How to bring colour into a room without painting it

From curtains to floorboards, artwork to book shelves, how can you ensure your home is full of colour whilst maintaining a bright white wall?

From Slaked Lime to Satin Slipper, Wimborne to School House White, a white-painted room provides a guaranteed bright, fresh and clean feel to any room. There’s nothing to say that a white room can’t be full of colour, though, however oxymoronic it might feel. Like a neutral canvas bubbling with possibilities, versatile white walls are capable of hosting and highlighting a range of tones and hues.

Breathing colour into a room doesn't always need to involve cracking out your paint rollers. From statement sofas to playful textiles, natural woods to painted flooring, having neutral walls shouldn't preclude your dreams of a bright and bold home. And for renters feeling constrained by intimidatingly white-washed walls? There are remedies to the colourless conundrum; painted furniture, curated objets on exposed shelving and soft furnishings all provide opportunities for maximising a room's colour palette.

Books and objects

What better way to infuse a room with colour than through your own curated objects and books? In kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, open shelving allows you to showcase prized possessions whilst also decorating your aspect with dynamic hues and shades. Pallas Kalamotusis’s home in west London and Studio Ashby's modernist house in south London both exemplify this practice, where white is not only workable but ideal as the frame for personal libraries.

Beside the OF Blaha ‘Koala’ chair in Pallas' living room is a ‘Short Mag Side Table’ by Daniel Schofield for The Conran Shop. Pallas designed the bookshelves and has filled them with a range of her own things.

A series of bookcases visually connects the double-height wall split between the upstairs landing and kitchen-dining-sitting room in the basement. ‘It’s a trick that allows you to make the absolute most of the space,’ Sophie says.

Painter Haidee Becker’s calm idyll in north-east London is an ode to art and books. The book shelves, framed by white walls and dappling the light from partially obscured windows, inject moments of colour into a serenely curated room.

In the sitting room, Archmonger Architects added the two windows at the rear to bring more light into the space. The sculptures on either side of the fireplace are by Haidee’s old teacher, the Prussian sculptor Uli Nimptsch. The painting of the steamer above the fireplace belonged to Haidee’s father.

Painted woodwork and flooring

If white walls are a priority, an alternative would be to introduce colour underfoot, and there’s no finer example of this than in Bridie Hall’s ‘Hot Paprika’ painted floor from Dulux. The fruity shade not only brightens the white walls, but also highlights the dashes of crimson in Hall’s selection of artwork and furniture, from the intaglio lamp, to her antique volcano paintings.

Beata Heuman’s use of a pink floor in a London apartment is similarly spicy, with the flat opening straight into a juicy pink gloss hallway underfoot. The hardwearing specialist paint finish was inspired by an 18th-century floor Heuman discovered on her honeymoon to Palermo. The neon ‘On Air’ sign echoes the vibrant floor, both of which bring bursts of electric colour to architecturally simple, white-washed walls.

Colourful furniture

In fact, the Beata project is full of colourful flourishes of red, blue and green. Her use of cornflower Pinch ‘Moreau’ sofas cut against the vibrant crimson radiators, pinkish hand-painted bar and patterned Yinka Ilori cushions.

Tobias Vernon uses flashes of primary tones in his white-painted home, below. From his statement green four poster bed to frenetic art collection, the 8 Holland Street founder uses his brilliant white walls as a bright backdrop to his eclectic pieces.

Lonika Chande employed glossy green wardrobes, emerald gingham quilts and bright red cast iron beds to make for a lively children’s room in a Stoke Newington project. The white walls are both unobtrusive and essential – reliably underscoring the kid-friendly palette.

The antique sofa in the children's bedroom was the client’s own, and Lonika had it reupholstered in 'Three Lines' by Virginia White Collection, adding a green foliage scatter cushion by Svenskt Tenn.

Milo Brown


Artwork not only instantly breathes colour into a room, but also provides a useful colour guide for the rest of the room; as Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby says as her motto, “start with the art”.

Orlagh McCloskey’s new-build home was distinctly blank (and blanc) before her bold redesign. Opting for a Bauwerk limewash in place of the ‘landlord white’ walls gave the rooms instant texture and warmth, whilst still maintaining their neutrality and consistency. It’s no surprise that the co-founder of Rixo – a fashion house where print is king – has opted to inject colour into her home not through wall paint, but through dynamic artwork and furniture. The central Matisse-inspired piece in her sitting room not only adds movements and warmth but provides a central colour language for the entire room.

The large artwork on the back wall of Orlagh's living room was painted by her. It is flanked by stained glass windows based on a number of references. They were created by Maya Glass Studio in Acton.

The clash of white and colour need not always be so pronounced, however. Alice B. Davies used a dusty white wall to perfectly frame the warm brown tones in the artwork and wooden furniture in her client’s Belsize Park flat. There’s also a lot of white wall in Bridie Hall’s high-ceilinged Victorian house in north London, but despite the paper-white flats throughout, the house is abuzz with bold colours. The walls allow Hall to play with eccentric colour relations whilst still maintaining a fresh and mature aesthetic. The colour blocking of the artwork and sheer roller blinds in her living room cut against the purity of the white-washed walls, awash with light from the large Victorian windows.

Screen prints by Robyn Denny create a colour blocking effect above a B&B Italia sofa with velvet ikat cushions from Pentreath & Hall in Bridie Hall's house.

The stone in the kitchen is arabescato marble, which, combined with the cabinets painted in ‘Treron’ by Farrow & Ball, makes for a bright and airy space.

Mikey Reed Photography

Designed by Andrzej Zarzycki of Collett-Zarzycki, this Provençal house blends the traditional South of France chalky stonework with structural, contemporary artwork to swift jabs of colour. The bathroom – treated by Zarzycki as a proper room rather than an addendum – features a sculpture by Manuel Marin that moves with the wind. Adding dark colours is a great way to make your white walls sing; here Zarzycki’s fumed oak floors and oil-black chair bought at the Marché aux Puces underline the chalk walls and colourful mobile.

Curtains and rugs

The texture, pattern and movement of curtains can perfectly juxtapose white walls in a home. Nina Litchfield’s jewel-tone curtains speak to her spectacular green leopard print ‘George Smith’ sofa covered in Schumacher’s Madeleine Velvet. Despite the crispness of the white walls, the curtains, together with her antique wooden furniture secured at Lots Road, ensures the room isn’t lacking in intimacy and cosiness. Similarly warm is Katherine Pavaracini’s Wiltshire cottage, where chintz patterns create flurries of colourful activity in contrast to the smooth white walls.

In Nina Litchfield’s house, the limestone fireplace from Arbon Interiors is flanked by chairs bough at Lots Road Auctions. The George smith sofa is covered in Schumacher's Madeleine Velvet.

As in much of Katherine Pavaracini’s Wiltshire cottage, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's 'Pointing', which forms a neutral backdrop for Katharine's arrangements of fabrics. The rug was a bespoke commission from India.

Jonathan Bond

Bring the outside in

Flashes of green are obtained with ease through indoor greenery. This is particularly helpful if you’re looking to maintain a consistent and minimalist feel that avoids neutral-tone fatigue. Famous for her muted and natural tones, Rose Uniacke brings the outdoors in through big, bold plants. The contrasts between the natural fabrics and the glossy emerald leaves are striking, whilst the vernacular remains consistent.

In the garden room of a tranquil, elegant 17th-century house designed by Rose Uniacke, rough plastered walls and a floor of reclaimed bricks arranged in a chevron pattern bring texture to this room, which has double doors opening out onto the one-acre garden.

Tino Zervudachi brings the lush greenery and turquoise waters of the Bahamas into this spectacularly bright and lofty home. The white walls and moments of green through plants, soft furnishings and aqua or botanical artworks throughout the home mean there’s a clear and colourful conversation between interior and exterior.

A bright and breezy house in the Bahamas by Tino Zervudachi. In the dining room, Rose Tarlow chairs in a Studio Four NYC fabric partner a David Iatesta table from John Rosselli & Associates, below a ‘Crosshatch’ chandelier from Ironies. A large painting by John Graham Coughtry is displayed on the far wall.

Paul Massey

The sofa is the ‘Smithy’ model from Loaf, made to order in green velvet. In the bay window, the curtains are made from a Romo Linara cream fabric; the gold lining at the top is done in an Orissa Silk Amaretto fabric by James Hare.

Ollie Tomlinson

Designed by Anahita Rigby, the plants throughout the Marylebone house above, echoed by luxurious green furniture like the ‘Smithy’ sofa from Loaf, breathe colour and life through every room.