Some people are afraid of spiders, while others have a fear of flying. In my profession, I tend to meet people who are afraid of color! Surround them with beiges and creams and they are happy, but throw in a little fuchsia or orange, and they practically start hyperventilating.

I experienced this firsthand with my recent clients, Carl and Catherine. The couple had bought a fixer-upper several years ago and spent a lot of time renovating it. They did a great job, but must have used every conceivable shade of white and beige.

The bedroom consisted of tan carpeting, mocha-colored walls and a wall of white closets. Carl and Catherine wanted the bedroom to be a restful oasis that would whisk them away from the chaos of everyday life, but the lack of color made the room feel drab, which can happen when a neutral palette is not used correctly.


They were willing to introduce some color to their space, but were a little nervous. So I geared up to give them a space that united the neutrals they loved with the color they lacked.

People are often afraid to commit to color because they think they will soon grow tired of it. But color mistakes don’t generally happen when people pick the wrong color; they happen when people pick the wrong value (lightness or darkness) of color. When this happens, walls can seem too dark or too light in relation to floors, ceiling or other significant elements.

When designing a room, I like to stick to a 60-30-10 rule. Sixty percent of the room is wall color (which stays neutral); 30 percent is upholstery and drapery (more in the neutral palette); and 10 percent is in the accents (the color). Carl and Catherine’s new bedroom would follow this rule.

I started by replacing the tan carpet with dark-wood engineered flooring and painting three walls in a rich creamy shade. On the fourth wall I used a deep plum, a mid-tone color inspired by nature that acts as a neutral backdrop. This is a great color for anyone who’s a color-phobe.


I positioned the bed against this new accent wall and gave it a linen headboard with nickel-nail-head trim. A neutral duvet with dark accents helped to ground it all. I then flanked the bed with crisp white night tables and silver pendant lights that sparkle against the dark wall.

Across from the bed, I placed a natural-toned wood desk and a hammered silver chair. In a corner, near the desk, I added a gorgeous linen armchair with nickel-nail-head trim for added sparkle.

The wall of white closets was quite a challenge. Carl and Catherine needed the storage, but the six monolithic units in a row really overwhelmed the space. So I left two units on either end and replaced the middle two with a long, low modern dresser that complements the white bedside tables and picks up the wood tones of the flooring.

For additional visual interest, I installed graphics of cherry blossoms on the closet-door panels. Cherry blossoms were the inspiration for this space, after all, and now act as gorgeous works of art.


Carl and Catherine’s fear of color resulted in an ultra-bland bedroom. By introducing the perfect palette, I helped cure their color-phobia and gave them a serene space they will enjoy for years.

Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All.”