My partner wants a bland palette in our new home. What can I do to keep color alive?

May 31 |
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Bright entrance to someones home
Photo by tibchris. Used under Creative Commons license.
Ashley asks:

My boyfriend and I are building a new house here in Northern Wisconsin. My current home (that we are selling) has a turquoise bedroom and an orange kitchen. It's an amazing color explosion. He always has said that he liked it and enjoyed living in it but he's getting the new house painted in shades of very suburban taupe and tan. I might die a little inside with this lack of color!

I've told him that I would love to do some colors on the walls but he's really resistant. We have all new furniture that is also BROWN and hardwood floors in the new house. Basically, if this house was an analogy of a clown puking all over everything — which is a description I've heard — the new house would make that same clown drop dead from sadness.

What can I do to spiff up a brown home without scaring my conservative boy?

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  1. A lot of guys tend to think visually, so when you're describing something that you're thinking of he may be overwhelmed or not be able to even imagine what you're talking about.

    Although you already live in a colourful house it might help to find pictures of the kinds of colours/designs that you're thinking of to show him, to help him visualise it.

    Try and find things similar to the house you're building if possible.

    If he won't budge on the wall colours, then decorate with colour everywhere else – big fabric wall hangings, cushions, throw rugs, table runners, EVERYTHING can be colourful to bounce off the plain background.

    Good luck!

    16 agree
    • GREAT advice. My husband often balks at descriptions of things, but does much better with images.

      9 agree
      • Actually, now that I think of it, mine does too. He's hesitant until I pull out google sketch-up and actually show him what I mean. Or I pull things out of magazines, or from Off-beat home to show him.

        3 agree
  2. Art, art, and more art! You can really play with a bright color palette by hanging lots of art work. Hang glass balls from the ceiling, put paintings on the wall or photographs, mosaic a backsplash in your kitchen. Also, I love having fresh flowers. And if you can grow them yourself, even better!

    3 agree
    • Totally agree with this suggestion. With the bland background, the art will POP! There's a reason that gallery walls, ceilings, and floors are so boring. I also suggest going fabric shopping with the hub to pick out some colorful fabrics for pillows, hangings, and curtains. You can discuss your preferences and his and I am sure you will come up with some good choices you both will love. Also remember, your hub may have been raised to believe that real men love brown. He may need some coaxing to find his inner color loving self.

      2 agree
  3. wall art….crazy colored throw pillows….bright area rugs. nothing permanent, but fitting your personality.

    1 agrees
  4. I once upholstered a wall to hide its ugly brownness. It's super easy to do with a staple gun, and I'd recommend looking into it if he's stuck on the paint. Otherwise, it might be worth trying to get him to compromise with color-on-brown stripes/chevrons/polka dots or at least an accent wall. If he can't throw you a bone and give you an accent wall, he's got problems.

    4 agree
  5. First, ask him why he feels that way. Maybe he likes the color, but doesn't want something quite so colorful. Maybe he's worried what people will think. That also gives you the opportunity to tell him why it's so important to you to live in a colorful house. Second, accessorize! Like the other posters said, artwork, couch pillows, and throws can lend a lot of color. You could also buy colored plates for the kitchen…each room can have a ton of colorful things in it, even if the walls and floor are neutral. Think of them as your canvas!

    8 agree
  6. How about fabric? You can use large scarfs, or pick out gorgeous colors and patterns at a fabric store. Then you can pin it to the ceiling so it billows downward, or arrange it to cover or accent the walls, or drape it over that brown furniture.

    Have you talked to him about the idea of creating a "color sanctuary"? Perhaps one room of the house (even if it's just the laundry room!) can be in a fabulously bright color, decorated however you want, so that you can go there and soak it in when you're feeling particularly sad-clown.

    8 agree
  7. Put together a whole bunch of images of what you like, and how you see it fitting into the new house. Check out – its an aussie blog which is fantastic, as it profiles heaps of awesome aussie artists homes. click the 'australian homes' section and click through the houses. A lot of these have houses full of colour that have a rather bland base. Then show him what you've got and ask for his input. If you encourage team effort and compromise things might improve.

    ps. try to talk him into a white base, it works better with those vibrant accessories you're going to put EVERYWHERE! πŸ™‚

    2 agree
  8. My boyfriend was initially super-concerned about "living in a kaleidescope" when I first started talking about wall colors for our house… And then I showed him pictures, sticking with earthier shades of colors I liked so that it would work better with our existing belongings, and finally shelled out for sample sizes of the paint colors I liked, put them up on the wall, and let him see the colors in the rooms. He helped choose the final shades and is really happy with the colors – and is happy to have my brightly colored accessories (like my bright red kitchen utensils and Kitchenaid) in the space.

    My advice would be to show him photos of what you're thinking of, and maybe try painting some sample colors on the walls. Seeing a color actually in the space is completely different from seeing it on a paint chip in the store. Sometimes it can feel scary committing to a color, especially if it is bold, but sticking in the same family of shades/tones will help rooms flow together and earthy tones tend to me more easily accepted. If he really likes the feel of your current space, reminding him of the things he likes (and the bright colors that make you happy) may help him trust in your design vision.

    4 agree
  9. Just a thought, but maybe he is scared that if he lets you do color, the palette will run riot! My man is a guy among guys, but he has sensitive aesthetic tastes (which I find adorable and really try to work with because I know it's so rare!). For example, I love nature. We both do. But as a compromise between hunting decor and flowers, we settled on trees as our house "theme". Given that he is coming from a turquoise-and-orange-palooza, he's probably just running scared. But it might be okay to coax him into warm cranberry and soft mint, etc.
    Maybe you could agree on an accent wall of color per room, decorating that wall with neutral pieces and the neutral walls with the accent color! I have seen that many places, and it would be a great representation of your blended tastes. πŸ™‚
    Ethnic decor is always a great way to sneak in color. Saris! Fans! Chinese Lanterns, oh my!
    Just make sure he feels comfortable too. Maybe HE has always wanted to live in a perfectly neutral modern loft? I highly agree with the poster who recommended communication. Make or break, Hon.
    Good luck! πŸ™‚

    2 agree
  10. I live in an all white rented apartment (so I can't paint), and I love color. How'd I get around the problem?

    – I bought a bright red dining set, and entertainment center. (Yes, I will be posting pics in the Flickr pool eventually!)

    – I bought a red plaid couch (again, posting pics in the Flickr pool eventually!) that I decorated with my Union Jack pillow and other punk memorabilia.

    – I bought colorful towels, bedspreads, pillows, and other accessories.

    Believe me, no one even notices the white walls, when they come in. The first thing they remark on is all the awesome color. That said, I know OP and her boy already have a lot of furniture as is.

    Try reupholstering the dining chairs with something a little more lively. Get colorful table cloths and plates! PUT ART ON THE WALLS!

    Good luck, OP! I live in Sweden, the land of All White Interior Design, and it's hell for us color lovers. *:-/

    3 agree
  11. Since this is a new home you're building, your partner may also be concerned about resale value or have ideas of what a new-construction home "should" be. Like others have said, try to understand why he's resisting, not just what he's resisting. That might help you two find the path to compromise. Also, don't overlook the yard as a place to express yourself with color. I know that in these northern climes the yard is not a year-round space, but maybe your partner will let you make that area "you" so you can enjoy it part of the year.

    4 agree
  12. My guy would be concerned about having to repaint it and lighter colors make it easier.

    1 agrees
  13. Ouch! I have the same issue with my boyfriend, and his freaking parents agree with him so it sucks! I want a rainbow or something just as "tacky" on my walls and he likes beige. We will be compromising with shades of one color. Start darker on a wall that gets lots of light and go lighter as things get darker. Or, you know, super dark where there's no light… It's an idea. I also have to Agree with previous posters about color everywhere else. Seriously. When color is as important to you as it is, you gotta put it everywhere you can. Couch covers, curtains, tablecloths, artwork, anything else you can think of that I'm missing…

  14. Oy. That would not fly in my house (which is ultra technicolor). I get picking more neutral fixtures/built-ins (ie: sinks, counters, cabinets, floors, etc). But neutral paint? With brown furniture? I would be refusing to pay for any further building on the house. To me, if you like color, and he likes neutral, things need to concede one way or the other… colorful furnishings with neutral walls or vice versa. Or maybe room to room – maybe the biggest room can be neutral but with colorful furnishings/rugs/etc. Maybe there can be a mural on one wall so it won't be as difficult to paint over as multiple walls. Or maybe you need to get to your local paint store and pick out neutralized versions of your current bright palette to show him it can be colorful and classy, that just because you put colors on the walls doesn't mean you must repaint (I'm thinking olive-y tones, toned down rustic red-oranges, mustard gold, eggplant, and deep teals). Then with those shaded tones as a palette, you could build up with brighter accents.

    Of course there is the wallpaper option but I have a feeling if he's anti-bright walls that won't be an option.

    Or you could get to crafting your own vinyl wall accents in bright colors. There's a ton of tutorials out there and you can order vinyl by the roll from sites like Sign Warehouse and US Cutter. Much cheaper than buying pre-made decals.

    2 agree
    • While on the one hand this could trigger a fight, it has worked well both for myself and my mom.

      My stepdad wasn't keen on painting a room in our old house red, so one morning he went to bed (third shifter) and my mom emptied, taped, primed, painted, and refilled the room while he was sleeping. He woke up, walked past it, backed up and went into the room, then came out and told my mom he liked it.

      My husband didn't think a bright, golden yellow would look good in our small entryway and told me I could do it but he wasn't going to help. Once I was done, he decided he actually really likes it; it's a nice pop of color in a generally dark area of the house.

      Obviously your mileage may vary, but maybe you just need to paint and be willing to paint *again* if he's still not won over.

  15. I had a tiny bit of this problem when we moved into our current home. When "we" purchased the house he was just a bf, his name on the loan, technically his house. at firs he didn't want me painting his walls, he could care less what they looked like. We had a long talk about his house vs our house (we had been dating for 5 years, living together for 2 it really was our house) so after that talk he agreed that I could paint. I got samples and tested them out first so he could see how much nicer it looked. Once I was finished he agreed he was in the wrong. Good luck

  16. I'm in a BLAND vs. COLOR marriage, and we moved into a home completely renovated with neutral shaded everything. I've been sneaking colors in here and there, mostly in removable accents like window dressings, pillows, and other fabric and decor.

    We've hit a few snags with my color invasion. He hates our bedding (yellow and orange) but I refuse to get rid of it until we find a colorful alternative. That's pretty much my angle on keeping some color in the house: if he hates something colorful I bring in, it stays until we find something else colorful to replace it. Otherwise we would slowly inch toward living a sepia life.

    3 agree
  17. I feel you on color, but the mixed blessing of a color-blind husband for me is that he lets me pick whatever colors I want. But in your case, personally, I think it's time for a little sit-down chat. This is not your house, or his house, it's yall's house which means you should both have a say in paint, carpet, and anything else. Explain your love of color and the importance of sharing decorating ideas and outcomes. If that gets though to him, let him help in picking colors and shades so he feels that sense of control. Good luck!

    4 agree
    • My partner is colourblind too. He still loves colour though, and this means he sometimes doesn't know when to say when (he begged me to let him paint our bedroom in purple and red thunderbolts. I had to refuse.)

  18. does he have something cool and colorful that you also like? (a poster, painting etc) My boy and i had a hard time and then one day i picked up one of his posters and asked to theme a room around that color scheme. In the end he loved it and is much more open to those things now. I agree with previous commenters, guys are super visual sometimes.

    3 agree
  19. If he MUST go neutral, please please PLEASE make the man choose shades of grey. Slatey grey tones are so much hipper and more beautiful than horrible suburban taupes and beiges, but they are still neutrals. Plus they look amazing with pops of color & don't have to feel drab.

    9 agree
  20. All wonderful responses!! Thank you! I'll keep everyone updated on what we come up with.

    2 agree
  21. Our house is mostly browns- brown walls, brown leather couches, brown hardwoods and carpets, brown wood furniture, even brown tiles (except my room, which is purple and green and my brother's, which is blue, black, and grey). While I think all the suggestions of colorful accents are great, something else I've found to liven things up isn't more color. Unexpected styles, shapes, and textures can help too, without even moving away from the browns. A fab hexagonal side table found at a thrift store can add real dimension and flavor to the bland even without a color pop (which is also easy to add with a little paint).

    1 agrees
  22. Area rugs! For starters πŸ˜‰ I live in a very brown apartment but I have a very colourful area rug and your eyes go right to it and then the other suggestions of hanging colourful art work on the walls is also very helpful. I've actually found having very neutral coloured walls has helped my very colourful art stand out even more πŸ™‚ I also have a bright red/orange bass guitar and acoustic guitar set right when you walk in and that helps – they say hello colour! Any sort of accent pieces like those that are important to you will help I find. I would also try throw pillows for the couches if you're into that sort of thing. I have some that match my curtains and I really like them, they really help pull my whole look together – but they don't even have to do that, it's the most matchy thing I've ever done in my whole life! But it was fun.

  23. My husband and I rent a flat with white walls and wooden floors. I grew up in a kaleidoscope house, so I always hated white walls. We decorate it with paintings and books and our film collection on creative shelves, and the white walls are the last thing you notice here!

  24. OMG its like you've been a fly on the wall at my place! My FH and I are moving in together next month and we've been battling over this exact issue. He loves neutral tones and the only color visible in his home, other than browns/beiges, is green.. from the plants. Blah. The artwork is charcoal or black/brown lined drawings or BW pictures of nature. Nature is nice, I love nature, but not on everything and not so blah. Ugh… My house is completely the opposite. I have color everywhere, from the ceilings to the floors. Every room is a different color! I collect a little bit of everything and display my own artwork to Nigel Sade pieces. I love my FH with all of my heart but he's killing me with the "neutral everything" and "nothing un-natural". He's suggested that I have one room, in the basement, where I can not only work on my own pieces but "cover it in any color, etc I want. But this, so far, is his only offer of color compromise. I'm keeping a close eye on everyone's suggestions in hopes I'll find a solution to my own bland beige v. kaleidoscopic household meshing issues.

  25. Great ideas. Taupe and beige sound boring, but my mom painted her living room a really nice color that I think of as "hazelnut latte", and it is warm tone that makes the art hung on it look really nice.

    I agree that grey is a hipper neutral but it can also be cold, so definitely find a shade you really like if you go that direction.

    Bright laundry room sounds awesome, and so much nicer than a bland one–would help make laundry more appealing! πŸ˜‰


    1 agrees
  26. learn to love your neutral walls!

    I love colours, but i actually prefer a neutral paint pallette… it's much easier to change up brightly coloured cushion covers and throw rugs than it is to repaint a whole room!

    neutral coloured walls and flooring also lends continuity to your whole house, while allowing you to have feature colours in each room.

    personally, all my walls are painted light grey, with darker grey feature walls in the lounge and bedroom. all our carpets are charcoal, and our floor boards are deep brown. our bedroom currently has a green bedspread, all ferns and rainforresty, the lounge is filled with varying shades of blue, in the forms of cushions, throw rugs, a beautiful vintage art-glass lamp, and a 50's style chrome and vinyl kitchen chair, and the kitchen has red toaster, kettle, and knife-block, orange ceramic utencil pot, and orange art-glass dish on the dining table.

  27. Neutral does not have to mean boring. People tend to confuse the two.

    I'm lucky enough that my husband pretty much lets me do whatever I want. He trusts my judgement. I hate white walls, and I tend to go with colors that are a little toned down so as to be less in-your-face and more soothing. For the main living areas we have a neutral grey, and our bedroom is an apple green that has just enough olive in it to make it soothing while still being saturated, and our office is a moody blue-green-grey.

    I really like fifties palettes, because they tended to have a good mix of colors that were slightly muted (and they happen to go really well with our vintage MCM furniture).

  28. Oddly enough, I'm the one that wants the color AND I'm the one painting the main areas of the house bland. I'm doing a very pale blue/white/grey (Behr's Polar White) on almost all the walls in the main living room, and a few walls are a much darker blue/grey (Behr's River Rock). The darker walls are going to be very minimal and act more like accent walls to try to add depth.
    Why am I choosing fairly bland colors for the main walls in my house? Because I love to decorate with color and change out decor frequently. I wanted to stick with neutral furniture and walls so that I could decorate however I wanted without having to worry about it clashing with my wall colors. We have a dark brown couch. But on the couch we have a bright red, emerald green, and yellow Mexican blanket, and lime green throw pillows. We have a phenomenally bright painting hanging above our fireplace (tons of bright colors, really pops against the neutral stone), and we have a series of 3 huge (6' long by 3' high) paintings on different walls throughout the house (also with tons of different colors in them). I am working with my mom to create an awesome frame collage to go up the stairs from the front door to the living area (which will have bright colored frames) and a huge wall in our living area is going to be a brightly colored National Geographic wall (I have Nat Geo magazines for almost every month since 1910 that I inherited).
    I am painting our powder room a beautiful robin's egg blue (Behr's Nevada Sky) and the kitchen will be butter yellow. I'm not sure on the colors of the bedrooms or other bathrooms yet. And my plan is to make all of our closets a happy surprise with bright colors inside!
    Instead of thinking of the house as bland and boring, think of it as a blank canvas for your decorating! And see if he'll let you paint the insides of cabinets/closets if you really can't stand a lack of painted on color.

  29. I feel for you as my own house is very brightly painted inside and out, and I cannot imagine living with white walls ever again. Can you agree to binding arbitration? Hire a color consultant to advise you. You get professional design advice and can be steered clear of making huge mistakes. A good designer can figure out how to make you both happy and it's a lot less stress than going to a couples counselor!

    1 agrees
  30. I love the idea of adding pops of color with pillows, art, throw rugs, curtains, and other accessories. I also LOVE painted walls. I would google some pictures or go to the paint place and look at their color swatches that show color pallets in a room. My last place I had a turquoise kitchen with lime green and white accents. My living room was Caribbean Blue, my entry way was bright orange and my dining room was this deep purple-ish brown. When I tell people about it they all have this weird look on their face. When they see pictures (of when they came by) they all seemed surprised by how good it looked. I really like painted doors too. Sometimes doing one or two walls vs a whole room works really well too.

  31. Or break up with him and keep your house. It might be a red flag going up. But you should talk to him first or look did he choose the color without any in put from you?

    1 agrees
  32. I'm curious how this goes down. You are building a house together, but somehow he's made the paint color and furniture decisions on his own? There could be a good reason for that….but I'm balking a little at someone making a unilateral decision on the house, when it's clear that it's wildly different from what the other partner is used to/prefers. Usually if you're building, you're going for "dream house" or permanent house, so I would think it would be important for both of you to be involved in decision making.

    Others have touched on it, but is he worried about resale value? About what others think? Does he think turquoise is fine for a single person, but not to a family or "adult" house? Or was he always just meh on the color, and now wants things his (neutral) way? Try and get at the reasoning behind it, and take this as an opportunity to let him know how important it is for the house to feel like it belongs to both of you.

    Then work on a compromise, if needed. White walls setting off rainbow art. A neutral kitchen, but a wild bedroom. Whatever gets you there.

    1 agrees

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