When it comes to home decor, it takes a certain level of assuredness to commit to color. Whether it is painting your walls green or investing in a bright blue couch, staying safe seems like the only option with neutrals like grays, beiges, and greiges.
But anyone can gain confidence designing their own space by adding low-stakes, vibrant touches in noncommittal ways. Here, five experts offer their best tips to brighten up your living room—each impermanent and cost-effective—sure to leave you inspired.
1. Vibrant Rugs
“Look down on the ground. All you need is a new rug and voila, your space is totally transformed,” says Brad Ramsey, principal designer and founder of his own studio in Nashville. “Rugs can provide a room with texture, pattern, or color—and sometimes all three in one. Depending on your style, you can go for modern patterns, saturated solids, soft organic textures, or muted antiques to change the feel of your home.”
2. Contrasting Textures and Elements
“Think of your upholstery like good basics in your wardrobe: You can always layer underneath or on top of those base pieces—and change the feel of a space without a substantial renovation,” says Ramsey.
For example: If you have a leather or velvet couch, opt for an oversized natural jute or sisal rug that takes up the majority of the space. Then, add a brighter and smaller rug over top. “Scale the colorful rug to ground the seating area and then let the natural rug provide more texture,” he adds. “Then you can contrast and accessorize with fun art and metal accents.”
3. Powerful Pillows
All of our experts could agree on this: Never underestimate the power of pillows. “I love to add a color accent to a room with throw pillows. But don’t settle for two of the exact same,” says Ramsey. “Instead opt for a collection of coordinating pillows.”
If you want to revitalize your oatmeal or charcoal sofa, “selecting a fun, colorful print fabric for pillows will bring it back to life,” says Susan Spath, principal designer of Kern & Co in San Diego.
4. Lively Curtains and Blinds
“What will give you the biggest bang for your buck are colorful drapes,” says Mimi Meacham, founder and principal designer of Marian Louise Designs. “Frame your windows with a fun, colorful print, or choose a solid color fabric with a chic trim.” Meacham prefers darker, heavier tones paired with velvet and wool textures, which “add a soft, yet impactful statement to the space.” If you prefer something more open, linen or sheer fabrics can create a light and airy feel.
5. Natural Accents
“A natural way to liven up any room is to incorporate plants,” says Ramsey. “If you get great light, try a fiddle-leaf fig tree in the window. They love to sunbathe and cast gorgeous shadows from their large, waxy leaves.” Colorful planters can also infuse a joyful atmosphere in any space. In an area where sunlight isn’t abundant, try something lower maintenance, like a snake plant, or add dried or faux flowers to empty shelves, bookcases, stairwells, and entryways.
6. Subtle Lamps and Lights
Whether you’re adding decorative lighting over a piece of artwork or a stand-alone lamp for added ambiance, seize the opportunity to shake things up. “A lamp or sconce with a white lampshade is boring,” says Meacham. “Invest in some fun, colorful lampshades” that project their hues around the room.
7. Bold Bookcases
Adding wallpaper to built-in or freestanding bookcases “will add depth, layering and interest to the living room. Plus, it’s much simpler and a more minimal investment than covering your walls,” says Mindy O’Connor of Melinda Kelson O’Connor Architecture & Interiors in Philadelphia.
Alternatively, add a coat of fresh paint to your shelves. “If your living room is mostly neutral, changing the color of your customized built-in or freestanding shelves to a darker tone, such as navy, black, chocolate brown, or forest green creates a striking visual contrast against white walls,” says the principal designer at Miss Alice Designs, Alice Chiu. “Your eye will be drawn to the visual weight of the contrast, which presents a nice focal point.”
8. Refreshed Knickknacks
Ramsey recommends swapping outdated tchotchkes for items that feel more current. “We can get stuck with the same decorative items in our homes for years out of fear that it’s wasteful to discard them. But I say donate those items and look for new ones that speak to you! Would you wear the same shoes for 10 years and expect to still like them? In most cases, no! So don’t treat your decor like it’s too precious,” he says. “As styles and trends change, you can update along with them.”