Home Decor

10 Ways to Conquer Your Fear of Color at Home

Small steps to kickstart your adventure.

March 10, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Lately, I’ve been craving a little more color in my world. If you look through my pins on Pinterest or my saves on Instagram, you’ll find a world of colorful interiors. Open the door to my apartment, however, and you’ll find a pretty limited palette of white, black, neutrals, and some touches of blue.

Research shows that color makes us happy. How exactly it does is still a mystery, and you’ll find conflicting advice from various studies that try to explain how specific colors make us feel. When I interviewed Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness last year, she shared a study that found that we tend to feel happiest in a place that provides a medium range of stimulation—an idea which struck a chord with me. According to the study, a neutral environment quickly becomes very unstimulating; bolder colors start off as more stimulating, but will even out to that medium level of stimulation that will bring us more lasting joy.

After a year of looking at the same old neutral-toned rooms, I feel decidedly unstimulated, so I’m giving color a try. Here are ways I’m bringing bright hues into my home, one small step at a time.

1. Set a colorful table.

The dinner table is a low-commitment spot to try out color without having to totally change your decor. With a set of colorful napkins and some brightly colored tapers instead of our usual white and natural linen, things look suddenly festive.

2. Try tiny towels.

Dishtowels and hand towels are another easy way to add color without spending a fortune. Or take a DIY approach: I’m considering hand-dyeing my tired-looking white dish towels to give them a new more colorful life.

3. Bring home FLOWERS!

This one’s a little bit of a cheat, but a vase of fresh blooms is the fastest—and cheapest—way to bring color into your home. I like to stretch a bouquet’s color out by pulling out a stem or two and putting them in bud vases to place a pop of color on the nightstand or bathroom sink.

4. And houseplants too!

Living greenery counts as a color in my book. We’re trying our best to keep houseplants alive (I’m a notorious black thumb) and their leaves lend our space a vibrant shade of green broadening our palette. Opt for a brightly-hued or variegated pot and you’ve got double the color.

5. Give an old couch a new look.

We changed our couch color with a new slipcover. A new navy blue slipcover to replace the old linen covers on my ten-year-old couch was not a bold color choice, but it actually makes a big difference in how our living room feels: So much less washed out! If you’re not prepared to buy a whole new cover, tuck a patterned fabric over the cushions (even famed decorator Bunny Williams does this).

6. Put kid (and grown-up!) art on display.

Between an abstract-ish kid painting of an excavator hanging in our bedroom, watercolors pinned to the fridge, and a collage my husband made in the living room, our temporary art displays lend our home some welcome hits of bright color.

7. Take baby steps away from white walls.

I swear I’m going to get around to painting my son’s room a color... one of these days. (The white-white walls just look sad in a room that doesn’t get tons of daylight.) In the meantime, we painted our teeny bathroom blue this summer. It’s not quite the right shade, but the experience reminded me that painting a small room, like a bathroom, is truly doable in just a few hours. I’m considering painting the inside of our coat closet a bright cheery yellow—just for fun.

8. Add just a pair of pillowcases.

You don’t have to buy all new bedding to bring color into the bedroom. I’ve long favored white and neutral bedding, and my sheets are still in good condition, so I’m not going to replace my bedding any time soon. However, just a pair of brightly patterned pillowcases will give a tiny bedroom like mine a jolt. (This is also a great way to indulge a child’s desire for novelty bedding without making a big investment.)

9. Swap out a shade.

Decorative lampshades are having a moment these days. You can easily update an existing lamp with a new, colorful shade. I’ve got my eye on some marbelized paper ones on Etsy and pleated ones from Ballard Designs.

10. Throw some new pillows into the mix.

I was going to skip this old chestnut of advice, but there’s a reason every magazine article on affordable decorating suggests you update your living room with fresh throw pillows: It works! Again, Etsy is my go-to for unique finds: I like to buy new covers for my existing pillows, so I don’t have to store extra inserts.

How do you introduce color to your space? Tell us in the comments below.

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Laura Fenton is the No Space Too Small columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton or subscribe to her newsletter Living Small.