It's called the color pop, and we're here to show you how to do it.

By Marisa Spyker
May 04, 2018
Photo: Annie Schlechter; styling: Matthew Gleason; design: Barrie Benson

Bright whites, sandy shades, seagrass, and natural rattan are all dynamite in a beach home. But what makes them even better? The contrast of a hue that’s vibrant and unexpected. And while maybe you’re not ready to fully commit to sunshine-yellow walls or lime green cabinetry, a strategically placed pop is just the potion for color-shy beginners to pump some energy into their homes. Here are five secrets for getting bold pops of color just right. 

Photo by David A. Land; Design by Jody Beck of Traction Architecture and Lora Kennedy; Styling by Jerrie-Joy

1. Always Look to the Landscape

Not sure what works and what doesn’t; or how bold is too bold? Mother Nature has a palette laid out right in front of you—and what works there will work in your home. In Lora Kennedy’s Anna Maria Island kitchen, orange accents (a Blue Star Range and Barn Light Electric pendants) sync with the fiery shades of Gulf sunsets just outside the window. (The pieces especially pop against a bright white backdrop.) Looking for less of a color commitment? Smaller appliances like mixers and espresso machines can also bring a jolt of color in tinier doses. Tour the rest of this Florida beach shack.

Photo: Michael Partenio; Stylist: Stacy Kunstel

2. One Room’s Palette Is Another Room’s Pop 

When rooms are adjacent to one another, there should naturally be a sense of cohesion—and color is the perfect way to pull that off. This kitchen’s ocean-inspired backsplash incorporated various shades of blue, so in the neighboring dining room, neutral furniture is livened up with a strategic pop in the glossy turquoise centerpiece. Accent pillows and artwork with subtler hints of blue help bring the palette together even more.

Related: 5 Paint Color Secrets Your Realtor Wish You Knew: 

Photo: Annie Schlechter; styling: Matthew Gleason; design: Barrie Benson

3. Follow the 20 Percent Rule

According to Apartment Therapy founder Maxwell Ryan, there’s a simple formula for getting the effect you want with color pops: Keep 80 percent of the room neutral and go bold with the remaining 20 percent. (The effect is similar to the way red lipstick can transform a face.) Following this rule, color can be simply added in small doses through throws, pillows, and lamps, which—bonus—also happen to be the cheapest things to swap out if your tastes change. And, of course, remember balance: A lone shot of color in a corner will look jarring, but evenly distributing it will make the room sing. Tour the rest of this North Carolina cottage—plus 6 others—here.

Photo by Max Kim-Bee; Styling by Heather Chadduck Hillegas

4. Save Surprises For Certain Rooms 

Generally, if you pop a hue in one room, you want shades of it to appear in others for cohesion. Some rooms, however, welcome wild cards. “I always think of a guest room as an opportunity to use a color that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the house,” interior decorator Ashley Whittaker says. In this space, Whittaker introduced a citrusy lemon hue in the bed upholstery and Roman shade fabric—just enough to brighten things up without taking away from the soothing bedroom vibes. Powder rooms are another place where the palette can easily stray from the rest of the pack. Tour the rest of this gorgeous town house.

Photo: Annie Schlechter; Stylist: Liz Strong

5. Don’t Forget the Natural Pops 

Oftentimes, the best pops of color don’t come from a can of paint or a store—they’re found in the produce aisle or garden center of your local grocery store. From lemons and limes to banana or palm leaves, the fruits (and plants!) of Mother Nature are practical and pretty to have around, and you don’t need a ton of them to bring just the right pop to a space. And if you’re looking for something more permanent, you can always go faux. (We won’t tell.)