Finding the right combination of warm and cool color accents within your space can be just the thing to make your design temperature rise

For many people, accessorizing seems to be the hardest part of decorating. You’ve got your large elements like flooring, furniture and window treatments in, but what accents do you add to turn your room into something that looks like it’s from a magazine?

A very basic tip is to stay within your color temperatures. Staying within a warm color palette or a cool one gives the room a directional statement that helps pull it together. Designers know how to mix warm and cool colors seamlessly. And for those of you with mixed warm-cool rooms who want to go more in one direction, I’ve got some tips that will help. But first I want to give you some ideas on how to stay in one color temperature.


When I designed our showroom, I created a warm and a cool accessories wall to illustrate color temperatures for customers. Can you tell which is the warm and which is the cool wall? Here’s a hint: Do you remember over the holidays, I told you that the glisten of gold reminds me of the warmth of family and Christmas, and the cool shimmer of silver makes me think of New Year’s celebrations?

Keep these concepts in mind as you’re accessorizing. If you’re going for a cozy, romantic, inviting space, and like many people you already have neutrals such as a brown sofa or beige carpeting, you’ve got the basics for a warm palette. Now you want to look for rugs, pillows, artwork, lamps and other accents that have browns and other earth tones, oranges and reds, some golds or hammered dark metals and wood tones.


Obviously there are other principles that add to the equation, such as decorating styles and scale and proportion, but we’re just talking temperature here.

For cool spaces, the same principles apply. Cool palettes feature whites, silvers, charcoals and cool hues of colors. What’s a cool version of red? Pink! Cool versions of green include mint and sage. Lavender is cool, so is glacier blue. All these colors help a room look contemporary and more spacious.

Now, many of you already have large, warm, neutral elements in your rooms but want to tie in more cool, contemporary elements. Here are some tricks for seamless transitions.

If you have flooring that’s rich and warm in tone, and you want to go cooler without the hassle and expense of changing out the floors, look for an area rug with a modern element and some cooler grays and greens.


Then perhaps find a chair with a reclaimed gray wash tone and place the legs on both the floor and rug. Area rugs can be great this way because they help transition the floor with different new elements that can go on top.

If you want to go more modern and cool in your window treatments, try pulling in some silvery grays and golds, which is a hot combination. These colors span both cool and warm, so your floors won’t feel out of place.


This trick also works with other types of flooring, like terra cotta or tile. Find the right transitional rug, perhaps a piece of furniture to sit on top, then tie in the window treatments.

And don’t be scared of window treatments! They don’t have to be expensive. You can get ready-made drapery panels and all kinds of options at discount stores. And remember, these don’t have to cover the entire window. They can hang at the sides just to tie in a color, texture or pattern.

Other quick transitional tips: If you want to bring in a warm Asian, Mediterranean or island feel, decorative mirrors are great. Look for one that has interesting lines and weathered gold or hammered bronze or dark woods.

Your large furniture pieces? You can transition from warm to cool by re-upholstering or simply adding throw pillows to bring in warmth or coolness.

Whatever you already have, and whichever direction you want to go in, you’re not stuck. It’s like six degrees of separation: You can’t make a leap. But if you can find something in the middle that will help old and new, warm and cool elements make sense, that’s the key to your design.

Cathy Lee is president and designer of Cathy Lee Style and Cathy’s Marketplace. She recently opened reStyle Hawaii, an affordable, style-conscious consignment warehouse with upholstering and repurposing services at 420 Keawe St. To find out more, go to