Skip to main content
Advice for DesignersAdvice for HomeownersColour lessonDecorating Advice

Got Inspiration? 10 Steps to Create the Rest of the Room

By 07/01/2014February 21st, 201736 Comments

A reader recently asked me if this piece of art (below) could be used as a jumping off point for a colour scheme in a living/dining/kitchen area.

First. This is exactly what y’all should be doing. Most people think:

“Once I get the wall colour nailed down, I’ll be able to breathe,” but as I’ve said — numerous times before — doing it that way is backwards.

Can it be done? Yes. But you’ll find it hard to get excited about random colours you’ve selected to paint your empty room/house.

And of course if you’re renovating your house, for most people, the last thing on your mind is the new furniture you’ll buy at the end.


However, if you are in the fortunate position of already having SOMETHING you’d like to build your colour scheme around, then follow these steps to get it right:

1. Start with a pattern, a piece of art, anything that makes you happy when you look at it.

To start a colour scheme for a living room, I have sourced pillows first and I have also sourced area rugs first. I have found that it’s easier to choose the throw pillow fabric first. You can also go more solid or calm on the floor if you can’t find the area rug AFTER you’ve chosen pillow fabric but there are still soooo many options for area rugs that, in my experience it’s harder to commit to that option first.

Does everything have to exactly match your inspiration piece? No. But it should look good with it

2. Find the throw pillow/toss cushion fabric.



3. Find a coordinating pattern. 

pillow cover

4. Choose a solid in the brightest colour (if you like it).

colour blocking


5. If you have white in the fabric, add a white pillow or two.

White Pillow

6. Then find the undertone of the neutral in the pillow that has it and that’s your sofa colour.

It’s always looks better if the neutral in your major soft furnishings is repeated SOMEWHERE in your accessories, throw pillows, or area rug.

It’s odd if you have a random pink-beige, green-gray, yellow-beige (or whatever) in the room either in an area rug or sofa and that’s the ONLY place you can find the colour.

Blackwell Sofa

 Or better yet, go with a colour (below).

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 8.31.16 PM

1137 P&L Postal Blue

7. Then choose a colour from your inspiration piece for the chairs.

Or it could be white if it’s in your colours scheme and you don’t have kids, pets, a life — just kidding ; ) ; ).

Lars Chair

8. Now you’re ready to choose an area rug.

 Area rugShown for colour ONLY (Should be a wool rug)

9. Now that you’ve got the basics, pillows, furniture and an area rug, you can choose colours:

Choose the undertone of the neutral as your main colour. This pretty greige can be found as a large sample in my set of Sherwin-Williams, 25 Essential Colours in Grays & Whites here.

This way, you can hold the sample behind your furniture first to make sure you’ve chosen the right colour.

Incredible White SW

SW 7028 Incredible White

10. Now you can choose a blue from your palette for your master bedroom or a darker navy for the dining room.

Obviously, there are literally hundreds of ways to choose a colour scheme for a living room but this is a simple way to save you from just showing up in one store and buying an entire matched set — don’t do it!

What have you found that works for you?

Related posts:

6 Ways to Choose the Perfect, Neutral Paint Colour

4 Best Colours to Paint a Rental

How to Pick Paint Colours with Confidence (How I chose my Mom’s colour scheme.)

If you would like help creating a palette for your home, become a client. Online or In-person.

Download my eBookHow to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

And, if you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert.

7 pins


  • Maria Pereira says:

    Maria, when you say “better yet, go with a colour”, are you saying to go with a colour sofa as opposed to a neutral one?

  • Rebecca Jones says:

    Hi Maria, Thank you for writing this it very helpful. It really puts things in perspective. Could you tell me the name/artist of the picture. I love it! I would enjoy seeing the room when it is finished. I hope she sends you a picture

  • Diane says:

    Maria, how does the pillow thing apply to leather? We recently purchased two(yes two) brown leather reclining sofas(Dallas is style name) from Gardner White furniture. They are traditional with rolled arms and nail head trim, yet casual looking. We have a large family room and I can’t even choose a flooring color, because the sofas have a orangeish, peachy, or reddish undertone going on. The top stitching is a similar color, mostly subtle orange. I like blue green colors and my only start is a throw I bought last winter in that color. We need a vinyl plank wood look-alike, bamboo, or perhaps porcelain floor, as the room is on a cement slab and wood and laminate are out( my husband dislikes noise with walking on laminate). I have some pillows with the accent color, but they have an off white background that isn’t white, beige, or yellow. Should I look for some new pillows first? I am thinking of wall color for a north exposure that has a nice big window and a smaller one. I would like a colorful area rug, but read your comments on choosing such a rug with some of the furniture color in it(or was it just something in the room with that color)? I don’t want wall to wall carpet again and a rug to match a floor isn’t making it come together, either. I am not sure if my wall color will end up neutral gray. The furniture site has a peachy beige color on the wall and that wouldn’t be my choice. I’d go with a bold color in my blue greens, leaning to the warm side before that. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I would be careful about vinyl plank, wood look alike flooring. It’s the same repeat over, and over and over again. I haven’t seen that much of it but what I saw wasn’t good.

      Yes start with the pillows. And you don’t have to match the leather because it’s solid. Maria

      • Diane says:


        Thanks for the advice. Your decorating advice has certainly helped me, as I have followed your blog for a few years.

        • megeranski says:

          the right underlayment will not have a noise. it is tempting to go on the cheap and save half a penny on that step, but the result is awful. pony up the extra $25 and get the good underlayment.

          ONE problem solved…..

          and, Engineered flooring is not the same as laminate. something to look into 🙂

  • Mary-Illinios says:

    Shopping for a rug is difficult. Most brick & mortar stores near me seldom have rugs I care for. I then resort to shopping on-line. And we all know how that goes. You order it. When it’s delivered it looks different than it did on your computer screen. So you pay to ship it back. And then the process starts again. ARG!!
    It’s easier to shop for pillows. They’re everywhere.
    So I would rather start the process by finding a rug first & getting the hard stuff done & out of the way.

    Speaking of pillow shopping…if you are looking for something with a light background for a white sofa, does the pillow’s background also have to be white? Or can it be an off-white/cream?
    I’ve been shopping for pillow fabric to go with new drapes (Yes, I finally found a drapery fabric) & a lot of the ones with colors that could work have an off-white or cream background.

    • Nancy says:

      Mary, have you checked out FLOR? They have dozens of choices of colors and patterns. Carpets are made from 20″ squares that you put together any way you like. I got free shipping and free return shipping on an exchange. I LOVE what the bright colors do for my family room!

    • KJ says:

      If I buy a rug online, I always find one that comes in multiple sizes. I will buy the smallest size (hopefully it’s 2’x3′ or something) to test the colors/pattern; it’s much easier to handle and cheaper to ship back!

  • Cherie says:

    It makes total sense to choose soft furnishings first from your inspiration piece, whatever it may be, then go to the wall color. I have always bought pillows last, like finding the jewelry to go with an outfit. But I see that you are right. I’ve been enlightened! Good post.

  • Linda Cason says:

    I started with the pillows in my new-to-me home – and it has worked out wonderfully! I replaced the pillows in my office and liked them so much I got the same ones for my home – and the color scheme for everything else really did just fall into place using them as a jumping off point. I opened up the kitchen wall and now the living room walls all the adjoining spaces (kitchen, sunporch, hall) all have complementary hues. I feel soooo happy when I walk in! Next – the master bedroom! Thanks, Maria! I have learned soooo much from you!

  • Jane says:

    Hi Maria, I think it’s great to just artwork as a jumping off point, but how would you do this if it were a colour photograph? I find that harder. Would it be possible for you to post how you would co-ordinate based on a photograph – e.g. a forest or water landscape scene?

  • Wonderful step-by-step advice, Maria. Thank you for writing this!

  • KA says:

    Bookmarking this page for when we do my parents’ living room and bedroom. Mom said Monday that she was going to buy new furniture now that my father got a new tv for Father’s Day.

    When we did my upstairs area, Maria had me look at her pillow choices, and it was pretty fast afterwards to get the rest of the room furnishings. I’ve also finally figured out what I’m doing for my gazillion windows as of yesterday evening. Yay!

  • BillP says:

    I have always thought that art should stand alone. Designing a room around one piece of art has its drawbacks- what do you do when you get a second piece of art? A third? Match subsequent art to the first piece? I believe that it is better to use a rug or fabrics as a room’s inspiration. Otherwise one runs the danger of a boring room.

    • megeranski says:

      agree. but, there’s art and then there’s Art.

      if you really have Art, then it is the only possible starting place. 🙂

      (the word ‘art’ can be bandied about to mean any ol’ thing stuck up on a wall. which, as you say, can and does change)

  • Sheila says:

    How many pillows of the same fabric should you have? For instance, should you have 2 pillows of the same fabric at each end of the sofa? Or should all pillows be different?

    • Maria Killam says:

      I think two of the same pillow should be the most but even then you’d break that room on a sectional for example. There isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you found 4 different pillows that all worked together that would be pretty too.

  • sandyc says:

    That’s a neat piece of art your reader has, Maria. I’d love to work with it and I definitely want to see the final project.

    I think you make it clear that starting with a piece of art isn’t the only way to go (obviously not if you don’t have one) but rather starting with anything you have that you love. It could be a piece of art for one, a favorite rug for another. I think it all depends on where you’re starting from. My beloved aspens painting over the couch was my inspiration for my LR/office and apparently your reader has a perfect piece as well. But In my bedrooms, I took different directions – the master BR has many of my cat pictures including my large orange kitty Prudence who didn’t work over the bed but demanded a spot in the room – made me put on my thinking cap. In the guest BR, an antique blue secretary which was the “wrong” color ended up being the key piece after I found an inspiration photo using versions of that color and then realized that a favorite poster due to be reframed had all the right colors and then I found chair cushions and… and… and…- I’m delighted with the way the room came out and, even though I haven’t yet painted the walls, deciding on the color was a breeze.

  • Livia says:

    This is great Maria. I heard this in your course, I took my own notes, but I feel spoiled to have it written by you now in one place. Thank you.

  • Kathi says:

    Thanks for the great post,Maria-I have been reading it over and over to make sure i understand it correctly.I just found 3 pillows that i loved ( Ivory ikat with bronze and gray) to go on an ivory couch,plus a new bronze color natural fiber rug – gray paint on the walls that match the gray in the pillows-its all just unfolding naturally,thanks to all of your great decorating tips.Keep em coming! Your the bomb!

  • Adedayo Adeyemi says:

    Your advice is quite interesting , i have had problemswwith coordinating colours for long. I hope to practise this and get used to it.thanks .

  • megeranski says:

    Suggestion — Use Pintrest to collect things you like. Any thing you like. For about 3 or 6 months (longer if you can).

    then squint and see what colors you have chosen again and again and again.

    THERE is probably the best starting point.

    the longer you can do this, the more ‘solid’ your choices are. you’ll learn what resonates.

    i am sillier than most and have been collecting photos for years (long before the internet — oops, showing my age).

    i have edited over the years, and now know what i really really really like, and will continue to like over the decades.

    i have learned to spot instantly only what i like, and without intention, end up with things that go with other things.

    then, as Maria says, picking the wall color is easier. (not easy LOL )

  • Barbara says:

    Wonderful post just want to make sure I understand, the white I choose in fabric that undertone can be the couch and paint color? I could still go with a similar white for the couch as long as it is the same undertone? Thanks

    • Maria Killam says:

      Basically I would keep whites and off-whites together and off-whites and creams together, if you end up with white and cream, repeat them both. That’s a good guideline to follow. Maria

  • Carol J says:

    ‘Or it could be white if it’s in your colours scheme and you don’t have kids, pets, a life — just kidding’

    ha ha, that was funny.

  • Deborah says:

    Maria I work with alot of customer every daya and your advice has been very helpful. This is a great starting off point thank you.
    Diane, If you really want to use a vinyl plank. I have been in the flooring biz forever and the best company for this product is Karndean. Check out a color called Ashland in their Loose lay series. this is our top seller. It is a beautiful gray with hints of beige. Most gray floors I don’t like, but this is one is stunning. Check your area for a retailer. Not only is it beautiful but super easy to install, very durable & waterproof.And no I don’t work for Karndean but in my store it is employee choice.

  • Pamela says:

    Maria, thanks to reading (& re-reading!) your ebook about undertones i successfully chose a wall color for a little house we recently inherited. We live in VERY sunny, sub-tropical South Florida and this little house is on a deeply wooded VERY shady acre by a lake in northern Michigan. Even though I have decorated for 40+ years and used Benjamin Moore paints for over 25 years this was an emormous challenge for me and I was stumped. But after walking through the rooms and listing all the undertones of the fixed things I was able to do it! Thank you so much. The artwork and furniture was my jumping off point. I even took up wallpaper I am dying to use but could clearly see after your book that I would never be happy using it in that house. Sigh. Maybe inside the closet!

  • MARGARET says:

    Thanks Maria! Incredibly helpful!!
    To give credit: Margie Anderson, Sand City, CA, is the artist of the watercolor.

  • Elizabeth UK says:

    Sorry for the late comment but I’m only just catching up with this article. One question I have is what about curtains – where do they fit in?

    I’ve inherited two sets of good quality curtains for my apartment – both different colours and patterns. Should I be treating them like cushions (i.e. using them as a starting point for selecting colours) or more like an area rug (towards the end of the chain?)

Leave a Reply