green walls

Decorating trend: tone on tone

One-colour decorating. It either sounds like a passport to an easy life or a claustrophobic monochrome nightmare, depending on your point of view. It’s been big news in fashion, and now this decorating trend for focusing on just a single colour is hitting interiors. It may sound counterintuitive to creating a varied, liveable scheme, but in fact the one-colour look is surprisingly versatile and easy to embrace. Here are our tips for making the tone on tone decorating trend work – effortlessly – for you.

pink room

Image by Junichi Ito for Vogue Japan

The first thing to do is understand that tone on tone is about embracing the variety of any given colour, and working with that by layering up surfaces in subtly different tones from the same family. This can seem quite daunting – what tones of blue fit with other blues? You could be forgiven for imagining it means endless holding of swatches against each other. But in fact the more relaxed you are the better – as these images show as you add more and more layers the better the whole look will fit together. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid of breaking supposed rules – Royal blue next to navy next to powder blue? Go on, why not? The more you add the more the whole scheme will feel hang together organically.

blue room

Image from California Shutters

The tone on tone decorating trend is the opposite of maximialism, but there is nothing austere about the end result. Piling on a variety of hues from the same group creates great depth to your room, and creates a feel that looks coherent but also pleasingly relaxed. If you are decorating with just one colour, another tip to is focus on varying the textures in the room as much as possible. Gloss surfaces, ceramics, glass, painted wood, even a variety of paint finishes can all help to add texture and interest.

green walls

String pocket shelving from Nest

This goes especially for tone on tone decorating schemes that focus just on white. This decorating trend works wonderfully well with white, and it’s eye-opening to realise just how many shades of white there are. Using subtly different whites on every surface (including skirting boards, ceilings and doors) creates a very deep and rich look that of course also feels flooded with light. But it will also be the white accessories that make this sort of scheme – go for lumpy, bumpy ceramics, wool, muslin, sheepskin and bleached wood, all liberally piled in.

all-white room

Image from Farrow & Ball

white tableware

Image from Ikea

It’s certainly a decorating trend that you can have fun with, because you decide the parameters, and what counts as a tone of your chosen colour. Doing a ‘pink’ room? Well that could include corals, nude pinks, bubblegum… but there’s no rule against adding a bit of clashing brick red in there too. A single ‘off’ colour note in this sort of scheme can actually provide just the pop you need for the whole room to sing. Created an all-blue room but a single element of green is calling to you? Throw it in!

coral bedroom

Image by H&M

blue living room

Image by Heal’s

Of course there are situations where you might want to be more precise, and stick to one tone pretty much throughout. This is a great way of decorating small spaces, like a home office, where painting woodwork, walls and even furniture and accessories in the same colour can create a little oasis in your home while also making the space feel larger than it really is.

yellow study

Image from Ikea

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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