Colors that go with red are tricky to pin down - red is one of the punchiest colors in the color wheel. Danger, fire, love, and anger. These are just a few of the things which, throughout life and for better or worse, we are told the color red represents and because of this it is often deemed too strong for decorating certain rooms at home - the very opposite of all the soothing colors that go with grey. But is that always the case, we ask?
Some of the misconceptions? Well, generally speaking, we’re advised to swerve using red in rooms which are intended to be restful by nature - bedrooms mainly. However, this shouldn’t be taken as gospel, as we discover. And whilst it is a firey character amongst its color counterparts, it can be used to create beautifully whimsical room scenarios too, like a dream dining room.
Looping in with some of the industry’s top decorating and color experts, we’ve rung the alarm and gathered in all the best decorating ideas for this misunderstood hue. Red is powerful, red is glorious, and red, we are here to tell you, is very much a color option for home decor, you just need to know how to apply with decor decorum.
Colors that go with red
Which color looks good with red?
Blue is a surprising color which looks good with red. In fact, here’s a contrast pairing that we are committed to saying we love. Powder blue, or baby blue as it’s often called, is the somewhat surprising color of choice when matching a bold and bright red tone with a color counterpart. This is the ideal color pairing if you are looking to create impact and an eye-catching decor scheme. Why does this duo work so well together? The main reason is that neither of the two colours are too dark or dominant. They’re distinctly balanced in terms of strength and depth.
Whilst baby blue and bright red are very much opposites on the color spectrum, there’s a definite and somewhat surprising harmony when paired together, and crimson really is one of the colors that go with blue. To get the colors really right then consider the finish of the paint you use. The trick is to select a matt and chalky powder blue finish.
“Powder blue is actually the perfect partner for a bright and bold pillar box red shade," says paint and decorating guru Annie Sloan. “It instantly cools the fiery tendencies of the red and has connotations of fun and playful mid-century decor. Think American Diner, or indeed those beautifully playful blue and red Italian kitchens and cafe schemes of the 1950s era - powder blue and pillar box red? It’s tried and tested!”
What color goes with a red living room?
Lilac greys work well with red in a living room. Red can look particularly sumptuous in a living room, but “avoid teaming with white”, says Farrow & Ball color creator Joa Studholme. This contradicts the general inclination and move that most people make when forming living room ideas, which is to try and balance a strong red with the most popular neutral - white.
“When looking to decorate living rooms that don’t have an abundance of natural light, the temptation is to paint them bright white to force them to feel brighter. Sadly, this just results in a flat, dull room which won’t feel cosy at all,” warns Joa. The trick? Well, it’s to choose a darker neutral. “Instead, when using a warm, rich red color like Radicchio to create a room that feels welcoming and confident, use a softer neutral beside it. Strong color feels luxurious and nurturing and cannot fail to introduce a little passion to your home especially if you are brave enough to use a Full Gloss finish on the walls which will bounce any available light around the room. Dove Tale with its gentle lilac undertone creates a soft contrast with the intensity of the walls, and is a favourable option to using straight white. This look is strong, but achingly fashionable. Incredibly chic by day and alluring by night, it will create a thought-provoking atmosphere as well as being warm and welcoming”, says Joa. Sold!
Can red be used in a home office?
Yes, red can definitely be used in a home office. And nobody - we think - has styled it more effectively than Interiors writer and instructor for Create Academy Kate Watson-Smyth, who is known for her keen use of grey in home decor.
When quizzed about how she has pulled this look together using a dash of red, Kate says, “Red can feel like a scary colour to use in interiors but, as with all shades, there are dozens of different varieties. I have used a deep red oxide shade in my study and it lends itself perfectly to small cosy spaces. Here I used Arras by Little Greene teamed with Ferdinand from their new Stone collection. The latter is a rich browny cream with a tiny hint of pink in it and the two work well together.”
With just a slither of red used on the door return and frame, Kate has given this study just the right amount of rich detail that it needs to make it stand-out, incorporating red perfectly into her home office ideas.
What is a complementary color to red?
Pink is the perfect complementary color to red. It is red's closest color friend, and as a result, the combination makes for a well-matched decorating scheme. For best results opt for a softer Etruscan or earthy red tone when thinking about colors to go with pink, as it tends to pair together more tonally than brights.
Superfront founder Monica Born says, “pairing a soft red hue with pink pastel-colored pieces and adding natural shades and materials to the room is a tried and tested approach to harmonizing with red decor. A red that’s in the realms of a soft terracotta looks fantastic with pops of pastel pink, as well as copper and leather, which we selected for our Loop handle”, (shown above).
The addition of copper certainly elevates the decor scheme, and we would suggest that alongside copper - brass and gold also make for complimentary decorating metallics to tie in with a terracotta red decor scheme.
For a similar terracotta red tone try Farrow and Ball Red Earth. To match in a tonal shade of pink we love Tuscany from Little Greene.
Red can be bold, but can red also be whimsical?
Red can be very welcoming and pretty, it’s just a case of how you apply it in the room. Matched with contemporary pieces of furniture a red painted room looks bold and modern, however you can also create a more traditional and whimsical decor with red tones, by selecting a small-scale floral wallpaper.
Interiors influencer Laura Hunter has done just that as part of her dining room ideas, and it’s definitely the right side of chintz to be just right.
Creating a nuanced dining room decor - one which naturally leans towards a more traditional aesthetic - a red leaf print wallpaper has the ability to be a strong and well-proven decor choice. No Feature Walls (@nofeaturewalls) founder Laura Hunter explains ”I've always thought of red as a romantic color, for obvious reasons, and so the use of reds to create romantic and whimsical room scheme has always made sense to me although I know some people find red a little guttural.
I have used a leaf, rather than floral, design in my dining room/study and feel that it creates a real sense of grown up whimsical feeling, rather than all-out prettiness.”
Laura also says, “Dining spaces and studys can sometimes be the most grown up rooms in the house - lots of woods and deep dark colourways and I wanted to combine that essence with my natural tendency to romanticise everything! The use of a rich red paint for the bookcase balances the prettiness of the wallpaper pattern well.”
Design accessories amd materials to pair with the look? “I think wicker, natural color fabrics and dark wood pairs extremely well with red and create a natural autumnal feel in the room, a kind of "come down to the woods" vibe - and not Bram Stoker at all”, explains Laura.
Is red really a bad color choice for a bedroom?
Red is actually a great choice for a bedroom, as long as you pick the right shade.
Ok, so, many experts would instantly warn a client off decorating a bedroom in a red tone, often citing its association with anger as the main reason why it might not be a restful color choice for a room that’s sole reason is to be a comfortable and settling sleep environment. However, as with most things in life, the devil is very much hidden in the detail.
Consider this as canon when forming your modern bedroom ideas. It depends on which direction your bedroom faces and where the natural light comes from, alongside the specific tone of red you end up choosing. Be aware of both of these elements, and you can make a savvy decor decision on whether to, or whether to not, envelop a bedroom in red.
Which direction does your bedroom face? If the window faces south, then you’re onto a winner. South-facing rooms have an ever-glow characteristic. They sit facing south, and as such have the best placement towards natural - warm - sunlight. Match a south-facing window bedroom with the right color of red. Ideally, this is a chalky, matt color of red, such as this Sang De Boeuf shade from paint brand Edward Bulmer.
Use red in the design details
Want to work red into the bedroom, but still not convinced you can live with it? Well, we (or rather the hardware experts over at Dowsing & Reynolds) have come up with a decorating solution.
They have teamed with period property renovator and decor whiz Emma, from @homeonthegrove, and worked up a terracotta red bedroom treat. Emma’s decorating scheme hones in and draws upon red as the statement color in her guest room ideas, however, by applying it only to the ceiling area Emma has created a red bedroom which is in no way overwhelming.
Emma says, “As this is our spare room, I felt I had the license do something a little bit bold in here which is why I decided to go for the beautiful red colour. The room is south facing so it is bright all afternoon and the terracotta colour adds to the warmth. I was open to using the paint in a different, creative way. I'd been having a look at ideas on Pinterest and settled on the idea of using the paint on the ceiling - it's something I've always wanted to try. My best tip would be to use a laser level, which will give you a clean digital line all the way around the top of the room which you can masking tape up from! The light switch is one of those design details which might feel like a very small addition, but it feels like it brings the whole look together in coherency.”
Emma selected one of Dowsing & Reynolds sleek color tone light switches to coordinate and match the terracotta ceiling and armoir. It’s this very consideration of detail - which to some would maybe just be a light switch, right? - that pulls the design and the decor of the room together. End result? Simply stylish!
Rory Alastair Robertson has a long-standing history working across the interiors industry. Raised in Morningside, Edinburgh, Rory grew up surrounded by classically grand Scottish Georgian and Victorian architecture.
His first appreciation for interior decoration sparked when his mother hired scaffolding and decorated their three-storey Victorian staircase in Farrow & Ball Picture Gallery Red, by herself. She then painstakingly gold leafed the drawing room - by hand - over a base coat of Sudbury Yellow. This was the era of Jocasta Innes and Kenneth Turner, when paint techniques and maximalist style were the decorating raison d'être.
With this inherited gene of creativity, Rory went on to study Interior Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, and later, Theatre Set Design and Architectural Illustration at The Rhode Island School of Design on America's East Coast.
Rory's foray with the editorial world started a decade ago at Livingetc magazine, a title which he regularly contributes to today. Specialising with a deep-seated appreciation for historical homes and interiors, Rory often travels far and wide to be inspired by unique properties with a fascinating history.
If he’s not uncovering an unusual National Trust property in the UK, then he’s seeking out a Neo-Classical clifftop villa in Capri or a Palazzo in Florence.
Based in London’s Shoreditch, working as a Senior Interiors Editor and Consultant, Rory's portfolio of work is a creative melting pot of residential and commercial interior design projects and a plethora of editorial writing work. Rory is also Guest Interiors Lecturer at the prestigious KLC School of Interior Design in Chelsea, London. His most cosseted possession is a ramshackle Citroen Deux Chevaux, which he has reupholstered in Pierre Frey yellow and turquoise silk fabric.
Discover more at roryrobertson.co.uk and @rory_stylist.
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