Yellow is the happy colour of the spectrum. Uplifting and bright, this colour evokes images of beautiful sunflowers, bobbing heads turned towards the sun and brings warmth to all it touches. Good news for those of you who profess to love yellow as it is purported that this beautiful bright colour is liked by intelligent people who appreciate innovation and originality. 2021 sees it playing a starring role as Pantone's colour of the year, complemented by grey. Let me show you how to use yellow in your home here.
Yellow can however be one of the trickiest colours to get right in an interior scheme as its chroma (brightness) level is so high and in large amounts, particularly with a fair degree of natural light, can be quite overwhelming.
My favourite way therefore to add yellow to an interior is as an accent colour – remember the old adage that less is more? Well, this definitely applies here! A touch of yellow brings an uplifting and quite stunning element to a neutral scheme that no other colour can achieve. The good news is too that cool, fresh yellow is on trend at the moment so there are lots of lamps, cushions and throws in this colour.
Yellow goes with:
The classic partnership is with white and this dates back to the Regency era in England during the 19th century. Regency Yellow was seen as a very daring choice for interiors and if you used it, you were a trailblazer at the time.
This image of yellow and white striped wallpaper is from a Florence Broadhurst design, Smudge Stripe, in a custom colour, hand printed in Signature Prints’ studio in Sydney. Rather than a solid stripe, the edges of the yellow are softened with white making this very easy to live with. This style is particularly suited to period homes and works well in small amounts.
A modern partnership is to use yellow with grey, the neutral of the moment.
As a real lemon cuts through oily food and makes a great accompaniment to fish, the colour lemon – or in posh circles, Citron – has the same effect on grey. It truly makes it come alive and I must say that this bedroom is one of my all time favourites – a really beautiful bedroom that I think you would agree, would be quite flat without these bright accessories.
A classic colour combination is yellow and navy blue.
Dark navy is a great alternative neutral colour. Where black is too strong, or grey, too flat, Navy Blue works really well. It's interesting to see one of the darkest colours partnered with the brightest and I think it offers a really classy look that is timeless.
The richness of a natural dark timber floor works well with this colour as it provides an effective tonal contrast that would not be achieved with a lighter more yellowish tone of timber. This is important as these colours together can really be quite sickly and one of the tricks of using a strong bright colour is to also employ strong tonal variation.
Using Yellow for walls
I have recommended that yellow be used as an accent, due to its brightness, but it can be used on walls if you follow these rules:
- Choose a yellow that is muted. Yellows made from natural pigments are more successful for walls than those from the mainstream paint suppliers so look for companies that hand make paints in a traditional manner. This way you achieve a colour that has beautiful depth without being glaringly bright and overwhelming.
- A yellow with some white will produce a creamy colour that gives you the warmth and the sunny mood without the brightness.
- Traditional ochre is a gorgeous natural yellow and although not as uplifting, it still gives you a lovely comfortable and warm environment.
- If you do want to use this colour on a wall then think about adding texture. Wall panelling is great to offset a bright colour, either inside or outside, as the natural shadow lines break up the brightness and you can get away with far more than if you were painting a plain surface. The image above from Ralph Lauren demonstrates this perfectly and the strong contrast of the dark timber for both the flooring and furniture helps to pull this look together.
If you have a space in your home that is low on sunlight and needs a welcoming colour then you could consider using India Yellow. There is a myth that this colour originally came from a pigment collected from cow's urine and was due to their diet solely of mango leaves. This has been disputed and although a great story, I am not sure how true it is! Today India Yellow is achieved with a pigment that has touches of burnt orange and is a lovely warm and mellow yellow that is muted and perfect for walls. Farrow & Ball has a lovely India Yellow which is shown below:
A great way to introduce yellow into a colour scheme is to paint a piece of furniture. Chalk Paints are perfect for this look as again, being traditionally made, their pigments are natural and the brightness just seems to work. Annie Sloan's yellow sideboard demonstrates this point really well with this very cool, almost green yellow.
I love to put colour palettes together from nature and this one demonstrates a lovely range of yellows from a warm, almost orange yellow to a cooler, crisper one and a lovely soft creamy example that could be used for walls in a room that craves light and warmth. Gorgeous stone neutrals and natural greens are fantastic partners to this bright and happy colour range and create a beautiful natural feel. I have a few examples below of this colour scheme.
This bedroom demonstrates how well this palette works together:
For a more traditional country cottage look, this image from Morris & Co is another great example of this natural colour palette.
To complement the Greenery trend. Funky yellow chairs work really well with this beautiful natural palette.
So, whether your style is contemporary or traditional, you can see that yellow really does work beautifully in interior schemes. Partnered with its related colour, green for a classic feel or with grey for a very modern look, it can really bring a room to life. Remember when you are looking for the perfect colour that they can always look sharp and bright or soft and mellow – it is just a case of choosing the right one for your room and style.
Pastel hues are also gaining in popularity so if you like a touch of yellow but find it too bright, then select more of a pastel tone. These work so well as they contain a large degree of white – the more you add – the easier the colour is to match with others.
Related: How to decorate with pastels
Are you putting together an interior scheme but not sure where to start? Start with a mood board with all your ideas to get some focus and ensure that you stay on track. I have a free e-book on how to put together a mood board in my Free Resources Library. You can sign up for free here.
If you have enjoyed this article but want to find out more about using this colour, you may be interested in an article that I wrote for Modern Home magazine about partnering this uplifting hue with black, white and grey.
If you love yellow, you should also read my feature from Modern Home Magazine – Sunny Disposition.
I also have a post on how to find the right neutral grey too. If you are building, renovating or even undertaking a weekend decorating project, my Free Resource Library will be able to help you with lots of free e-books and checklists.
10 thoughts on “Let me show you how to use Yellow”
I have a duck egg blue sofa and a light grey rug. What colour should I paint the walls
Hi Yolanda I would take my cue from the light grey rug and find a colour that works with this – perhaps a soft grey that is just a touch lighter than the rug. Place a painted A4 sample behind the sofa to get an idea of whether you like it or not. Hope this gives you a starting point! Samantha
I would like to paint the TV wall two tone, a darker grey on the bottom section which will house a black floating entertainment unit and mustard on the top half of the wall which will include the wall mounted TV and a long wall mounted cupboard in white matte finish. Will this combination work?
Hi Sue I love mustard tones but they can be tricky to get right. The key is to have enough depth and a touch of grey so that they are not bright, light or garish. Also consider your dark grey colour as all with have an underlying colour – green, blue, brown etc. and will create different effects with the mustard. Ensure you try out large samples of both – preferably on large pieces of card that you can move around and place next to each other on the wall. This is the best way to see whether you like the final look. Don’t be put off – beautiful rich colour is great for walls – we are using far too many neutrals – but just try them out together before committing. Good luck Samantha
Hi Samantha. I need guidance with my master bedroom colours please. We have a very old house in the coastal city of Bunbury WA – enclosed front verandah, central hallway leading to the dining room and rooms coming off these. In the hall and dining room the floors are wide (17cm) jarrah, the ceilings are oiled pine and the walls are a golden yellow (Caribbean Gold). We’re now renovating the bedroom – wide jarrah floorboards, western red cedar ceiling, 3 metre high walls with wide (17cm) skirtings and window architrave. I’ve painted the 140cm high timber panelling and skirting in the hall with Dulux Beige Royal. The colour looks dark on the colour card but lighter in our house. I thought of continuing the beige into the bedroom walls with lighter skirtings but now have second thoughts. What do you suggest? A lighter tone of the beige for the skirtings or a white? Although I like the beige royal skirtings etc with the yellow I don’t mind repainting them to match the bedroom skirtings and perhaps a white would be more of a contrast? And it doesn’t have to be beige royal walls – I can repaint the bottom part of the hall. Once I’ve chosen the bedroom colours I’d like to use them, or tones of them, in the other rooms off the hall and dining area. I’ve just reread – it’s nearly a short story! Hope you can make some sense out of it and can offer some suggestions.
Hi Lorraine your house sounds amazing. I like Beige Royal with the redness of the timber in your house but if you wanted a subtle change you could sample White Duck which is a touch greener – although certainly not a green by any means – and therefore a lovely foil to the red. In terms of whether you paint the skirtings in a contrasting tone you need to consider the visual effect that this will achieve. By painting the skirtings the same tone you extend the wall but as you have very high ceilings you can afford to cut them down a little. A crisper white skirting will define the edge of the room more and make the wall tone appear darker. A quarter strength of the wall colour would work really well and avoid the possibility of different undertones. Dulux Candlebark is a slightly darker version of Beige Royal and Dulux Apparition is a slightly darker tone of White Duck – vary from quarter strength through and play with the amount of light in each bedroom to see the effect. So consider the visual effect when thinking whether you want a contrast or not – there is no right or wrong just a different appearance. Hope this helps – it sounds like a big painting job! Samantha
Hi again Samantha. Thank you so much for your suggestions, they are much appreciated. I do like the idea of lighter skirtings so will try samples of the colours you’ve mentioned. Here is another query if you don’t mind. My yellow dining room connects to the kitchen via a large wall opening and the kitchen is ( don’t have a fright …..and you know I like colour)..painted burgundy (Moroccan Leather). There isn’t very much burgundy – one short wall, fire place surround and just above a window. The rest is off white cupboards, grey and white marbly tiles. Do you know if one of the four colours ( White Duck, Apparition, Candlebark or Beige Royal) in particular would suit as skirtings etc for full strength Beige Royal, Caribbean Gold and Moroccan Leather walls? Then I can have all skirtings and trims in the house the same colour. Or shall I play with all colours? Again, thank you for guidance.
Hi Lorraine These neutrals are all so close that it is going to be a matter of the light you receive and how you feel about them when you try them out – hopefully you have the samples now. You are definitely on the right track though with finding just one off white – Dulux Beige Royal Quarter or Dulux White Duck quarter as the connecting trim colour so it really depends on which one suits your house – Rich Burgundy is a lovely colour and I think so right for your house too by the sounds of it. Samantha
Hi again Samantha
Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your expertise – your advice was brilliant and we’ re very happy with the results. I thought I’d give you an update:- I used Dulux Beige Royal on the walls and D Beige Royal Quarter on the trims and skirtings. We also had our laundry and toilet gutted and renewed and I continued with the same Beige Royal Quarter trims and put the same colour on the walls, but with a different sheen. It worked.
Now we’re into the lounge room. (3 metre walls, dark jarrah floor boards and high dark wooden book shelves along one wall) I’m keeping with the same Beige walls and Beige Royal Quarter trims but would like to try the Quarter but in a flat finish for the ceiling. Do you think that would work or do you think white would be a better choice for the ceiling? Cheers
Hi Lorraine Thanks for getting in touch again and letting me know how you went – it’s really good to hear and I’m glad you like the colour. My preference is always to have the quarter strength on the ceilings rather than white – so I think this is the way to go – you don’t see as much of the colour though on the walls when it isn’t against the crisp white ceiling but it does give a very cohesive look – sounds like you’re almost finished now! Samantha