Don’t Make this Common Mistake When Choosing an Accent Chair

This post is written by my Senior Colour Designer, Tricia Firmaniuk while I sit by the pool in Positano!

Cobalt blue accent chairs bring this room by Miles Redd to life

My pet peeve about accent chairs is always the fabric they are covered in when you buy a set in a big box store. Always some weird swirly, modern fabric that cannot be coordinated with ANYTHING.

Left a bossy generic pattern, Right a timeless, versatile print from Ballard Designs

My advice is DON’T DO IT.

Read on to find out what Tricia has to say:

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The word “Accent” according to Oxforddictionaires.com, is A feature which gives a distinctive visual emphasis to something”.

And in my mind, an “accent chair” is a piece that draws attention in a room, an emphatic expression of the colour scheme or aesthetic of the space. Makes sense right?

Pink accent chair in Natane Boudreau’s NYC Apartment

Was I ever shocked and dismayed when I had to go to a half dozen home decorating stores recently in search of a fun, colourful accent chair for a vignette I wanted to create.

Let me just tell you that I was met with a bland wash of shades of taupe, gray and linen chairs on offer everywhere.

Now of course, if I was shopping online, and I had some time to order something custom, I would have had options, but I wanted to buy it, toss it in my truck and create my vignette. I was on a mission. I know there is much to be said for patience and planning, but you know, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way 😉

The image I held in my mind was of a pretty print of some kind, maybe in blue or green, pink or coral, something with some colour and interest that I could base my image on like this fun chair below.

Ok, this is probably too fabulous to find off the shelf but one can dream. Giant Peony by GP & J Baker

But by the third or fourth store I was becoming despondent. The best I could find was a grayed teal.

Here’s the vignette I came up with which was much more demure in colour than I had hoped (below).

My favorite sculpture by artist Susan Owen Kagan, modern brass pharmacy lamp here. Chair from Homesense

It took my mind reluctantly back to Economics 101, you know, basic supply and demand? And I got all contemplative and thought, people must just not be buying colour and prints, otherwise, surely, the stores would be offering them? Just a theory guys, tell me it’s not true?

Yalani Stripe Angelina Chair Anthropologie

So here’s the thing, let’s say you decided to go with a safe, neutral sofa, (I admit I have a big space in my heart for a classic light canvas colour sofa, and warm cognac leather ones too), and now you need a pair of chairs to go with it (because we all know better than buying the matching loveseat right?)

What do you do? It looks like a good lot of people (according to my hackneyed interpretation of a highly oversimplified theory of economics) must be deciding, “I know, I’ll get pair of gray/linen/taupe accent chairs”, and I assume it’s because committing to blue/green/pink ones seems terrifying right? But this is false logic (according to my patchy recollection of Logic 101), because gray/linen/taupe is a colour too!

And you’ve just committed to it. And what’s worse, you now have diminished opportunities to introduce a more interesting and happy colour into your room! Ack, that wasn’t the idea!

If you’re still with me, here’s the thing my colour designer heart wants to share to save us all from too much gray and taupe: before  you buy your main pieces for your room, it’s a good idea to dream up some idea of the colours you would like to use, not after you buy the bulkiest pieces that will take up the most visual space.

And this is because when I see a gray “accent” chair, I see a missed opportunity for delicious colour or pattern.

These blue chairs make this room by Jeffery Bilhuber

Can a neutral sofa and neutral chairs work? Of course they can, but it’s harder to pull off and it’s much more fun to make a statement, ahem, create an accent with some colour or pattern I think 🙂

If your heart is sinking reading this, because you’ve just bought all neutral furniture, don’t despair! You can still get some large scale colourful art or a nice area rug in colour, all is not lost. However, it’s not likely that you will get enough colour to make your room feel pulled together out of a few pillows and vases.

Source

Maria has said this many times on the blog, and that is to introduce an accent colour successfully, you will need to add it in large, medium and small gradations.

The drapes give a large dose of green in this otherwise neutral room Source

What qualifies as large? Your sofa, drapes, an area rug, a piece of art that is almost as tall as you, or yes, a pair of fabulous accent chairs!

Medium? A piece of art the size of my dog Mabel, a decent sized collection of vases (like 5 or 7), an ottoman, an accent table, a set of toss pillows.

My sweet Mabel

And items you can call on to represent your accent colour in small doses are smaller artworks, single vases or vessles, a lamp etc.

But if you ask a bunch of small and even medium pieces to add colour to a room, you will end up with colour that looks bitty, and comes off tentative and uncommitted.

Colour is a commitment, once you walk through that door, there is no going back (at least for a few years), but it’s better to make a choice and open a door than to stand in the all gray lobby which really is nowhere yet.

Thanks Tricia, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

There is much more of course to choosing an accent chair such as shape and scale, but first, it’s important to be thinking about colour.

If you would like help pulling together your room, check out our Get Me Started  eDesign decorting package here.

Related posts:

Do you Need an Accent Wall? Take this Test

How to Correctly Mix Furniture Arm Styles

How to Transform Your Charcoal Sofa with Colour; Before & After

 

 

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  1. Funny, in Maria’s recent download “12 ways to create a color scheme”, her example was to choose a navy sofa, **white or linen** accent chairs, and green accents (large, medium, small) in the room. Seems like there’s some room for debate on the boring accent chair topic! I appreciate your calling that S,M,L rule to my attention again, though, and expanding on how you can achieve the sizes with groupings. “If you ask a bunch of small or medium pieces to add color to a room, you will end up with color that looks bitty, and comes off tentative and uncommitted.” Words to live by!

    • Hi Pat, haha, that does seem contradictory, however it’s one or the other that should be a colour and since most people opt for a neutral sofa, the accent chairs need to be colourful to give the room a properly coordinated look and feel! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  2. Great informative post, Tricia. You clearly provide the definition of “bitty” colour in a room and how to avoid it. I think a lot of us have heard HGTV and others promote going “neutral” and switching out colour with throw pillows and accessories. Your post proves this will result in disappointing results and why.

  3. I have a gray-green neutral sofa and a great blue accent chair. It was definitely needed after all that neutral!

    If you have World Market near you they seem to always have a few colorful solid and patterned accent chairs to choose from as well as the safer shades.

  4. Great post Tricia! I think why most stores don’t order colorful accent chairs is because most people are afraid of color. The said colorful chairs would set on the floor in the store too long. I worked in a very high end furniture store for many years and because most clients don’t even have a vision, the designer has to create one. If you could get them to commit to a pallet you would then have to special order everything! It would be nice to walk in and find just the pieces that you want to make a drop dead room.

    The small medium and large scale is definitely something to always keep in mind to make a room look cohesive. I enjoyed this post and your examples and I know Maria depends on your wisdom a lot!

  5. Agreed, I hate boring accent chairs. One of my favorite tricks is to buy the chair from a big box store or online quick ship and then recover it in an interesting fabric. That is sometimes the easiest route to getting exactly what you want and it gives you a custom designer look at a fraction of the price.

  6. I love this! How would this work in an open concept space? Living/Dining/Kitchen.
    Would you use 3 sizes of accent colour in each space using the same colour?
    How would you encorporate anot her accent colour?

  7. Great post, very informative! What’s the best approach for accent chairs in these two different scenarios? First, when the room already has a large red sofa or sectional is a neutral solid a better choice on an accent chair than a colorful pattern? Second, when the only seating area in a small living room is four armchairs around a coffee table what’s the best covering for them – a solid neutral, a solid color, or a colorful pattern? Thanks.

  8. When I think color or more fun.. Cost Plus “World Market” and Pier One come to mind. I am LOVING the large check chairs at Pier One but no place in my space. World Market for the moment seems to be full of reproduction MCM in solid fabrics but this is just a phase I am sure… I love accent chairs as statement too! Thanks for the post.

  9. Mabel, How could I think of anything else, but your sweet doggy eyes!
    What an absolute sweetheart, thanks for letting us know about the star of the show, Tricia.
    She looks like a true angel 🙂

  10. Great post! I bought a wonderful rusty orange accent chair in a large, but classic floral and peacock pattern at Pier 1 a year ago when we were furnishing our condo living room from scratch. Their accent chairs can be lots of fun, even if they aren’t especially comfortable for long sitting. It goes beautifully with my “neutral” chairs in solid orange and eggplant (no room for a sofa). Don’t gag! It’s gorgeous and I was in a “go big or go home” frame of mind. No color fear here! 🙂

  11. I think sweet Mabel is the perfect accent to your space. 😉
    Great article. It proves that great decorating involves planning. I would love to switch out my grey accent chair with the perfect teal colored one. But the only way I can see that happening is by buying custom or reupholstering a “found” one.
    Both options are expensive. Neutral colored furniture is more available & affordable.

  12. I liked your post, Tricia.
    But Maria’s take on it, in the opening, was that the accent chairs for sale are too vibrant and swirly….not that they were too plain.

    That is what I found, loved some of the accent chairs, but knew they would be hard to decorate around. I solved the problem by picking my own sofa fabric and colour (tested at home to make sure it wasn’t one that dog hair stuck to, too easily!) and then going to the USA to get the fabric for my accent chair. It is swirly and modern and just the right colours, all mine!

  13. This is a wonderfully timely post for me. Thanks for the work you put into it. You’ve got me thinking about patterns now…I was wondering if in a future post you (or Maria 🙂 ) might consider some more info on bossy generic patterns vs timeless ones. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

  14. That’s all I see on blogs, farm house white white white or gray and the bloggers really think they are something if they add navy blue.

  15. This is very helpful Thank you. My dilemna is that i have a large merlot colored leather sofa and i need to find 2 recliners to go with it for my den. I am so frustrated because all i can find are huge overstuffed monsters in mushroom and tobacco colors or black. None of which I will consider. Meanwhile, hubby is ready for his chairs. I’d prefer leather. What’s a girl to do?

  16. “it’s better to make a choice and open a door than to stand in the all gray lobby which really is nowhere yet”

    YESSSS!

  17. I just placed a custom order for an accent chair for my bedroom and I had narrowed down my sample fabrics to a beautiful pale linen shade and a bold turquoise. I knew I would love the linen as I’d used a chaise in the same color for my bedroom, but I resisted and went with the turquoise. Once I get it (in 3 months:(), I hope to love it as much as I think I will. Thanks for the post that reinforces my decision!

    BTW – the blue chairs in the room by Jeffery Bilhuber are GORGEOUS!

  18. Great article! Love a patterned accent chair but, after doing VM for a large furniture chain, it really is the neutrals that far outsell the interesting! People just like to play it safe unfortunately. I am in Australia but always get excited about Anthropologie’s accent chairs! Although untouchable from oz, for you guys they have incredible options!

  19. Very useful tips, thanks. Now I thinking about add some furniture in my living room because I have a blue sofa so i need armchair and a new coffee table. After reading your article I know that white and light colours be better.