How to Use Accent Colours in Interiors

Interior design is all about balance – nothing really has a value on its own until it is thoughtfully and carefully placed with many other things. Accent colours can play a key part in achieving that harmony, adding small, punchy doses of contrasting hues that can draw the eye, add visual interest and tie everything together. Think of accent colours as the punctuation marks in a sentence – they may not take up much space, but they help make perfect sense of everything. Here are Arkitexture’s practical ideas for how to decorate a room with colour.

Anything can be an accent

An accent colour can form part of your paint scheme; the wider fixed features, like the flooring or wall tiles; your furniture; a decorative accessory like a cushion or vase, or even something more functional like a book or the toaster in your kitchen. “Many people are afraid of colour. They are afraid of being wrong, and they also fear tiring of it,” says interior designer Géraldine Prieur – so if you’re the cautious or fickle type, use accents in easily switched accessories, rather than harder to change walls and floors. You can also use seasonal flowers to give a colour boost – the ultimate temporary accent, but also very effective.

Start small

Every decorating scheme needs a starting point, and an accent piece – be it a piece of art, a favourite vase or a rightly coloured chair – offers an easy way in. “Touches of colour [in my home] come from objects, furniture, books, handcraft, design pieces and art objects,” says Raffaele Fabrizio from Italian textile company Dedar. “Lived-in houses find their harmony and colour balance naturally, almost by themselves.”

Working outwards from these smaller objects can be a springboard for ideas, and will ensure that your final scheme looks like it’s meant to be. Use paint companies’ colour cards and bespoke paint-mixing services, and always get samples of fabrics and wallpapers, to ensure a good colour match.

accent colours article

Be guided on accent colours by a favourite object, such as a rug: this Varnasi silk example from Luku Home matches the blue accessories

Get the balance right

There are no hard and fast rules about using colour as an accent – but balance and proportion should be the end goal, no matter what colour you use. If you keep most of the room in shades of one colour, or a few complementary colours, then your accent colour should act as a contrasting opposite – hot pink or coral in a sea of turquoise, for example, or a flash of emerald green against a backdrop of dusky pink.

The most dramatic approach would be to have a single splash of a very saturated colour placed in an all-white room – but there are many more subtle ways to do it, by choosing more toned-down colours and dotting them around a space, so that the accent is picked up several times, for example.

“I like to use colour sparingly against a neutral background, otherwise it feels too linked to fashion,” says architect Jean-Philippe Nuel, who designs luxury homes as well as hotels such as the Molitor and Le Cinq Codet in Paris. For the spa at Le Cinq Codet he makes zingy lime-green accent furniture stand out against dark wood and metal, for a dramatic contrast that’s not overpowering.

Jean-Philippe Nuel’s spa design for Le Cinq Codet in Paris, where lime-green furniture stands out against dark wood and metal

Use accents to draw the eye

Any accent colour should have the effect of drawing the eye – in other words, it will usually be the first thing you look at when you enter a room. You can use this concept to help change perceptions about scale and size: placing your brightest painting at the far end of a room will make the eye look all the way through, so the room will appear as large as possible. Or just use an accent for a “look at me” moment: surround a colourful treasured possession with white, and no one will be able to look anywhere else.

Appartement Grange Canal 2013 Charles Zana (43)

An apartment in Geneva by Charles Zana: the painting acts as the accent, drawing the eye, and its colours are picked up in the tables and stool 

Accent colours don’t have to be paired with neutrals

While we tend to think of an accent colour contrasting with a neutral background, it can be just as effective to use neutrals as the accent in a colour-saturated room, or to offset one colour used against another. Interior designer Géraldine Prieur is an unrivalled colourist: the bedroom of her own Paris apartment is a deep red, with white bed linen and side tables  – but the thing that makes it really sing is a canary yellow table and chair in the window. Its yellow colour is equal to the red in terms of saturation, and draws your eye beyond the window to the outside, balancing the enclosing feeling of the walls.

Avenue Niel Apartment red bedroom decor

Interior designer Géraldine Prieur’s bedroom, where a yellow table and chairs draw the eye across the room to the window

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