How to take safe risks when decorating

With the rise in sharing our homes on social media and the huge amount of inspiration that’s now available when we are decorating our homes, I’ve started to notice just how many homes start to look nearly the exact same. A lot of the spaces are no doubt pretty, but many are lacking that spark that makes a home memorable and unique.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand: decorating can be expensive and can feel very permanent, and playing it safe with white walls, light floors and neutral furniture feels like the risk-free way to spend your budget. But, I strongly believe that every room needs to have at least one risk, something that pushes you outside your comfort zone, to allow a space to be truly fabulous. I want to challenge us all to push the envelope just a little bit further, and I’ve pulled together some safe ways to take risks to hopefully inspire you to take your space to the next level.

1. Paint the walls an unexpected color or tone

I’m going to be upfront, colour on the walls is scary for me, but it’s exactly because of that fear that I’ve been trying harder to lean into it. The great thing about painting your walls is that it’s 100% reversible, but paint will always have the biggest impact on your space because your walls are your biggest surface area.

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We painted our main floor bathroom black, including the ceiling, and it’s one of the most commented on feature when we have guests over.

To take a safe risk with painting your walls, here are my guidelines:

  • Dark, moody, or intense colors are ideal for small, cozy rooms in which you either don’t spend a lot of time (think powder rooms, closets, libraries), or you pass through but don’t linger (think hallways) or you want to feel enveloping (think bedrooms).
  • If you’re taking the plunge with a saturated color, make sure there’s enough gray in the hue to keep the color from overwhelming or vibrating in the space.
  • Don’t forget about the ceiling! Often referred to as the fifth wall, your ceiling is an awesome place to experiment with a hint of color in an unexpected way. Or, carry the paint color from the walls up to the ceiling to create a feeling of limitlessness.
  • This is probably controversial, but I’d steer clear of painting an accent wall… I get that it’s tempting to dip your toe into the water by only painting a single wall, however, it also looks like you couldn’t commit and it creates weird contrast in the corners, which draws your eye into the edges of the space. There are some exceptions to this though, if a wall is clearly differentiated from it’s surrounding walls with other architectural features (e.g. it’s recessed with casing on all sides) or with a different treatment (e.g. wall paneling), then it’s fair game.

For inspiration: Jenny Komenda is a master at mixing unexpected colour palettes and using colour in a livable way.

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2. Paint a piece of furniture a bold or moody color

Painting furniture is an easy way to bring bold color into a space without it feeling overwhelming. Plus, this is a safe choice because if you get tired of it, you can easily swap the piece of furniture out. It’s also a pretty easy way to bring interest to a space without taking on any big risks.

Some tips:

  • Pick an unexpected color that doesn’t quite ‘match’ with the space to really kick it up a notch. Or, pull a color out of a rug, art, or fabric in the room that helps pull the elements of the room together.
  • Be conscientious of the tone of the paint color to ensure it isn’t too jarring in the space and always get sample pots before committing to a colour. When you paint a sample, do so on a piece of white cardstock and hold it on the same plane as the piece of furniture will be in the space (e.g. hold the paint sample vertically for cabinetry, since the light will be completely different on different planes).
  • Make sure you’re using paint that’s durable and designed for cabinetry. Also think about the finish, since you don’t want chips in your fresh paint or a finish that smudges easily. Our go-to cabinetry and furniture paint are Benjamin Moore Advance and Farrow and Ball Modern Eggshell.
  • Spray paint is your friend, but you will be limited by the colors at the hardware store unless, you pick up a paint sprayer (our new favourite tool), which opens up all your paint options. You can get away with painting most furniture with a high-density roller and a brush, but anything with a lot of detailed carvings or caning benefit tremendously from spraying your paint – you don’t want to lose those details in your paint application.

For inspiration: I absolutely adore the pop of chartreuse on the inside of this bar cabinet by Zoe Feldman.

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3. Go bold with your lighting

Lighting is such a great way to bring a focal point to a space, especially if you think outside the box.

  • Scale up on your lighting to make a bold statement. Don’t go so big that it overwhelms the space, but often I see people opting for fixtures that are too small, and it can be the difference between a wow-statement light and something that is hardly noticeable.
  • Think about using an unexpected material on your light fixture like capiz, wood, etc. and also try to create tension in the room with a style of fixture that’s isn’t in line with the bones of the space. For instance, if your home is traditional, use a modern light fixture to create some contrast and interest. Bonus: Pair an ornate ceiling medallion with a modern fixture to create even more intentional contrast.
  • Consider using a non-traditional type of light in a room. For example, use pendant lights next to a mirror in the bathroom instead of the traditional sconces. Or use sconces next to the bed instead of table lamps.

For inspiration: My friend and super talented designer, Michelle Gage, does an impeccable job at using statement light fixtures in her dining room, and takes it up a level by pairing these two show-stoppers together.

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4. Bring in pattern

When used in the right way, pattern can bring a whole new level of interest to a room, without becoming overly risky.

  • Wallpaper is a great way to take a risk in a small space. Wallpaper can get expensive, but in a small powder room or laundry room, where you may only need a few rolls, it can actually give you a lot of bang for your buck. Previously mentioned stance on accent walls is noted above, though. Consider the ceiling as well, which can often require much fewer roles and can be very unexpected. Removable wallpaper has also come a really long way in the options available and quality of the paper, so it’s an even safer option to consider.
  • One upholstered patterned piece of furniture can create interest and depth. To give it even more oomph layer a patterned pillow on top in a completely different scale of pattern (think about patterns as small-scale, medium-scale, and large-scale and make sure vary the scales when layering).
  • Consider using the same fabric on a roman shade as on the wallpaper for a fresh twist on a old-school design choice.

For inspiration: This dining room with coordinating wallpaper and window treatments by Pencil and Paper Co. stole my breath away. It’s a totally updated, fresh way to revitalize a traditional trend.

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I’d love to know, how have you taken risks in your home? And have they paid off?

One thought on “How to take safe risks when decorating

  1. Joanna says:

    Really love this article! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We have almost finished renovating our home and I love it but it almost feels like a blank canvas so I want to take a few more “safe risks” with the decorating to make it sparkle more!

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