• Wei Shen

Forget about interior color trends 2020, if you know how to make your home prettier with any color.

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Generally speaking, for any residential interior space, there are three major factors that determine the living quality:

  1. Distribution of natural light;

  2. Ceiling height;

  3. Colors.

The first two factors are greatly inherent in the architectural property which cannot be changed fundamentally during an interior renovation. So what's left for the interior designer or homeowner to play with is the color.

I've always felt that many architects and interior designers too often forgo colors out of fear or lack of imagination, rather than in pursuit of an aesthetic principle. But for individual homeowners, the simple start for you is to get a little bit more curious and always ask "what if", then you will see how fabulous and unique your own place could become.

There are trendy colors released every year for fashion as well as the interior industry. I suggest ignoring it completely because those colors are come up with by designers somewhere in the world who don't know you at all. And, color preference is really subjective and personal.

Let's look at the 2 pictures below. To me, their color schemes and applications are showing a high level of sophistication. In the first picture, the dull yellow appeared in different shades throughout the duvet cover, the upholstered love seat, the curtains, and the frames of a mirror and a few wall arts. The subtly of the application through different scales and densities successfully prevents us from telling instantly that dull yellow was chosen as the dominant color. Instead, we just feel attracted to this inviting vibe, ignoring the color scheme, and wish to stay.

Images from and

As to the second one, it appears neutral at first glance but we could discover that the pink skin color of the girl in the painting echoes a few shades of the flowers in the curtain. Without the curtain patterns, this bedroom will be lacking an essential amount of visual interests and details. However, the scale of patterns on the curtain is so humble that the curtain doesn't carry away all of our attention. Lastly, the three green leaves in the vase beautifully contribute to completing this cozy and lovely scene.

The main emphasis of any color applications is on the integration of color with form in ways that strengthen the overall design concept. In the interior design field, there is always a fine line between "well-thought-of" and "matchy-matchy". The color palette is not an exception.

Unfortunately, it's not a simplistic subject and there are not many resources regarding this subject for the general public. What we can easily find online is mostly about interior color trends of the year, how we emotionally respond to certain colors, and many misleading dictums, etc. For those who are really intrigued by interior colors, I have two books to recommend: Light: The Shape of Space, Designing with Space and Light by Lou Michel. (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1996) and Color in Three Dimensional Design by Jeanne Kopacz. (McGraw Hill, 2004).

The impact given by colors of a room is determined by many factors such as proportions, materials & textures, lighting, as well as patterns, so talking about color solely is not sufficient to help learn how to benefit from color applications. To be honest, talent, instead of the design rule of thumbs, plays a very important role in a great color application. That's why we see certain DIY homeowners' work having a much better sense of color than that of many trained designers.

But don't be discouraged, as long as you get the right way to train your eye, you can always improve.

So here I am trying to scratch the surface of interior colors as well, but most importantly, to get you into some sensations of different color applications and to make you think just a little deeper before starting a project. It's a very complicated subject, so today we are only going to talk about ceiling and wall paint colors. I'm not going to opt for any specific color since the color preference is really personal and varies significantly by individuals.

There are no bad colors, only bad applications.

The 4 pictures below are showing the color mustard yellow applied on the ceiling, half of a wall, an entire wall (example used here is a full-wall cabinet), and multiple walls in a room. So we are going to see the 4 types of applications one by one.

Images from and

Pictures above demonstrate the major surfaces where you can apply a big stroke of color in a residential interior. As you can see, the same color, different applications, totally different results. However, don't forget to look into other elements in each photo; in fact, their close interaction with the dominant color is the key to the successful interior.

Take the first picture as an example. The mustard yellow is applied on a ceiling that is featured with a classic crown molding and a minimalist ceiling medallion, where a modern pendant light in brass finish with a black cable is naturally growing down. This small group has now anchored the primary ambiance of this dining room as soothing, elegant, and with a small dose of fun. All the big surfaces together here successfully endow the rest of the room with great flexibility but no boredom. Not only does the contrast between off-white and black bring in so much energy, but it also supplements this unique ceiling in just a perfect way that makes you feel pleasantly excited.


As a matter of fact, the majority of homes in the world have white ceilings, which indicates a huge potential of increasing the aesthetic quality to your home by looking into the most overlooked area.

Generally speaking, most of the units in condominium projects have a very limited ceiling height (except for lofts), as well as many independent houses, which brings up a question: is there a way to improve the sense of height despite its physical property?

The answer is yes.

There is one color theory that I find works well. Warm colors give the illusion of advancing, while cool colors tend to recede which leaves more space between you and the object. So cool-toned color is more preferable if you want to make the ceiling feel a little bit higher than it is. To amplify this effect, darker colors will also suggest a greater distance between you and the ceiling, while brighter colors show nearer presence, therefore, bring the ceiling closer to you. In other words, applying a cool-dark color to your ceiling can maximize the sense of room height.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, a colored ceiling should serve more for dressing the room with a definite character other than increasing the sense of height by perhaps 2%, unless your ceiling is extremely low. I have to point out that "making a room bigger" is not the right purpose or duty of interior design. If you really want a bigger room, consider it during the house purchasing phase. Interior design is to create a comprehensive sensation and positive experience based on the existing architectural condition.

Red and rose ceiling. Images above are from

Note how they support other elements in the scene in a harmonious and beautiful way. In the first image, big splashes of red and white bring all the modern, sleek furniture and other decors together to constitute a distinguished and refreshing interior environment. Through the second image, we can easily get a feeling of what the owner's lifestyle and personal preferences are.

Remember, never evaluate an interior space by isolating any object from the holistic design. If you once saw a red ceiling within an awful interior scene, don't arbitrarily draw the conclusion that red ceilings are horrible or that you don't like red ceilings. Vise versa, if you found a well designed lovely interior scene that has a red ceiling, don't give all credits to the red ceiling either. Try to analyze why you like them all together and what to do to get a similar quality of space if you have a specific project.

For bigger rooms, properly added details can make the ceiling more elegant and sophisticated. Images above are from

Neutral colored ceilings give the maximum versatility to the selection of other objects or change of themes once in a while. Images above are from

Half painted wall

While focusing on color selections, we are often overlooking a big factor that impacts greatly the appearance of a wall: lines. By dividing the wall color into two or more parts, the room feels much more breathable especially when one part is white or another subdued color. Another benefit of the division is that lines are created organically, which adds practical functions and visual details to space. They can be a color trim, a wooden/metal ledge for supporting wall arts or small sculptures. Because of those simple lines, an empty wall suddenly comes to life without feeling contrived, as long as the proportion is well considered.

interior designer_half painted wall ideas_navy blue wall brings freshness to this bedroom

Images above are from and

One or multiple walls in a room

I don't dislike white walls, but there are certain preconditions in order to constitute a pleasant residence with white walls.

  1. For some old houses and buildings, like in Westmount and the old port of Montreal, they are featured in a higher ceiling (12'+) than the average residences. A high ceiling with proper molding details will totally change the character of an interior and rescue the white space from being boring and dismal.

  2. As to the fast-growing condominium project, homes in those buildings don't have the luxury of a 12-foot high ceiling (except for loft types). Then if you want to have a nice experience living with white walls, you need to have really interesting furniture and other decorations, which is not the major case, in reality, to be honest.

  3. Sufficient natural light. Pretty anti-intuitive, white walls actually need more natural light to "shine". Based on my own experience, when a room is lacking direct sunlight, painting the original white walls into a deep color (make sure the furniture is not all dark) magically enlivened the space, turning it from a sad, forgotten, basement-like room into a much more attractive and exciting place. That is the wonder-working power of colors. Don't believe it? Test it yourself and enjoy the surprise :)

Just imagine, when you eliminate all the molding details and the relief on the fireplaces in the 2 pictures above, how is the space going to feel? Moreover, what if there is no direct sunlight? Images above are from

In the pictures above, all the backgrounds (ceiling and wall) are white, but all furniture and decors have a strong personality and aesthetic quality. The two pictures at the beginning of this article demonstrate the same concept. Make sure to evaluate what you have and what you plan to have in order to see if they really can afford an entire white-wall room. Images above are from and

Below are examples of walls in different colors. Just unleash your imagination and get inspired!

Purple. Images above are from

Orange. Images above are from

Green. Images above are from

Pink. Images above are from

interior design color inspiration
Alternative colors

Do some exercise with me and picture those pink walls with alternative colors shown above. Isn't each color giving you a totally different but all pleasant and beautiful experience?

Blue. A similar exercise, picture those 2 blue walls above as white (one example is shown below), don't you find them less charming? Images above are from

Unadorned white walls intensify the starkness of lacking natural light. Colored walls can compensate it by creating new interests and excitements, especially colors on the medium to a dark end. They don't need as much natural light to get the beauty out as lighter colors do. But remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you are not confident with your imagination, what you can do is test, test, test. Find a few colors that you think you want to live with, then paint a sample of 6'x6' on the major walls, and observe them during different times of the day. Most likely, it will yield unexpected results.

If you don't have many interesting or personalized items, painting white walls into a nice color will save your space in the most cost-effective way among all other renovating methods; if you are already a happy owner of unique objects, a smartly chosen color on the wall will sublime your home to another level.

For those who are more passionate and more advanced in personal style, changing the interior wall color yearly would absolutely enrich your life experience within one house, isn't it a great deal?

Luxury interiors that have the three essential merits: Natural light, high ceiling, and gorgeous colors. Images above are from

There are also quite a few "popular" myths regarding interior color applications which I will be addressing one by one in future articles. Don't be scared of using colors on your walls and ceilings, because they are much easier to handle than you think, comparing to white.

Tell me about your experiences with interior colors in the comment area and we can discuss further.

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