Adding colour secrets to your home

To the colour shy, but also colour curious: If the idea of adding something bright or even just not-white to your house is both appealing and a bit frightening to you, have you thought about adding little snippets of colour in a way that won’t confront you everytime you walk through each room? We’ve been delving into the world of secret colour in the home in a bid to entice you to do exactly that. What we’ve found is the sort of colour features that you stumble upon after opening a cupboard, or notice when you approach the bookshelves, or even only see when you sit down and your eye-line is altered. In summary, today’s decorating ideas are all about enlivening the home in unexpected and often largely unseen ways.

The discreetly coloured study

The idea of a study hidden in an unused cupboard is a great one – what better way to hide away all that filing plus your ever-growing to-do list when you want to relax in the evening? The idea of painting the space in a colour is next level decorating. The above room is completely neutral until that study door is open to reveal a tasteful duck egg blue. You could just as easily go bolder, but pick something that helps the brain stay calm. This is a workspace after all.

An under-stairs study from House & Garden. Photo by Simon Upton

Another great space-saving study is this under-stairs solution – again, it’s nestled into a largely white space. Painting the area above the desk / below the stairs in a plaster pink colour gives it definition and makes for a subtle shift in feel when you sit down to work.

Behind closed doors

Image from Farrow & Ball

Whether in a kitchen, a child’s bedroom or a hallway, this is one of the easiest ways to sneak some colour into a scheme. It’s also a great way of dealing with a loved-one’s current obsession with a particular shade you don’t fully approve of. There are several ways to do it. If you have a full-height cupboard, perhaps in a hallway, you could paint the back of the door (a bit like the one shown above) so you get a fleeting pop of colour every time you open the doors. Choose a contrasting tone that complements what’s going on in the rest of the room.

The Curiosity Cupboard from deVOL

Alternatively, there’s painting the inside of the cupboard – a bit more daring if the cupboard is glass fronted but also a good way of dipping your toe into colour. This cupboard from deVOL is graphic black until you go inside where a softening pink adds a completely different atmosphere.

Image from Anahory Almeida. Photo by Rodrigo Cardoso

Another fun idea that you could reinterpret with plain colour. In a room designed by Lisbon design studio Anahory Almeida, the walls are papered in a light floral pattern and the duo has brought this inside the freestanding wardrobe so that it appears almost backless. The wardrobe door is also papered, giving the whole corner continuity.

Picking out bookshelves

Castle Gray room with Green Smoke doors and shelves. Image by Farrow & Ball

True the above room is quite a daring (Castle Gray) green all over to begin with. But the premise of the idea – picking out doors and shelves in a darker shade (in this case Green Smoke) – is easy to copy with tones that are less smokey, dark and obviously colourful. For entry-level colour embracers, you could try adding an off-white or grey to a room that’s otherwise all-white.

Hornbeam wallpaper by Farrow & Ball

Fancy going a bit further? How about adding a favourite wallpaper to the wall behind plain shelves (above)? Or tone the shelves in a colour that matches your wallpaper (below). It’s something to enjoy every time you go to choose a book, but is equally not a feature that will overawe the rest of the room.

Feuille BP 4901 Wallpaper – finished with String painted shelves. From Farrow & Ball.

Kitchen details

Kitchen by Campbell Cadey. Photo by Penny Wincer

London architecture practice Campbell Cadey have created a striking kitchen as part of a larger extension scheme. The majority of the cupboards are below worktop level and although one run of kitchen cabinets is a rich teal colour, most of design is clean white. The duo has lined the back of the island unit breakfast bar below waist height in a decorative coloured tile, which makes a big impact without jolting what is otherwise a restful, minimal space. You could steal this tile-feature idea in a completely white kitchen, just as easily.

Project and image from Dries Otten. Photo by Jef Jacobs

Interior architect Dries Otten created this kitchen as part of a larger project in a converted school. A line of cupboards begins at a window, blends into the above kitchen and become an office and library. The doors of the storage wall are finished in neutral birch-plywood and the kitchen worktop is black Formica. The sink adds a colourful twist, integrated but also marked out by a piece of green PE (a material that is mostly used as cutting board).
Header image from Farrow & Ball.

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

The Chromologist