Colours vs Neutrals – What you need to know for your interior colour scheme

As with everything, when it comes to interiors there are ‘colour people’ and there are ‘neutral people’. Whether you want to use colour everywhere or are more of a fan of calm neutrals in your home, here’s what you need to know about colours vs neutrals – especially if you live in Scotland!

interior design with bespoke reading corner

Things to consider

When creating your interior colour scheme, there are a few things you need to consider first. Because as much as the decision of colours vs neutrals is based on your personal preference, there are a few practical implications you need to be aware of before making a choice. 

For example, things to consider are:

  • Children
  • Pets
  • Location
  • View
  • Purpose
  • Existing interiors

If you have children, darker colours are great for hiding stains as well as wear and tear marks. But whatever colour scheme you choose, make sure everything is easy to clean and maintain. The same goes for any pets in the house. You might not want to choose dark or bold colours in your white cat’s favourite spot. Also, be aware that pets may leave marks as they brush past curtains, sofas, armchairs and architraves. So if you go for pale neutrals, make sure it’s washable or wipeable.

Another factor is the location and purpose of your home. Do you live in the city or the countryside? Is this your main home or a pied-à-terre? And, most importantly, what is the view like? Bold colours will distract your eye if you look right at the wall of the next building. But if the focal point of the room is the fabulous mountain view outside, neutrals are your friends. 

And last, but not least, consider existing furniture and artwork and how they will fit into your interior colour scheme. They can be a great source of primary or contrast colours as well (more on that below).

Colours vs neutrals in Scotland

Apart from the (rural or urban) setting of your home, don’t make the mistake of ignoring the latitude of where you live when choosing your interior colour scheme. As a rule, the further north you go, the sharper the light.

For example in Scotland, the predominant light is very blue and crisp. That’s why that charming sage green you loved so much in the golden light of the south of France lost its lustre back at home. 

And it’s not just your general location. You also need to consider the direction of the room in question. The morning light in an east-facing room is very different to a room facing north or your neighbour’s wall. 

Whether you’re considering bold colours or neutrals for your Scottish home, as a rule, stay away from muddy colours like greys, browns or other desaturated colours. And don’t underestimate the effect of the undertone when choosing neutrals either. From snow white to white with a green or pink tint, beige, cream, greige etc. – matching neutrals works the same way as working with bolder colours. 

Inspiration

If you’re searching for inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram or interior magazines, keep in mind that the colours will look different in your home compared to the photo. 

When choosing a colour scheme for your curtains, wall paint or wallpaper, always get a sample and put it up on the wall it’s intended for. Check how it looks in daylight and at night with the lights on and how it changes from morning to afternoon before making a choice.

If you are considering colours vs neutrals for your window treatments, hold samples up against the window and see how it looks with the light from the back. Every fabric will look different on a sofa versus on a window, due to the different position and light in the room.

And another pro tip. Always choose your fabric or wallpaper before your wall paint. It is so much easier to match the many available paint colours to the fabric than the other way around!

Rooms

Apart from the location and light, how you are planning to use the room in question should also be a factor in choosing your colour scheme. 

Traditionally, rooms that are more practical or utilitarian tend to have more neutral colouring. That’s why bathrooms are mostly available in neutral colours. Although kitchens have recently gone from white to bold colours like green, blue or yellow. So you definitely have options there.

And while bold colours can work well in a kitchen, they might be a bit too distracting for the master bedroom. Here, most people are looking for a calmer, more understated colour scheme with neutrals or a mix of neutrals and colours.

Children’s rooms, however, can benefit from bold colours and patterns – even if it’s just to hide crayon marks on the wall. But make sure the colour scheme isn’t too stimulating, especially if the playroom doubles as a bedroom. 

And regardless of your position on colours vs neutrals – if you’re going for a mix of colours, the general rule is 60/30/10:

  • 60% should go towards your main colour
  • 30% to your second colour 
  • 10% to your third colour

This makes sure whatever colour scheme you choose looks harmonious rather than like a riot of colour. And if you are worried about your neutrals looking too similar, you can use texture to create more visual interest. (Find out more on how to avoid common mistakes with neutrals on Sophie Paterson’s Instagram.)

When it comes to small rooms, the best option is usually to embrace the smallness and cosiness with dark colours or big bold patterns. Trying to brighten up the space and make it feel bigger with lighter neutrals usually doesn’t work; the room may end up feeling like a small sterile dentist’s waiting room!

Contrast colours

If you can’t make up your mind about colours vs neutrals, you’ll be glad to hear that there’s a happy medium. For example, you can add a colourful trimmings to your neutral curtain fabric. 

When looking for a suitable contrast colour to brighten up your neutrals, pick up a colour from an art piece on the wall, your favourite vase or an interesting piece of furniture. Then you can start playing with that and pick those colours up in window treatments, cushions or trimmings. 

Another option is using curtain poles. They come in a whole range of colours and can either blend in or offer a contrast. Your wooden curtain poles can be painted in the same colour as the wall or in a contrast colour of your choice. 

You can also add contrast colours with pelmets or swags. And some of my favourite work included adding big patterned leading edges to curtains and blinds in neutral colours.

Especially if you are weary of using too much colour in your home, contrast colours are a great solution for you. They take you out of your comfort zone just enough to create a huge sense of enjoyment. They lift your mood, especially during those dark winter months in Scotland. 

A word on the High Street

Every year, Pantone, Dulux and other companies select a colour of the year. While these are chosen to reflect the current mood and spark inspiration, they are also a big influence on the interior colour trends on the High Street. 

That’s great if these colours are already on your list of favourites anyway. But it’s a rather restricted choice if that’s not what you’re looking for. Also, these trends are usually quite short-lived with a new colour of the year just around the corner. So it can be hard to find replacements or additions to your interiors that match the existing colours once the trend moves on.  

As mentioned above, colour trends might also not be a good fit for the natural light in your area. And unless you enjoy redecorating regularly, going for colours you’re likely to enjoy for years might be the better choice. And specialist providers of interior fabrics, wall paint and wallpaper like the ones I’m working with always have a wide range of colours and patterns available that are made to last.

Want to find out more about how to use colours in your home? Get in touch for a free, no-obligation consultation!