Ask Maria: When is There Too Much Colour in a Room?

So, I’m finally ready to ditch the brown “leather” furniture set I bought when I was 24 years old. As you can see, I have a lot of colour in this room already (dark teal, purple, gold, cream, white, brown, light blue, black, etc).

I just purchased the rug through Wayfair and it looked more white in the pictures… but I love it, so I’m choosing to ignore that it doesn’t  match the white stone of the fireplace surround.

My friends (not designers, just know-it-all’s haha)are all telling me to buy 2 charcoal sofas (one for each side of the room). Since I read your blog religiously, I’m weary to purchase charcoal sofas… I would love to instead buy colourful sofas (either purple or blue) but I’m afraid it will be “too much”.

How do I know if I should just stick to a neutral or if I should go for colour? Can you help me with this?

What colour sofas should I buy?

Well first of all, the reason why charcoal is a terrible idea is because there is zero charcoal, nor is there even a stitch of any grey whatsoever, in your carpet.

If you have a carpet that already has 4 or 5 colours in it (in this case yellow beige, pinks, purples, blues, greens), this completely dictates your colour scheme.

If you ADDED charcoal to this particular colour scheme, then the answer would be YES, there’s too much colour in the room.

A colourful sofa, with some bookshelf styling using this inspiration photo (repeating the colours in the rug) which was styled and decorated by one of my True Colour Experts, Jennifer Reynolds!

So first, it was a great idea to choose the area rug first was a great way to create a starting point for this room.

I added a purple sofa with some coordinating throw pillows and a coffee table  (below).

Purple sofa | Tribal Pillow | Pink Pillow | IKAT Pillow | Coffee table

When is there too much colour in a room?

  1. A colour that is considered ‘neutral’ (for example, grey, brown, cream or white) is far from neutral if you install it in a room without that neutral repeated anywhere (just like we’ve just discussed).

In the first image with the brown furniture, the room has suddenly taken on a ‘New area rug, old furniture’ look and feel because there isn’t any brown in the area rug either.

2. When you have a room that has more than three colours in it. That’s when you end up with a look that says bohemian. Nothing wrong with that at all, it’s just the look you’ll have.

I recently had another reader who sent photos of her grey-on-grey living room and said “How can I add colour now that I have purchased a grey sofa, grey chairs and a grey area rug? I LOVE COLOUR.

The problem if you’ve gone this far with choosing neutrals is it starts looking bitty to suddenly start injecting colour only using pillows and accessories (because that’s all you’ve got left). You need to repeat the accent colour in small, medium and large gradations in order to create a finished and layered look.

Over to you my lovelies, I’d love to get your insight.

Why are most people so afraid of choosing a sofa that’s a colour? To have someone say to me “I love colour!” only to turn around and buy EVERYTHING grey just makes me sad.

Why is the default choice usually the trendy neutral of the moment?

If you have an Ask Maria question, clean up your room and take photos without flash and in good natural light. Please note, I’m looking for dilemmas that have not already been covered in the blog ‘What colour should I paint this room’ does not count 🙂 Email your photos here.

If you would like your living room to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door, take advantage of our ‘Get me Started’ eDesign package today!

PS. We’re preparing for Chicago and Dallas, we leave Sunday for two weeks! Dallas is totally sold out with a line up of people on the waiting list but there’s still still time to jump into Chicago, it starts Tuesday. Register here.

Related posts:

Which Colour Sofa Should You Buy?

Why a Colourful Sofa is as Timeless as Subway Tile

3 Ways to Inject Colour Without Going Bohemian

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  1. I love the purple sofa for that room. I think a good sized canvas over the fireplace that picks up the colors in the rug would be good for the space. I am not a fan of the chartreuse accessories but the shelves do need some attention. The inset panels on the cupboards under the shelves seem “busy” in the photos.

    • Hi Stacey, I was not suggesting chartreuse for the shelves, that photo was for styling inspiration. It would be odd to introduce yellow accessories given there are so many colours in the rug to choose from already. Sorry this was not obvious, Maria

  2. This post speaks to me! I was just discussing with my husband about choosing a coloured sofa instead of a ‘neutral’. Great advice Maria! The purple sofa would look so beautiful in that room! I am so thankful for your blog and all the awesome lessons I have learned from you!

  3. I really think a (dark) blue or purple sofa would be very safe! Despite the colorful rug the whole room is pretty subdued compared to the array of colorful bohemian brights I was expecting from such a title on this blog post. But there is pretty much just light gray, cream, and a restful analagous color scheme based on the rug with blue, purple, smidge of pink and green. A few more hits of these colors on the bookshelves would be great and make the whole room feel really intentional. Shouldn’t be too tough – get a not too bright colorful sofa, maybe some light gray chairs with blue/purple/pink/olive cushions and good luck!

  4. I went right to blue since I’m not a big purple fan, but might have a bit in pillows. But that would be for my own space. If clients were purple fans, that’s where we’d head. I like the idea of a darker color to help ground the space (blue or purple) rather than a light color.

  5. I am so excited!!!! I thought of the soft mauve color for the sofa with blue accents too! That would be such a pretty room! I hope she goes with that and sends you a photo to share with all your loyal colour minions.

  6. I think a navy sofa would look great. I know I hesitate to buy color sofas because they are so expensive I want to buy something that will last 20 years and always be in style. Impossible standard I know. But if you did navy sofa and then accents in the light and dark purple, the navy would be a neutral. Just like a nice pair of dark jeans goes with any top.

  7. A colorful sofa would be beautiful. If she loves purple, then the purple sofa, but if she doesn’t really love it, the darker blue from the carpet would be great. Then the pillows to bring in the different colors. I think lavender chairs would be pretty with a darker blue sofa—maybe a stripe, if the background color were right. Then one more accent color from the rug to bring into pillows, styled shelves, maybe a lamp?

    On my monitor, the rug has a lot of pale gray in the background that seems to go with the stone of the fireplace. But the teal paint behind the shelves looks wrong with the rug. It’s not the same as any of the blues. And I don’t care for the dark/light look of the fireplace wall. To me, it would look better if everything were light, with pops of color from coordinated accessories on the shelves. Then the rug and pretty new furniture would stand out in the room, without so much competition.

    But I’m not a decorator.

  8. Hi Maria! I love your suggestions but I think the area rug looks too small for the room. What she could possibly do is use it as a layer over a sisal rug that would go under both sofas. Definitely she needs to re-accessorize the bookcase with pops of color from her area rug. Also instead of two sofas, which would give her possibly too much color for the room, she could use two neutral chairs that repeats the surround color of the fireplace and then bring in some of the pillows that you suggested from the sofa. I like to push and pull colors in a room giving the room balance. Another idea is if she buys two chairs and they are neutral she could use a colorful garden stool as a end table between the chairs. The mantel could use a vase with some greenery in it. Anyway with your suggestions I am sure her room will be lovely and she will be happy every time she walks in. Love these posts!

  9. I like the purple/mauve sofa! I can’t tell from the photo if that is a muted chartreuse in the rug or not but that could look good, too. But then, I like chartreuse. If a sofa would be too much, I could see a patterned chairs in chartreuse, such as a lattice or Moroccan tile with a mostly white background.

    One thing bringing this room down is the size of the furniture. I also live in a small space and know how hard it can be to find sofas and chairs that are comfortable but not too deep, are not overstuffed or have huge arms, and have bare-legs. The style of the sofa Maria shows is perfect.

  10. Hi Maria,

    I agree with Lucy regarding the size of the area rug…..I think it would look great/better over a natural fiber area rug that is custom cut around the fireplace. I also agree about how dark the bookcases look in contrast to the fireplace. As it shows now, it makes the room appear very narrow. Accessories on neutral shelving can tie in the colors used in the room. The purple sofa is an unexpected color and pretty with the blue and pink.

  11. I didn’t know if I was brave enough for a colored sofa. So 3 years ago I found a turquoise blue sofa on Wayfair that was just over $400 delivered. Not only do I love the look, the fabric is great and it is very comfortable. I practically live on that sofa! More importantly, now I have confidence, and in the future will have no problem buying colored sofas. Even if you are one of those people who believes in $5000 sofas, buying a cheap one is a great way to experiment, and you can always sell it to someone else for just about what you paid.

    Personally I have never had a sofa fall apart, and would rather buy cheaper and not feel like I am stuck with something forever. Once I made the mistake of buying high end sofas that could be re-upholstered over and over, but the price to upholster is so ridiculous these days that even the upholsterers said it was stupid. Ended up selling them for close to nothing.

    • Cindi,
      I agree with you all the way! We did a slightly more expensive teal velvet sofa to replace a neutral linen and we love it after also having done the high quality reupholster path…truth is, I like classic but I also like to be able to change up styles a bit too! I like Maria’s advice about choosing a color you absolutely love for your sofa, not forcing yourself into a trend for a longer, happier relationship with said sofa.

  12. Your question: “Why are most people so afraid of choosing a sofa that’s a color?” I think people are afraid of getting a colored sofa because it can be a big purchase (size and money) and they’re afraid that they will tire of the color & it will “lock” them into that color family. This happened to me. The husband & I bought an expensive green leather (bulky) massage chair. At the time I was thinking, “I’ll always love green.” Then, after several years, I no longer enjoyed green & was stuck with it. I found decorating around the green frustrating. It seems easier and cheaper to inject color with pillows, throws, art and accents, rather than something large and expensive like a sofa. So, back at you color expert: How do you know when to take the money/color risk and which purchases?

  13. Looking at the size of the area rug, I would face the sofa to the fireplace and position a chair on either side of the fireplace. Or…move the furniture away from the walls so more is on the rug. I agree with a muted but colourful sofa in whatever colour she wants to pull out of the rug. I would pick a glass top coffee table so as not to hide the pattern in her beautiful carpet.
    There is something off in the cabinets flanking the fireplace. I find the insets dated. The cream colour doesn’t seem to match the washed brick on my monitor.
    A big piece of art over the fireplace picking up the colours in the rug would help make the room more cohesive, as well. Fewer little things on the shelves would also give it a more clean, modern approach.

  14. I love your rug! It is so NOT chevron, gray, or diamond patterned. I like that the coffee table picked by Maria picks up the gold in the cupboards by the fireplace. If you need more seating, how about 2 chairs in the teal blue? I also think that more of brick cream color could show up on the shelves, maybe in a larger dose than is presently there. Maybe paper covered books? Please don’t put anything gray in this room; it doesn’t want to be gray.

  15. Going from all brown furniture to all charcoal grey furniture is not going to update the look of the room. It’s basically just trading one dark neutral for another. The feeling of the room will still be the same. A purple sofa and a couple of navy chairs will make the room come alive.

  16. I love color, but I feel as though a neutral sofa can be styled and restyled around. I would prefer to put color on the walls and keep the most expensive piece/s in the room neutral.

    So. . .I bought an excellent quality pure white, Sunbrella fabric sofa. It can be bleached: says so right on the fabric swatch. I’m not worried about it soiling, and I will have it till I die. One of the reasons to buy a quality sofa is its comfort. Mine is so comfortable, it feels better than my expensive mattress.

    I have pale green/beige chairs in a zebra pattern and a bench/coffee table in a silver grey fabric with a silver metal base.

    It has always been the idea to add blue/purple pillows to the sofa and chairs and on the dining room chairs. There is a greyed out blue/purple on the backs of my bookshelves and blue/purple in the art in the room.

    I never thought that going neutral with the sofa would make the rest of the color in the room seem not integrated. Maria, you have me thinking. . .

    There is pale butter yellow on the walls, in other words, a neutral. Grey/lavender/blue/cream in the lattice rug (it was supposed to be silver and cream but I kept it).

    So the scheme is cream/palest of yellows on the walls, blue/lavender/grey/cream in the rug, white sofa, white woodwork, blue purples in pillows, silver, brown wood end tables.

    I purchased blue/purple silk ikat from Turkey for the pillows, but I haven’t sewn them up yet.

    Have I already made a mistake?

  17. If she doesn’t want more color, what about soft ivory loveseats that would go with the creamy white built ins? I also find the blue paint over the built in cupboards really heavy looking.

    • I love the purple sofa. Although blue is my favorite color I think the blue sofas looked a bit dark. Would your husband feel comfortable with one purple sofa and two chairs in something else. Chairs also give more flexibility for arranging the space.

  18. I love the purple sofa photo.

    I don’t have a sofa, but I purchased two upholstered spicy red recliners. Love them, thanks to my daughter suggesting them (they go with my curtains and other scattered accents).

  19. Answering your question about why not a colour on a sofa (vs trendy neutral): that’s what my husband always wants. I would choose a blue or green or purple, but it scares him so we end up with a more neutral version. I think the purple sofa looks great, above.

  20. I’d suggest a dark blue/navy sofa with that rug. I’d paint the back wall of the bookcase a very light lilac – which is such a trendy color right now but can be easily changed. While you are painting, I’d suggest correcting the paint color of the cabinets by the fireplace, update the door inserts and adding new hardware. The pillows Maria have picked out are so perfect! The combination of colors, patterns, and textures are an expertly chosen assortment. I might add some brass/gold accessories with table lamps and even a glass coffee table. I think the brass might be a way to pick up that yellow/chartreuse color I see in the rug. I prefer to invest in neutrals and add color through accessories.

    • Yes certainly blue is a great option too but as you said the accent walls would need to be re-painted! Maria

  21. I like your recomm, Maria. Your ‘asker’ has not too difficult a task … Just making a commitment. I like the green in the rug – but if the sofas were that green [or 1 green sofa w 2 cream chairs & cushions to link each], would the wall colour need to be lightened?

    Designers seem to love Ikat & I somehow have missed that gene 😉 Looks like rug and furniture placement need to be adjusted also? [Rug right up to fireplace looks odd and furniture up against walls not spatially correct?]

    As always, you give sound advice. Also hope they will send you their after pic!

    • I don’t particularly love it, I chose that pillow because it picked up the blue, purple and green which is hard to do with an off-the-shelf cushion. Maria

  22. If someone picks a colored couch then they have dedicated to having that color in the room “forever”. In the region I’m in, folks don’t get rid of couches very much. So it’s a purchase of decades & thus accessorizing with color as styles change makes more sense to most people.

    I’ve always had colored couches, usually multiple colors in the upholstery, but they are also thrift store couches so it was safer cost wise and to be honest, I never would have found any of them had I been walking retail stores $40 for less. I have my first neutral couch right now & I have a deep colored blanket covering the cushions for depth(and cleaning with kids is much easier). I thought about this couch for three days before I grabbed it, I hesitated due to the lack of strong color…… it’s a creamy very light brown with a weird mild pink undertone but it makes my buns & aging bones so happy that I’ll probably keep it until wear and tear from kids/dogs start show. It’s an Ethan Allen so it’ll probably last 10 years.

    • Btw, i say 10 years because it’s used. I think it’s already 12 years old and only a solid couch would last so long in a bustling cottage like my little house based on the performance of past couches. And the last kid to move out is still a little cherub, so far this last kiddo is many times rougher on everything then all previous ones combined.
      The previous couch died because kiddo noticed a thread and very quietly pulled it while i was folding/putting away laundry in the other room thinking the movie on the tv was being watched…. that very long thread was a major seam to the cushion… the surviving cushions are now very nice looking dog beds(and working very well that way).

    • Then why does everyone paint their kitchen grey. . .that’s waaaaaay more permanent than a sofa? This is what I’d like to know. Maria

  23. Love the rug. The furniture layout/rug size is bugging me too. I wonder of rotating the rug 90 degrees might help? Could put the new sofa on one end – and move the furniture off the walls a bit. Love Maria’s choice of sofa, pillows, coffee table.

  24. I think most people pick the safe neutral sofa because that’s primarily what’s available at big box stores. it’s cheaper to manufacture thousands of beige or grey sofas. If you want a certain color you have to go custom most times. And that can be expensive.
    I also agree with Kay, the teal behind the bookcases looks wrong with the new rug. But that’s an easy fix. A bit of repainting in a shade of blue pulled from the rug will make the room look more finished.
    Can I also suggest pulling the furniture away from the walls & toward the center of the room? And once the coffee table is in place, it will be more inviting. Now it looks like you have to yell to the other side of the room to be heard.
    I love the way Ms Reynolds styled her shelves. Bringing her accent color up onto the shelves & playing with scale, they look very interesting. It draws you in so you want to take a closer look.

  25. I would paint the walls,cabinetry,wood shelving etc. white. Then add in some accessories to place on the shelving that would tie in with the new sofa and pillows Maria has chosen. I love what you’ve suggested Maria and I don’t think you could get it better than that. Amazing actually! This room would look so fresh and clean and the rug would finally look like the feature that it is. Well done once again Maria!!!!

  26. I like the purple couch a lot! I would choose to go with a white sofa, in a tone from the area carpet, or blue sofas, again picking up the blue from the carpet, but then repaint the shelf walls. On on a completely picky note, to the reader who wrote in, I am truly weary of seeing the word weary used when people mean leery, or wary. ?

  27. Hi Jessica, If your husband prefers the blue and you don’t hate it, then use blue and make him happy. Purple, IMO, is sliding into the realm of pink which makes most men uncomfortable when used in a public space. Plus blue is a “classic” color that never really goes out of style. You can always accessorize with some purple which I suspect you will tire of before either of you tire of the blue.

    As far as the rug goes, I agree with several other commentors, it needs to be turned 90 degrees. Interesting color choices which should make you happy for at least another 10 years ~ maybe longer!

  28. Maria Killam

    I love your blog & have been reading for long time
    My concern its showing Not Secure on my computer ???
    This kept me from sending for the free paint color list.

    • Hi Ann, I asked my web guy about this and he says it’s a free report and that’s why it says that. If you were to buy something, our site is secure. Hope that helps, Thanks for following me, Maria