How to Use Color in Small Spaces

Color Wheel
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Color WheelColor Basics & Theory

Remember when you got your first box of Crayons? I do. It was a box of 24 and I thought it was the best thing ever!

I created colorful clothes for my paper dolls. I drew pictures and colored them to match whatever my mood was at that particular time. Color was freedom to express myself through my art.

It still is.

The Basics 

We learned these color basics in elementary school and found them in our boxes of crayons.  They’re what we still use to add color in our homes.

  • Primary Colors are yellow, red and blue.
  • Secondary Colors are created by mixing the Primary Colors and they are purple, green, and orange.
  • Tertiary Colors are six colors made by mixing Primary Colors and Secondary Colors to create red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

This video from Better Homes and Gardens illustrates how to choose colors from the color wheel. It’s short but sweet.

Color Theory

Color theory is a set of principles used to create harmonious color combinations pleasing to the eye and senses. It provides us with a common ground for understanding how colors can be used, arranged, coordinated, blended, and related to one another.

Color theory is about why some colors work together aesthetically, while others do not. Thus, it’s about color mixing and the visual effects of color. (Source:

There are warm colors (reds, oranges, and yellows) and cool colors (blues, greens, and purples).  They set the mood for whatever room or space you’re decorating.

What are the rules for using color in small spaces?

There really are no rules, but there are a few guidelines that will help when deciding what colors to paint the walls or to use in your furniture or accessories.

We’re taught that dark or warm colors will make a space appear smaller and light or cool colors will visually expand the space. But that’s not necessarily so! 

Use Color to Create a Focal Point

Remodeling and Home Design

You’ll be able to jazz up a small space with bold or dark colors if you either use the color on a feature wall as a focal point or if you use the color in adjoining rooms.

Contemporary Living Room

Use a Bold Color in Stripes

Photo by – Look for living room design inspiration

Bold stripes on a neutral background is an excellent way to visually expand a room plus it will add a pop of color and draw the eye through the length of the space.

Notice, too, how the designer used four chairs and a round table to define that sitting area. The color of the chairs is echoed in the drapes.

Use the Same Color in Adjoining Rooms

Painting adjoining rooms with the same color will create the illusion of a larger space.  Or try using two or three different shades of the same color.  That’s a great idea regardless of the size of the rooms.  It’s always a good idea to keep the same basic theme throughout the home.

Using the same color in two rooms

Use Bold Colors for Furniture and Accessories

Using bright colors on furniture and accessories in small spaces will give you that pop of color that you desire without making the room seem smaller.

Bold, colorful upholstery, decorator pillows, vases, and drapes are all elements that can be used in small spaces.  Just remember to bring that color into the other rooms in some way, as well.

Notice how these red chairs draw the eye toward the end of the room?  That’s how to visually expand the space with a focal point using bold color.

Colorful chairs in dining area

Get a Punch of Color With Wall Murals and Artwork

Wall Murals and huge pieces of art are available so many places, these days.

I’ve never been brave enough to use wall murals in my decorating but now there are so many removable murals available that I just might give it a go. Because they are often removable, you don’t have to worry about getting in hot water with the landlord if you’re a renter.

This gigantic coral reef mural is available on Amazon (affiliate).  I’d say that’s a heck of a pop of color! They have dozens of them, though, so if this isn’t your style it’s not a problem.

I’d love to put a mural on a tall wall in my master bathroom. If I ever do, I’ll be sure to post it!  I love, love, love this leafy mural that I found on Etsy.

These are all handmade and come in a half-dozen sizes. Here’s what the overview description on Etsy says:

  • Handmade item
  • Materials: Peel and Stick, Environment-Friendly, Vinyl, Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly
  • Made to order
  • Favorited by: 176 people
  • Gift message available

Add Color with Accessories

Pillows, flower arrangements, books, and other collections are a way to use color to tie a room together.

Adding a colorful area rug is a brilliant way to add punch to a room. Besides, rugs are an awesome way to define an area. Like this bright and beautiful rug from Etsy. I love it!

Experiment With Paint Colors

The best way to decide on a paint color for your walls is to purchase the 2-ounce samples that are available at all home improvement stores and paint stores.  You’ll be able to paint an area about 12″ by 24″ which is large enough to tell if it’s really what you thought it would be!

Here’s a fabulous illustration from of how just changing colors will totally transform a room.


Use color in small spaces judiciously but do it your way!

It’s your home and it should reflect your personality.  If your favorite color is purple, by all means, use purple…just maybe not on every wall!

Have you tried a unique way to incorporate color into your small space?  I’d love to hear about your experiences and whether or not this post helped you decide one way or the other so leave a comment if you like.

(Updated 4/09/2019)

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17 thoughts on “How to Use Color in Small Spaces

  1. Wendi@H2OBungalow says:

    Super post! I think many people find downsizing a challenge. After we went through our downsizing and the initial stress of having too much stuff, I’d never go back to a big house. I think having less space is a challenge for many when it comes to decorating and choosing colors that flow well.

    • Cheryl Kohan says:

      I know just what you mean, Wendi. It’s a challenge but so freeing when you actually take the plunge! This is the second time I’ve downsized and I’ve learned so much in the process. And choosing multi-purpose pieces is another great plan. I loved the tutorial you shared on your blog for making the rolling table. I have a rolling coffee table! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Bibian says:

    This is nice!
    Sometimes, people find it difficult to decorate their rooms, it might result into color rioting( wrong combination of colors)..
    But all the pictures here look unique. And looking up to your tips, it will certainly yield a nice result.
    This is really good. It will benefit both the Expert and decorators.

    • CherylK says:

      Thank you! Since I’ve downsized a couple of times, I’ve faced these problems first-hand so that’s why I felt I could help others. Color is such a great and usually inexpensive way to personalize a home. I sure do appreciate your kind comments.

  3. Kerry says:

    Hi Cheryl, I really enjoyed reading your post. It looks great, you have good use of photo’s and some good points. I look forward to reading future posts. I have a small cottage which I am trying to decorate so any help I can get is appreciated, Its kind of hard trying to choose colours and furniture to suit a smaller home. All the best, Kerry

  4. Julie says:

    I live in a small studio apartment that I’m going to renovate in a few weeks – your post has really been helpful in helping me decide what to do with it. I must say that I do love the idea of using bold stripes to make a space seem larger. I’m thinking of painting my walls a muted shade of turquoise and then using gray stripes over a black floor, do you think this would be a good combination? What else would you recommend given the color of my wall? Thank you!

  5. Julie says:

    I live in a small studio apartment that I’m going to renovate in a few weeks – your post has really been helpful in helping me decide what to do with it. I must say that I do love the idea of using bold stripes to make a space seem larger. I’m thinking of painting my walls a muted shade of turquoise and then using gray stripes over a black floor, do you think this would be a good combination? What else would you recommend given the color of my wall? Thank you!

    • CherylK says:

      I think that’s a winning combination, Julie! In fact, I’m redoing my master bedroom with various shades of blue and green. It isn’t finished, yet, so I won’t post a photo but I love those colors, too. You could do the walls the muted turquoise and then bring in bolder shades of turquoise and/or another color as accents.

      Check out my Pinterest board “Home Style” at for some ideas. I also have Ideabooks on Houzz at If you haven’t discovered Houzz, you’re in for a treat!

      I think your studio will be beautiful…I’d love to see photos when you have it completed. And thanks for stopping by!


  6. Boniface says:

    Hi Cheryl,

    Your decor ideas are extremely helpful. The idea of a focal point is likeable. Never thought of it before but now I know better. Your post is helpful.

    The stripes too are a remarkable idea.

    I tend to see glass and mirrors seem to virtually increase space in small rooms. Kindly let me know, what place does glass or mirrors have in small space decor?

    • CherylK says:

      First of all, thank you for stopping by my site! I’m happy that you found it useful. Using glass and mirrors in small spaces gives the illusion of more space than there actually is. Mirrors reflect other surfaces in the room or a view to the outside. Glass topped tables, for example, also give the illusion of more space.

  7. Lana Wealthy says:

    Hello Cheryl!
    I’m in loving with your website! Oh my, I wish I could be able to do 1/3 that you know… Definitely, this is a field that I don’t know anything! So, I will literally dig your posts on the next days, lol.
    Thank you for the great ideas! The pictures illustrating what you are explaining on the post are amazing! Make it so easy to understand.
    Congrats for the awesome job on your website!

    • CherylK says:

      I’m so happy you found my post helpful, Lana. I’m trying to reach everyone who struggles with these little design dilemmas! I’d love it if you’d pass it on as I’d love to have more visitors. I’m very passionate about this subject so it’s a labor of love, for sure!

  8. Christine says:

    You offer a very good service with your site. I am terrible with decorating and colours. I have never been very good at matching or contrasting. Your images show how amazing a room looks when it is done right.

    I would never sit in a couch with a shelf above it 🙂

    The stripes are very striking and gives a fabulous look to the room. I am going to try this myself.

    Thanks Cheryl.

    • CherylK says:

      Thanks for visiting, Christine! I’m so glad you found some inspiration…it’s amazing what color can do in a room, even if it’s small. I have to admit that I’ve never put a shelf above a couch and unless it’s truly secured well, I wouldn’t do that, either! I love that rug, too!

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