Do’s and Don’ts on Decorating an Empty Room

As a new decorator and colour consultant many years ago, when I was asked to choose colours for an empty room or to decorate one, I would get a little freaked out.

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I would look around desperately for inspiration and if I was standing in a room with wood flooring, I would latch on to the colour of the floor and make myself look really busy and important trying to find a colour to match it.

And since I was more of an expert than the person who had hired me, they (thankfully) did not seem to notice that I had no idea what to do.

If you are a homeowner or decorator faced with this same dilemma, where do you start?

I recently received this question from someone who had bought my ebook.

Question: I’ve inherited a house with pinky-oak wood floors and have selected a taupe with pink undertones to tie the space together. Am I making the right choice?

This question had me realize once again that this homeowner was likely starting from scratch with an empty house and they may have been thinking of doing the exact same thing.

In my True Colour Expert Workshops, we handle this question inside of colour consulting as many homeowners do not have the budget to hire a designer or decorator to help furnish their new home but they realize that wall colour takes up the most amount of square footage in anyones home and should not be taken lightly. Therefore, a colour consultant is often faced with the dilemma of choosing colours for an empty house.

First, to answer the above question you really just need to know that wood floors are like jeans. Unless you have red or orange floors and you want to paint your walls the same colours, wood flooring generally reads more neutral than any of the other fixed elements in your home.

So if you have an empty house with wood floors and are wondering where to start here are my best tips in no particular order. Just pick the one that works for you. There is no one, perfect way to decorate a room.

DO start in the kitchen

Unless you have the most neutral of fixed elements in your kitchen, usually there’s tile or countertops with 3-5 colours already. One of those colours should be your starting point.

Taupe walls and counters (source)

If you really can’t stand your countertops or tile or feel like they are not enough of an influence to build your colours around then keep reading.

DON’T choose your area rug last

It’s much easier to find a sofa and wall colour to coordinate with the rug you have just found than trying to find a $50 gallon of paint to match a $2000 sofa.

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I’ve already narrowed down the choices for you here on my ‘Area Rugs I Love’ Pinterest board.

There’s nothing that frustrates a rug dealer more than a designer or homeowner who walks into their store with a pile of fabrics already selected for a space and they ‘Just need the area rug’. Because your choices will be very slim indeed.

If you can’t find a rug with a pattern to coordinate with your living room, you might end up getting one cut and bound instead. And there’s nothing wrong with going that route anyway.

DO start with a piece of art

‘Ya right’, you might be thinking, ‘I am just as lost trying to find a piece of art I love, as I am the thousands of rugs available on-line.’

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If that’s you then don’t worry about it. This advice is for someone who has a piece of art tucked away somewhere and didn’t think it could be used as a starting off point.

The background of the painting might just be the perfect neutral or colour for your living room.

DO NOT choose a bunch of random colours for your empty house.

I did not choose one colour for my house without knowing which fabrics or art was going in each space first.

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If you choose a random turquoise shade and now you want to find a duvet cover to match? You might end up with white out of pure frustration.

It’s much easier to get excited about colour when it relates to something already.

Knowing this makes it easier to sleep at night because if you are starting with a blank slate you may not be that excited about the one shade of beige or grey you’ll end up with instead.

DO choose your favourite colour for your sofa or upholstered chair/s

If you buy a charcoal sofa right now you might not be happy with it when the gray trend ends. Just like if you purchased a brown sofa during the brown trend you probably want a charcoal or white sofa right about now.

Better to choose a colour that you love and you’ll outlast the trends.

DO know that you might re-paint some rooms once you’ve decorated

If you like grey, decide whether you want a cool grey (blue undertone) or a warm putty grey (green or purple undertone) and just know that once you’ve established a colour scheme and selected sofas, drapery and carpets, you might re-paint the dining room to coordinate with your new palette.

Bottom line, it’s near impossible to choose colours inside a vacuum. If you must paint without any inspiration choose a neutral for the main rooms, colours for your children’s rooms and don’t stress about it.

After all, most of our homes evolve over time and can’t be planned in just one day if the paint goes up before anything else is selected.

Related posts:

6 Ways to Choose the Perfect Neutral Paint Colour

Danger: How you Know You’ve Fallen for a Trend

The Gray, Black and White Trend is here to Stay

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s All in the Undertones to learn how to get colour to do what you want.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

 

Republishing this article in full or in part is a violation of copyright law. © 2008-2012, all rights reserved.

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  1. Thank you, thank you! I just had an epiphany when I saw the living area with the khaki/cream/pink accents. Those are the exact colors I want for my bedroom. I’ve been trying to decide and this pic just spoke to me! 🙂

  2. Hi Maria..in my last house I made the mistake of painting the walls in the lounge room a particular shade of pale green and then found it really hard to find carpet and curtains to coordinate. Eventually I repainted the walls green/beige to tie in the curtains and the carpet instead!

  3. Great article Maria! I always recommend to my clients to start with a rug or a piece of art or something they really love. It makes picking colors so much easier.

  4. The most challenging is clients that just moved in and there is no art, no furniture and no rugs to give you that jump start. In that case, it’s tying in countertops, flooring and tiles of the house. Oddly enough, I’ve found that most people gravitate towards the same colors for their furniture since these universal colors are saturated in the furniture markets. Really all you have to do is listen to the client to see what direction they want their home to be – coastal, traditional, neutral etc. and follow that lead. I find that a lot of my clients say they can always purchase new furniture based around a color scheme that they love.

  5. So true. How many times over the years have I decided I wanted to paint a room a certain colour just to realize that there was nothing else in the room that went with it. Now I always start with the sofa and/or area rug and build from there. Thanks for the other tips about the art and fixed elements in the kitchen. Great advice as always.

  6. Hi Maria!
    Kitchen question: when the gray trend ends, will all the gray veined marble be a problem when choosing colors or would you just treat it as neutral?

    • I would treat it neutral with everything but earth tones which look better with creams and beige’s. Maria

  7. Love the area rug shown in the section of area rugs – pinterest didn’t give any indication of source – anyone have any ideas?

  8. After looking for two years, I find my dream living room rug at your website! I checked the source bhg.com and hit a dead end. Maria, any idea the source of the large-scale carpet in the beige and pink living room??? Absolutely beautiful.

  9. I stress the importance of my clients bringing a few items to a completely empty house – a chair or sofa cushion, comforter, piece of art, small throw rug, etc. Matchy is never the goal, but if they can’t bring anything, I’m clear about the challenge/issues.

  10. I love shopping for area rugs first for my clients. They usually fixate on what size (they tend to undersized them because of cost) and when that happens, we put down a perfect sized neutral sisal rug. Instant savings as the printed one makes the impact and the neutral one takes care of the pulling the furniture together! Love your e-book and blogs!

  11. So true about the “random turquoise shade” or whatever shade of paint you want to use. Years ago I redecorated my parents room and painted first then tried to match with bedding etc. (near impossible job). Luckily I decided to go in the opposite direction and went for the big contrast and it worked out well. However it would have saved me SO much time to start with the bedding first and build a theme around that. Thank goodness I learned that lesson early!

  12. Yeah, your guidelines are right on. I’m helping clients with a big (huge) house right now. They claim they have NO ART, and only a gray sofa to bring. The contractor is breathing down my neck to choose paint colors NOW (which always happens sooner than the designer wants!). Building a room from scratch means Listening and feeling one’s way. Buy the big stuff (rug, sofa) and go from there!

  13. This is a super post, Maria! I can imagine that feeling of nervousness at facing your first few empty rooms!!
    Now you’re an old pro! I personally love an empty room–it’s so uncluttered–haha. So, I took the plunge and am having my living room painted to blend with the linen white trim. LOVE it already! After that–when $ permit, a large, room size sisal in a golden/orange shade, bordered in leather. I found I have a big credit at a furniture store near here and I can order my sofa however I want it!!! YAY! Thanks to your encouragement, the undertones workshop, and my ebook, I’m on my way. You’re the reason, Maria–thank you!!! O…I have to save some before pictures–just in case someone ever wants to hire me!

  14. Excellent tips Maria. Never thought of wood flooring being ‘like jeans’ as for choosing area rugs first or working with a piece of art totally makes sense to me. Pesonally, as I have always loved pattern, texture and colour; a choice in wallpaper co-ordinating with the flooring ‘was’ (note: past tense) always the jump-off point for me when choosing my fabrics and paint colours. -Brenda-

  15. Thank you for this good advice. I have such a tendency to want to choose the wall color first so it’s a good reminder not to do that. I’m loving color on my wall right now so I think I get excited about choosing it first.