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While grey is still dominating the colour design trends, you may have purchased a charcoal sofa or a grey couch. Most people see grey as a neutral, but you may be wondering what colours go with a grey sofa. And if all this grey is making your room feel blah, here’s how to fix it with my top 4 ways to decorate around your charcoal sofa.

Today’s post is about decorating with charcoal, really important to know since it’s such a popular neutral right now!

If you have a charcoal sofa or a grey couch — just like during the brown trend, when most neutral-loving shoppers purchased a brown one — it’s time for me to help you bring this colour to life.


Because a room done entirely in charcoals and greys without a ton of white and light floors to complete the picture is not a happy room at all.

I would rather that you paint your walls charcoal and choose a sofa in your favourite colour, like this yellow one:

Interior Design by Maria Killam

But if you already have a grey sofa or couch and you’re worried that it’s making your living room feel cold, I’m going to show you right now how to fix it.

I predict yellow will eventually be back in full force, just like it was before the brown trend when I specified it constantly. For many years now, though, I could probably count on one hand how many people ask me for yellow.

But I’m patient, my lovelies! Just wait, it’s coming!

In the meantime, here’s how to decorate around your charcoal sofa:

1. Balance the Accent Colour

You need three gradations of an accent colour when you’re decorating. This means a room that looks the most pulled together has small, medium, and large gradations of the colour.

The living room below is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. There’s simply way too much grey, it makes the bitty red pillows look like a complete afterthought.

It’s a pretty room, but I would have replaced the red pillows with white ones and layered a black-and-white zebra rug on the floor to repeat the white and keep this palette monochromatic.

{via Pinterest}

In this room, the small yellow can be found in the paintings, the medium in the throw pillows, and the large in the area rug:

 Susan Hargraves

Here’s Charcoal plus pink reapeated in the pillows, lamps and artwork.


Pink + Grey. {Cullman Kravis}

Read more: Here’s another client example where we transformed her charcoal sofa with colour

2. Introduce natural tones into your home decor

House & Home

Here in this living room (above), the pillows, artwork, and greens on the coffee table provide the small accent; the chairs provide the medium accent; and the grey-green fireplace provide the large accent:

Also, the sisal area rug reads neutral here, and  adds much needed warmth. If the room had a charcoal and white area rug, it would look less coordinated and intentional.

3. Try Colour Blocking Instead of Adding Tiny Colours Around the Room

charcoalandgreen{via Pinterest}

Here, we have a charcoal/black sofa with two green chairs. There’s visually almost as much green in this room as charcoal, I did the same thing with the yellow and pink in my living room (below) by just keeping the raspberry in the drapery.


Interior Design by Maria Killam

That’s it.

So, your decorating colour palette looks colour blocked instead of bitty and choppy.

There’s a bigger commitment to colour in both rooms. The green chairs in the first image and the raspberry drapes in mine.

4. Your Walls Can Be Colourful or Pale -OR- Your Floors Should Be Light 

If you start searching for magazine photos of charcoal or black sofas, you won’t find one in Veranda or House Beautiful (for example) without the contrast of lighter walls, floors or the addition of coloured walls over charcoal paint. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean.


Here the walls are colourful instead of grey. {HousetoHome}



If it’s too late to install light floors, chose a light area rug like this one {via Better Homes & Gardens}

BONUS TIP: You Are Not the Exception

It’s a rare space that works in entirely charcoal on charcoal without a lot of white, perhaps lots of big windows, etc, so just know that if you do choose a charcoal sofa, that is pretty much the end of your charcoal quota.

Most people think that buying a neutral sofa will give them the most flexibility just by changing out pillows. But the problem with that is that the room will still not look finished as I’ve just shown you.

When clients tell me that they get bored easily and like to switch things up, it usually means they have never felt like the room had a look and a feel, so they constantly feel like it needs ‘freshening.’

Now, this is not true for everyone, but in my experience, that is usually what’s missing.

Atmosphere is created with lighting first, then the decorating, and finally with the correct wall colour. You need all three for your room to come alive.

If you’d like to transform the way you see colour. You can register here.

Susan Hargraves attended my Specify Colour with Confidence™ Academy two years ago, and this is what she said:

“What Maria Killam doesn’t know about colour, no one needs to know! In fact, after taking her True Colour Expert training a few years ago, following her blog and reading all of her books, I’m not sure there is anything Maria doesn’t know about colour!!!

And here’s the best part: everything she knows, she shares, making you an expert too. Although I have always had a flair and passion for colour, before taking Maria’s training I entered colour consults with a bit of fear and trepidation, not sure if the “magic” would always be there, or if it might lead to some colossal mistakes.

Maria’s systematic approach gave me a “can’t fail” framework that made me a more confident and competent designer. If you’re interested in working with colour, do yourself a huge favour and take Maria’s training.”


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  • Lorri says:

    I love that you showed what happens when everything is the room is neutral and only the pillows have color. Nothing. 😉

    I’ve done the neutral sofa thing before and I’ve since sworn off neutral upholstery. It’s lacking a freshness I crave. My new sofa is pale green and I feel so much better.

    That said, I still have a neutral sofa in a TV room downstairs and have to work harder to add enough color in the room to make it look finished – just as you pointed out.

  • Kim M. says:

    This was an AWESOME post, Maria! All the photos illustrated your points beautifully and made it easy to understand. I’m still in love with your yellow and raspberry LR! My other fave in the above pics is the one with the charcoal/black sofa and 2 emerald green chairs.

  • Jillian says:

    Great points I love this posts, now it explains the “why” of why something looks good to my eyes in how a room is done. However to me charcoal feels dated already! I see it everywhere I already feel it’s been overdone! I still love very light grey for walls so you can use lots of color. I am already wondering what the next BIG color will be, I know navy is very “in” right now, but Maria do you think it will be big beyond just this year? I like how you showed your beautiful living/ dining room in this post because when you look at all the photos EVERY single one will seem very dated in 5 or more years- EXCEPT Maria’s!! Your happy colors like you used in your room really will never go out of style 🙂 Your room will not date like the others since no charcoal was used as a major color (stripes on the chair don’t count because it’s a small amount and looks great 🙂 But so nice to see a beautiful room without grey rugs and grey sofa! Looks so much better without it! Your room looks timeless to me!

  • Phyllis E. says:

    I don’t have a charcoal sofa but found this post very interesting and useful; I can see the applications to other situations. I would love to read more “how to decorate around…” type posts like this. One on my personal wish list would be “How to decorate around a brick fireplace or wall (when you like the color and texture too much to paint it, LOL) ”
    Thanks for another great post, Maria!

  • Phyllis E. says:

    I have a question regarding the photo with the green chairs. If you did add green pillows, could you then add a third green element to make it work under the “balance the accents” category? Would the chairs then be considered large or medium accents?
    Just wondering. Thanks.

    • Kay says:

      I have the same question. If I’m understanding correctly, you have to either use large blocks of color, in which case the two green chairs constitute a block, or you need large, medium, and small doses of an accent color.

      • Maria Killam says:

        Well you need small, medium and large UNLESS you choose to colour block instead. And the black sofa is like a colour. If you had an entirely beige-on-beige room and suddenly you had 2 green chairs or raspberry drapes, that would look odd. So the balance of strong colour should be similar too.

      • Phyllis E. says:

        Would choosing color around a terra-cotta or red brick fireplace be different in concept than working around a stone fireplace since most stone is pretty neutral toned and most brick is a strong color (or would you consider it a neutral?) Would you suggest using the same strategies as you suggest above for decorating around a charcoal sofa? (Or do those mainly work when you are working around an item that is in the neutral color family? )

  • Darlene says:

    OOOH amazing advice for the monochromatic room above, and it can be adapted to other styles as well!!!
    Your pictures really helped explain and drive home your info. So many people need to read this and start layering the colors of their spaces to achieve a more pulled together and completed look. Thanks again, Maria

  • sandyc says:

    Happily, no charcoal sofa for me. In fact, no sofa at all – got a chance to rehome the queen sleeper that was too wide, too deep and too low and crowded my room. Was planning to get a new one once I re-floored but have since decided I don’t need or want one and having a lot of fun thinking outside the box for my LR. Some great tips for using accent color. I agree with Jillian – your LR is timeless but I think it’s so much because you practice what you preach and promise – it surely makes you smile every time you walk in and that’s the real test.

    I love what Susan did with yellow in that room – gorgeous. Particularly intrigued with how that very large pic hanging below the open side table in her vignette would seem way too big for some but is actually perfectly perfect. That shot in my inspiration pix file.

    By the way, I’ll take those two yellow green chairs in the House & Home pic right now.

  • Ellen says:

    Excellent post! The photos were great examples.

  • Janice says:

    Am I the only person subscribed to you who has pets? The little vignette is divine but I picture a cat rolling the little electron looking thing at the bottom of the shelf across the room, finding the green stuff to eat, promptly crawling up into the dinosaurs mouth and dangling from there as they ‘tossed’ the green stuff. Maybe I need some advice about minimalist decorating? 🙂

  • Stacy says:

    Wow, is that dreary in every picture to me. I don’t like charcoal at all, and I have none in my house. I have silver gray carpet and warm light gray paint, which is very airy. Charcoal is so heavy, even with other colors mixed in. It needs some blue to it for me to like it, like a steel gray. And for me, a room isn’t a room without some floral print somewhere!

  • Marg says:

    Maria, love this post. It’s so great when you talk about rooms with colour on the walls, not just neutrals. (I LOVE stronger coloured walls – it makes artwork really pop, for one thing) Even better when you show pictures. Thank you!

  • Susan Telfer says:

    I love yellow already!

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Hi Maria,
    I keep reading about layering when decorating. About having a room that looks like it was developed over time. How do you feel about having an item in your space but NOT repeating the color? It’s just another layer to the space.
    Maybe you could a post about it.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Oops…”do a post about it.”

  • Veronica D says:

    Wow Maria!! You just described exactly my feeling for my Family Room in here- “When clients tell me that they get bored easily and like to switch things up, it usually means they have never felt like the room had a look and a feel, so they constantly feel like it needs ‘freshening.’ ” Yes Maria very smart words. I’m finding more my style and working with what I have and perhaps adding a new rug, just to ground everything and finally get the “look” I want. THANK YOU!

  • Betsy OShea says:

    Not feeling charcoal at all! too dark and dreary for my taste. The only room here I like at all is with the emerald green chairs but I can’t see how it would be “wrong” to have other emerald elements…in sofa pillows, art, accessories and definitely plants! In the gray room with red pillows I would make the leather chair red, spray paint the frames red and have a red&charcoal rug. Think monochromatic gray falls too flat. BTW MARIA, cover of Mays House Beautiful has YELLOW. I laughed when I saw it. First time in a very loooong time

    • Kathy says:

      I think reds and grays went out long ago ( just my opinion ) mustard, olives, even light sky blue is a better choice

  • Maureen says:

    Very interesting article. On the subject of sofas, do you have any guidelines for adding a 2nd sofa? I am thinking of replacing my 2 worn club chairs with a 2nd sofa or loveseat. Should I try to match the existing sofa, or not? If not, what should I consider in selecting a color for the 2nd sofa? I read all of your posts and consult your e-book continually, since I am in the process of painting every room in my house. It is a great resource! I don’t make a move without it. Thanks!

    • Maria Killam says:

      If you are going to have the same size sofas in the room they should definitely be the same style and colour. Obviously same goes for a sofa and loveseat. There are probably a few images you can find with ‘coordinating’ double sofas but I wouldn’t go there without working with a designer who has a very specific look and feel. Hope this helps, maria

  • Trish says:

    I love the photos and the advice. We run a home renovations and interior design company and I think an important note to add, is that most people, customers and designers alike, choose neutral furnishings because of the cost effectiveness. The large pieces are investments, and while a lime green sofa maybe your favourite colour choice now, it’s unlikely to remain that way indefinitely. Neutrals are a great backdrop for colour play and allow you to keep from being bored with your room. I disagree that small pops of colour, such as pillows, do nothing for a grey room. Done right, they can be the “wow” factor, just as the drapes were in the above picture.
    In our home own home we painted our floors a dark grey and the walls a light grey, which is another way to balance out a room.

  • Aaron says:

    I’m in LOVE with that wall art in the picture with the dinosaur head (which I am also in LOVE with)….Any idea where I can find both items? They’re a perfect match (and on your advice I decided to go charcoal gray and yellow) and I want the for my home.

  • Lucy HAINES says:

    Fantastic post as usual. Your advice with pictures that relate are priceless. It is like a show and tell class! Your description of large, medium and small is spot on! I like a lot of color and probably the picture that I like best is the gray sectional and yellow pillows. The rug and artwork just pulls it all together and makes a very cohesive room. Susan also did a fantastic job with all of the accessories on her console table. Well done!

    You alway have such informative posts!

  • Kathy says:

    I just bought a gray leather couch an chair…I have oak floors in my living room and want coffee and end tables to off set the gray…My problem is, I don’t want glass and dark colored wood is out! Would a lighter multi shades, pallet looking coffee table go with the gray?? I’m seeing a lot of tables that look like wood grain but madefrom ???

  • DeniseGK says:

    That last bit about people changing things all the time has rung true in my experience. I’m a slow decorator, but once something arrives it’s here to stay for a long time. Since about 2 years after moving in, I have always kept the feel of the rooms the same no matter what state they were in: welcoming and peaceful. That’s all I really care about, as soon as someone steps into my home for the first time I want them to feel like they can take a deep breath and relax. So even when we had a beige couch I married into, I wasn’t shifting it around the room every six months or changing it up with throw pillows for every season of the year. But my dear friends who do change things all the time do describe themselves as people who bore easily with their decor. But what I notice when we aren’t directly talking about it, is that none of them know what they want from their rooms or their home generally. Some have been surprised that I think a home can have it’s own mood and atmosphere, that the atmosphere can be created and stable. They change pillows and artwork and paint and rugs because they don’t ever really feel “at home” and comfortable when they are at home. You can see it by the way they perch on the edge of the couch in the family room. I think if they could get the feel right, they would find that they don’t need to go the Homesense every 2 weeks except for window shopping and exercise and chatting with a friend who’s also there.
    I really really recommend dedicating time to seriously think about what you want your home’s mood and atmosphere to be. Do you want people to be energized as soon as they walk in (including yourself)? Relaxed? Happy? Curious? Something else? I used to think that I wanted people to walk in and immediately “get” me because of all the personal, eclectic stuff I had decorated with. But I never felt comfortable in my own home. Once I realized I actually wanted people to feel welcomed and peaceful, that they could come here for any conversation whether it be happy or sad or fun or serious or uncomfortable, that I just wanted my home not to put people on edge after they arrived with whatever had already happened to them that day bouncing around inside them, it became so much easier to decorate. It became so much easier to say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things in a store.

  • Pallavi says:

    I want to furnish my sunny living room with high ceilings and I want this emerald green couch very much (it’s available in couch 3-seater as well as a loveseat, so I can choose either 1) but I also want a leather reclining furniture too, What are my options?
    SO either a 3-seater emerald couch and a loveseat recliner or a 3-seater reclining couch paired with a loveseat in emerald green?
    Please help – the decorator I hired couldn’t help my case very much as she didn’t do anything with fabric change in a living room setting and didn’t want to take a chance.

  • Jill Kingen says:

    Hello! Great photos. Can you tell me where I can find the gray rug with the fun yellow flowers(?) / circles(?) on it?

    Thank you!


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