How to Decorate with Neutrals – The 3 Secrets You Need to Know

abby-lawson-headshot-circle-100-x-100Hey there, friends! I am so delighted that my friend Shannon from AKA Design is visiting on the blog today to talk about how to decorate with neutrals! I recently emailed Shannon and said, “Okay, what’s your secret? When I try to decorate with all neutrals, it looks stark and boring, but when you do it, it looks AH-mazing! What gives?!” And she agreed to share her neutral decorating secrets not only with me, but with all of us! (Isn’t she the best?!)

I’ll let her take over from here…

(Even if you have zero interest in decorating with neutrals, you’re going to want to read this anyway – because these secrets totally rock for non-neutral decor too!)

The scene goes like this: you see a photo or two on Pinterest or on your favorite blog and you really love the look of them. You think to yourself that you could really get used to your home looking like that. All those neutrals are just so calming. And ‘they’ make it look so easy.

Light bulb moment! These tips for how to decorate with neutrals from Shannon at AKA Design are genius! Click through to the post to read them all!

So you go out to your favorite store or your basement decor stash (you know you have one) and gather all the neutrals you can find. Pillows, vases, photo frames, even neutral flowers.

You bring them into the room and carefully place them about your space. You stand back and take it all in.

And your heart sinks.

It’s not quite right. In fact, it’s not at all what you expected. Not even close. Instead of looking warm and cozy and welcoming…it just looks blah.

Now you’re wondering what you did wrong.

Why can ‘they’ make neutrals look so darn good, while you’re left with a room full of boring, ho-hum, sad-looking decor?

I’ll tell you a secret. Okay, you got me – I’m actually going to tell you three secrets.

How to Decorate with Neutrals – 3 Secrets You Need to Know

1. You need to choose warm or cool neutrals – not both

Okay, really brief, partial color theory lesson here. Like super brief. ‘Cause Color Theory is a whole other lesson of its own!

All colors have either warm or cool undertones. Warm undertones will be slightly green or yellow, while cool undertones will be a bit pink or violet or blue.

For example, if you go to the store and grab a white paint chip (that has several whites on it), you will be able to tell if it’s warm or cool by the darkest color at the bottom of the chip: If it’s green, it’s a warm white. If it’s pink, it’s a cool white.

When you’re mixing neutrals you want to decide whether you’re going to go with warmer neutrals or cooler neutrals. There is no right or wrong with this – you can choose either one you like. But you do have to choose one.

A mish mash of warm and cool neutrals together is never going to look right.

Light bulb moment! These tips for how to decorate with neutrals from Shannon at AKA Design are genius! Click through to the post to read them all!

2.†You need to vary your ‘colors’

I know, we’re talking about neutrals here. But the truth is that even neutrals themselves are each a color. White, cream, brown, grey – all colors. Even really pale, blush pink or watery aqua can be a neutral.

Once you’ve decided on warm or cool neutrals (secret #1), you really want to vary the neutral shades you use. You want a variety of light neutrals, dark neutrals and medium neutrals.

Neutral does NOT mean all the same shade of white. (Much as you shouldn’t decorate with all the same single shade of the colors you choose to decorate with either, if you’re a color person.)

‘Cause that’s, well, boring.

Light bulb moment! These tips for how to decorate with neutrals from Shannon at AKA Design are genius! Click through to the post to read them all!

3. You need more texture

Texture is the spice of life. Okay, not really. But it is what makes neutral decor warm and welcoming (which is obviously what you want), rather than cold and sterile.

Think about adding texture in this way: you want things to have pattern and movement, you want them to look like they’d be interesting to touch. But don’t just keep it to texture you can feel with your hands – you can also add visual ‘texture’ with different patterns and finishes. Mix wood with sheepskin, canvas with fleece, metal with tile, high gloss with flat, rough with smooth, etc.

By adding both texture that you can see and texture that you can feel, you create depth and dimension in a room. Use a variety of texture in all your rooms and you will create beautiful, welcoming spaces.

Which is the exact opposite of ho-hum and boring.

Light bulb moment! These tips for how to decorate with neutrals from Shannon at AKA Design are genius! Click through to the post to read them all!

Okay, so now that I’ve told you three of my secrets – and Abby was kind enough to let me into her space to talk to you today (thank you, friend) – I suppose I should tell you who I am, yes?

Who is Shannon, anyway? And, um, why should you care?

Technically speaking my bio says “Shannon Acheson is the co-founder of AKA Design, a community of over 11,000 people ditching their fear of decorating failure and learning to just get started.”

That’s totally accurate. But I’m also just a mom who believes that anyone can learn to decorate their own home – because I did. I spent 20 years learning actually. I studied photos in magazines, visited model homes (lots of them!) and practiced on our own home and others. I even completed a full course in Interior Design from a New York design school to fill in the gaps. (That was kinda boring, let me tell you! A full unit on color theory anyone? The history of every single period of furniture ever made? Ugh.) But I finally – finally – figured out how to decorate my own home. And I created Cozy & Beautiful, the decorating handbook for non-decorators, so that YOU can skip the learning curve and get straight to creating the home you love.

BUT I warn you – COZY & BEAUTIFUL IS NOT FOR EVERYONE! It’s NOT for you if you’re just looking for inspiration. Or more decorating ideas. Or pretty pictures to drool over. That’s what our blog and many others are for. Or Pinterest.

BUT if you’re ready to step beyond inspiration to actually decorate your home…Cozy & Beautiful IS for you.

If that’s you, you can go and see Cozy & Beautiful for yourself right here!


abby-lawson-headshot-circle-100-x-100Ooh now I need to go break out my paint chips and start figuring out my warm and cool neutrals. And texture! Texture EVERYWHERE! 😉 Thank you so much to Shannon for sharing her wisdom with us today, and thank YOU for reading! Have a wonderful week!

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  1. This was so interesting! I think texture is what really adds coziness to any room! Though the artist in me is mightily confused. Green is a cool color on the color wheel (because it’s made with blue, which has a stronger masstone than yellow), and pink is a warm color in the color wheel (because it’s essentially just a tint of red, which is a warm color). Granted I’m a graphic designer so I mostly deal with additive color (RGB screen color), though when printing I still encounter a lot of subtractive color (mixing of ink or paints). Is there something about interior design that turns warm colors cool and cool colors warm when decorating?

    1. Shannon Acheson says:

      Hi Vanessa,

      It depends on the specific color – and the color wheel.

      Obviously paint colors have millions of different shades and tones. When I say green undertones, I suppose technically I mean yellow, although it’s green I’m seeing. The same with pink, I’m seeing more of a violet-pink than a diluted red.

      There’s an interior design color wheel here that illustrates better than I could: (affiliate) https://amzn.to/2ekkscJ.

      Sorry if that was confusing!


      1. Thank you so much!! That makes is so much clearer! I knew I must just be missing something. I did really well in color theory in art school, I promise! 🙂 Thank you for such an informative guest post!!

        1. Shannon Acheson says:

          I’m so glad. 🙂 I actually used to be a graphic designer too (I still do my own stuff) so I totally get that the colors are so different! 🙂

  2. I so needed to read this! I repainted our den months ago and though it’s begging for a makeover, I haven’t had a clue where to start. I’m using these tips as a springboard for my upcoming redo– thanks so much 🙂

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Yay! So glad it was helpful for you, Mitzi!

      ~Abby =)

    2. Shannon Acheson says:

      Yay! Have fun with your makeover, Mitzi!

  3. I always loved the idea of decorating with neutrals. When I see the pros do it without fail, I’m super impressed and inspired. I have been afraid to do it in my own home- for fear of an epic fail ;), but now with these tips I think I’m ready to take the leap. Thanks!!

  4. Jennifer Marx says:

    This is great advice! I particularly like your tip to pay attention to textures — I think that is often overlooked . Textures make a huge difference. I am not particularly good at neutrals, I will admit. I tend to gravitate toward bold color. I really appreciated your insight. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Shannon Acheson says:

      Textures are definitely where it’s at with neutrals! Even with bolder color schemes though, texture will keep it from looking amateurish. 🙂

  5. I love the wooden headboard with the bunting over it!

    1. justagirlabby says:

      Totally agree, Kate! Gorgeous! She is so talented!

      ~Abby =)

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