust or red clay. It plays well with other finishes and furnishings, particularly in a flat finish (not glossy) as shown above. It makes a statement, but does not steal the spotlight.

This color works particularly well when the finish and saturation level are similar to surrounding items, as shown through the warm wood tones below.

Recommended Earthy Red: Benjamin Moore’s Merlot Red

Race-Car Red

Talk about drama. Race-car red is that friend who’s the life of the party, but who you can only hang out with in small doses: an attention-grabber. Used in the above living room, the color is beautiful but visually intense. Its presence necessitates that everything else in the room be just as bold in order to stand up to it.

But if even looking at a room that bright gives you heart palpitations, it’s probably best to only inject this level of saturation in small accents, as shown with the dining room chairs below.

Recommended Race-car Red: Benjamin Moore's Heritage Red Exterior Paint

Tomato Red

I’m a little biased when it comes to a great tomato-red. It’s a workhorse, cheery and bright but not overwhelming. The hint of orange in it gives this shade its distinction from other, more primary shades of red. It is fun and happy, but never juvenile.

If I close my eyes and picture a perfect day in the kitchen, the backdrop of this scene is invariably tomato-red.

Recommended Tomato Red: Benjamin Moore Tomato Red


I’d like to think Diana Vreeland found what she was looking for. I hope the shade that covered her famous “rose garden in hell” was at least close to the perfect red she imagined.

If you want to try a dose of red, but are too timid, just remind yourself that Ms. Vreeland herself viewed mistakes as a good thing. “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika,” she once said, “We all need a splash of bad taste–it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” And on that note, Paprika would make a very fine wall color.

Tags: red, paint, color