color theory: how to put that inspiration piece to work

I know it’s been a couple posts to get here:

color theory: basics

how to find an inspiration piece to decorate with

And now we are here, showing how I designed a space using an object as an inspiration piece.

First, let’s recap in general terms, staring with my observations of the space.

 What do I like about the space?

  1. There is a bed that guests will appreciate after traveling.
  2. The ceiling is tall
  3. It has overly large traditional trim molding
  4. Original wood floors
  5. Tall windows
  6. Two windows for cross ventilation
  7. Good light from the windows

What don’t I like about the space?

  1. Rough plaster walls (no opportunity for wall paper)
  2. Because of the windows and doors there is no symmetrical placement for the bed
  3. Narrow windows with bad views
  4. A small closet
  5. No crown molding (we installed crown molding)


Design is the intentional use of a line, shape or color. Decorating is also about using line, shape or color, but it entails highlighting or down playing elements within the existing space.

When starting fresh in a room I like to use an inspiration piece. I did this when I designed our guest room.  My inspiration piece was, the Pillow. It matched up to a lot of my “goal adjectives” and had colors from my inspiration piece (peacock feathers) for the whole house.  I love the Pillow because it looks old-fashioned, like it was made from vintage fabric but with trendy colors. I repeated colors from the Pillow throughout the room. In the Pillow there are several colors, coral, turquoise, brown, white tan, and gold that can be used to down play or highlight objects in the space.

The plan using “the pillow” for inspiration:

  • Use the brighter colors or contrasting color combos on objects that I wanted to highlight
  • Use the duller colors or harmonious color combos on objects I wanted to downplay
  • Repeat highlight colors in smaller amounts or in different tints or shades of those colors for continuity and highlighting other elements in the room

So there was plenty of opportunity for using color

  • The exact colors on the piece
  • Slightly brighter colors for highlighting
  • Slightly duller, darker or lighter colors for cohesiveness
  • Harmonious colors to use on secondary or support objects
  • Neutral, whites, brown, blacks to be backdrop for the other colors




So what next?

Number one, I wanted to highlight the bed. I chose the coral and turquoise from the Pillow for the bedding so your eye will be drawn there. How will that happen?

The coral and turquoise are the softer versions of orange and blue that sit opposite on the color wheel. Opposite colors are contrasting colors. There is visual tension, which makes them dramatic, when you use contrasting colors.  Since they are soft versions of orange and blue I guess that makes them “softly dramatic”? 😉 Not as strong as if someone had left a Denver Colts jersey sitting on the bed, but they are more interesting and unexpected than the tan, brown and whites in the pillow.

Luckily, I found a coral quilt at the same store as the Pillow. So I was on the right track. Now I had to work out the rest.

Shop the house

Due to limited shopping bargains where I live, I’ve been hoarding things as I come across them, but my Hubby loves me anyway. I’m always picking things that fit my whole house color scheme inspired by the peacock feather. Clearance sections and thrift stores are my main hunting ground. With the Pillow in hand I started to gather.

  • A turquoise sheet set, score!
  • A vintage 70’s ballerina tchotchke foil art
  • 70’s brass lamps
  • turquoise shower curtains (possible curtains)
  • curtain rods left behind by my daughter
  • A woven BoHo basket
  • A peacock print
  • a bird-cage and more stuff

All of it thrown in a pile.

shop your house for décor

Next I was off to the paint store dragging my pillow with me. Not to buy paint, but to pick up paint chips that matched the Pillow.  I cannot stress this enough. You don’t have giant fluorescent lights in your house. PAINT CHIPS will look completely DIFFERENT in your space than in the store, so bring them home.

I also looked at other colors I wanted to add to the room from downstairs to see if they played nice. Colors that play nice and harmonious are colors next to each other in the color wheel.  The closer they are, the better the behave. For example, turquoise is a blue-green so a green-blue color will play nice even if they are a different value, tint or shade. I chose a green blue with gray added to it. This addition pushed the color to a more “neutral” tone than the turquoise alone.

Why was it important to add another color? I wanted to have some of the colors from downstairs to connect the spaces without an overly limited color palette. If you like having a very limited color scheme it can make decorating easier for you, but I can’t live that way.  I needed a neutralized color for the hand-me-down dresser and night stands. I wanted them to be noticed, but in a supporting role.

color for guest room
paint chip that match the pillow

Having the paint chips, ever handy in my purse, allowed me to make informed color choices when out shopping. Shopping for what? you know important things, for the space such as, a blanket, a throw, more pillows, etc.  The things that drive some husbands crazy but make a room comfy. Then I would take everything back home and edit them in the space with “the pillow”.

The bed is the focal point.

I could have had just the bedding in the turquoise and coral, but your eye would only stay there. You wouldn’t notice the other things I liked about the space. When I used to watercolor painting, I learned the key on how to use colors. Repetition, yep, repeating colors though out a painting. Whether it is a room or a garden, color repetition keeps your eyes moving around and keeps the project lively. It doesn’t even have to be the exact color (that’s for Bridezillas). If they are similar, your eye will read them the same unless they are right next to each other.

bedding colors

That’s why using something that has most of the colors in your room is so helpful, it helps tie things together, for example, fabrics or art work. Your inspiration piece can be a way to repeat the colors all in one object because that’s where they came from. Next time you see a beautiful room, see if you can find the inspiration piece in it, (like find Waldo designer style) some can be very obvious.

How to use the neutrals

So what about the other colors from the Pillow; the off white, the tan, the old gold and bronze-y browns? They become the work horse of the room in large areas and not over powering. The repetition of them as the base colors pulls the room together. By using the “neutral” in the pillow as background, just like the artist who designed the fabric on the pillow, I was able to repeat their success and have an eye pleasing designed space.

decorated guest room

Let’s go over the process. First identify the characteristics of the space, both good and bad. Get an inspirational piece. (see previous post) Evaluate the colors in your piece. What colors are contrasting? What colors are neutrals? What colors combos can be used to highlight elements? What colors can be used as supporting colors? What colors can be backdrop colors that will allow the others to shine?

Take your piece to get paint chip and verify colors in your own home. Now armed with paint chips you can shop your house and stores. Pick up paint for walls and any furniture makeover projects. Start throwing it together.


Do you want another post of the details of the room and color? Well too bad for you guys who don’t. 😉 We are this far in the weeds, we might as well look down at them in detail. Next week: details and colors, and more on “why they work even if they don’t match perfect?” and “bring it further together”.

Hey, do something unexpected this week and lighten up the corners of your mouth.


pinnable photo for pinerest

4 thoughts on “color theory: how to put that inspiration piece to work

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