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Say bye bye to bland

No matter what hues you’re working with, the key to creating interest and richness in any space is to incorporate plenty of variety.

Just because you want to decorate your living space with neutrals doesn’t mean that it should feel bland or boring. But accomplishing this effectively takes a touch more finessing than a space that has the benefit of eye-catching statement colours. It may surprise you, but professional decorators and designers approach neutral types of spaces in the same manner as a colourful one. No matter what hues you’re working with, the key to creating interest and richness in any space is to incorporate plenty of variety.

A neutral lounge with layers of different shades

A rich neutral moodboard

A rich neutral moodboard

A neutral lounge with layers of different shades

Mood board: Background in Resene Half Ash with Resene A4 drawdown paint swatches in Resene Raptor (left) and Resene Double Ash (right), painted books in Resene Caraway and Resene Raptor, tray in Resene Caraway, large bowl in Resene Half Doeskin, small bowl in Resene Alpaca and vases (from large to small) in Resene Double Ash, Resene Half Ash, Resene Half Thorndon Cream, Resene Alpaca and Resene Double Ash. Throw from Citta, reading glasses from Auckland Art Gallery. 

Bringing in layers of different shades, tones and tints – even if they’re neutral – helps to break up the space. Using warmer neutrals – those with soft stone, taupe, suede, blush and creamy undertones – will feel cosy and natural compared to cold and sterile whites and greys. In this lounge space, Resene Half Ash – a dusty residual grey – on the walls and floor makes a solid base to build up other neutrals with different undertones.

Painted wall designs that take up a single wall or just a portion of one have become incredibly popular – especially designs that incorporate curves or arches. Opting for hand-drawn shapes rather than straight, rigid ones lend a more casual, earthy energy to the room. As a fun twist, we've overlapped two loose arch shapes, not unlike a Venn diagram. The larger shape on the left is in Resene Double Ash while the space on the right is in Resene Eighth Arrowtown. The area where they appear to cross over is painted in darker Resene Half Arrowtown to give the illusion of a semi-transparent look.

A lounge with layered neutrals

A neutral lounge with green accessories

Paint: Walls, floor and mantel in Resene Half Ash with larger shape in Resene Double Ash, smaller shape in Resene Eighth Arrowtown and ‘Venn crossover’ in Resene Half Arrowtown, Plant pot (with snake plant) in Resene Half Doeskin, Plant pot (with handles and ivy) in Resene Double Ash, Tall jug vase (with handle) in Resene Double Ash, Other vases in Resene Quarter Delta, Resene Double Ash, Resene Half Ash, Resene Eighth Arrowtown, Resene Half Arrowtown, Resene Alpaca, Resene Raptor, Resene Double Thorndon Cream and Resene Half Thorndon Cream, Low bowl dishes in Resene Sugar Loaf and Resene Quarter Delta, Painted books in Resene Caraway, Resene Quarter Delta, Tray (on coffee table) in Resene Caraway, Basket (on floor with plant in it) in Resene Sugar Loaf.  Accessories: Sofa from Danske Mobler, Coffee table, linen and wool cushions, throw from Citta, Rug from Kmart, Reading glasses from Auckland Art Gallery.

Your painted design doesn't need to be constrained to a single wall, either. In this space, we have created more dimension by letting our shapes wrap over the corner and spill on to the floor. If you have an interesting architectural design, you can also make it part of the design instead of interrupting it by carrying your painted shapes over top of it. This strategy works great for attached features like mantelpieces, skirting boards, crown moulding, ceiling medallions or door and window frames, but you can also get a similar effect by carrying the design over a large piece of furniture, such as a sideboard, armoire or chest of drawers.

If it’s your first time painting a curved design on to a wall or floor, it’s common to feel intimidated. These feelings lead many people to reach for a small artist’s brush to paint their outline, which can actually make the task harder! Instead, use a wide, flat or angled professional quality paintbrush – like those available at your local Resene ColorShop. Choose a dense one with lots of soft bristles, the best one that you can afford. This brush will be much easier to control as you paint your curves and far less prone to wiggles from a shaky hand. Plus, your paintbrush will be sure to last many years if you take good care of it and it will serve you well on your future decorating projects. For a smooth finish, be sure to ‘feather’ the bottom part of your outline brushstroke in towards the centre of your shape as you go and then finish filling in the centre of the area with a roller. And don’t forget that it’s always best to opt for two thinner topcoats of colour over trying to cover the whole area in one thicker coat.

Neutral lounge

A neutral living space

Paint: Large vase (on floor with toetoe) in Resene Quarter Delta.

How you accessorise your neutral living space will greatly change not only the vibe but also its ‘temperature’. For example, bringing in dried florals like preserved hydrangeas and toetoe can make the room feel ‘hotter’ since these items evoke the energy of a late summer harvest. Alternatively, decorating with lush greenery will make the space feel ‘cooler’, the way it looks outside during the wetness of winter and early spring – especially if it’s supported by cosy flannel cushions and wool throws. To make this seasonal decorating more pronounced, switch out some of your smaller accessories – or give them a couple of quick coats of paint using a few Resene testpots in colours that match or coordinate with your soft accessories. With this palette, try biscuit beiges like Resene Caraway, Resene Half Thorndon Cream, Resene Alpaca and Resene Sugar Loaf in warmer weather and add a touch of Resene Half Doeskin, Resene Quarter Delta and Resene Raptor in cooler weather to get two completely different looks without needing to change out major investment pieces.

Styling by Laura Lynn Johnston. Photography by Bryce Carleton. 2022

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