5 new ways to do pastels

Every spring the idea of pretty pastels for the home starts to appeal. Pale pinks, the soft yellows of primroses, fresh pistachio, delicate lilac – these classic pastel colours are evocative of spring flowers and the colours of ice-cream parlours. Pastels provide a soft, light and refreshing palette for spring homes, but there is also something a little prissy about them. There is a perception about pastels that they are pretty, soft and slightly old fashioned. Strictly girlie and not suited for urban or masculine spaces. However this year’s crop of pale shades are bringing an essential edge. From last year’s Milan Design Week onwards designers have been obsessed with pastels, an extension perhaps of the huge trend for ‘Millennial Pink’. The hottest exhibits used these hugely appealing tones, but undercut with surprising materials or colour combinations, making the latest look for pastels really pack a punch. Here are 5 ideas for how to do ‘new pastels’ without getting a sugar overload.


Image of Bernhardt&Vella from Arflex.it

Mix with modern materials

Pastels come with a lot of baggage – we expect them to be slightly home-spun and unsophisticated, appearing on crackle-glazed vases or ditzy floral prints. The recent pastels trend however has seen high-end design houses using pinks, peaches and baby blues in a surprising combination with cutting-edge, modern materials like perspex and plastic. High-sheen finishes create a much more modern feel with a pastel palette, or create a playful feel with materials that are semi-see-through.

Moroso table

Moroso Fishbone Coffee Table. Image from Chaplins Funriture

Apply to graphic prints

The above image, of a table designed by Patricia Urquiola, illustrates both points one and two perfectly. the high-gloss finish to the nest of coffee tables makes the pink and lilac colours seem slick and modern, especially when combined with the geometric, eye-boggling print. Chevrons, clashing stripes and colour blocking have been in the mainstream recently, but this style is usually seen rendered in bold primary colours. Here pastels mixed with black and mustard bring them out of the country cottage and right into more sophisticated urban spaces.

dressing table

Image from Essential Home

Clash those colours

It’s almost the very definition of pastels that they don’t clash – they are meant to be soft and soothing, prettily complementing each other for a restful scheme. Which means breaking this rule can’t help but give your pastel palette a bit of spice. Nude pinks next to peach next to candy-floss pink? By all means. A touch of orange next to sorbet yellow? Why not. Trust your eye on this one, and go for colour combinations that are so wrong they’re right.

grey armchair

Image from Habitat

Add an urban edge

An easy way to give a pastel palette an overhaul is to go against the grain of it being a feminine, rustic set of colours. Masculine colours, like graphite and charcoal or a powerful dark blue give soft colours a whole new spin. Using colour on graphic shapes and primitive prints also puts a new angle on pastels. And placing pinks, yellows and soft blues within a hard-edged, urban space looks totally modern – think dark granite surface, exposed metal and industrial-style lighting and accessories.

pink sofa

Image by Loaf.com

Bring some heat

Similar to the colour-clash idea above, a popular take on pastels in Milan was to add a punch of a surprising, hot colour. We’re talking about the red end of the spectrum, which looks really powerful against the softness of pink and lilac. Go for accessories or accent pieces in full-blooded claret red, vibrant coral, burnt orange, a tasty tomato red or even a rich dark brown. All take out the sweetness of the pastels and give a little visual jolt that keeps you interested.


Image by Johnlewis.com




Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

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