Dan and I are proof that opposites attract. I tease him that he’s so mellow, he’s one step above a coma. And he says I’m so hyper, I could be a poster child for Ritalin. Pairing opposites may or may not be the recipe for a good marriage, but it’s definitely an exciting approach when it comes to interior design. Creating surprising visual juxtapositions is at the heart of the Nell Hill’s style because high contrast decorating is so dramatic. Here are five secrets for working the magic of high contrast decorating into your home’s design.
1. Pair Light and Dark Colors
One of the most effective ways to play with opposites in your décor is to pair dark and light colors. Some of my favorite dynamic duos? Black and white. Navy and cream. I love to pull these and other high-contrast colors together when I design a space because together they have such a wow factor that they suck you into the room.
My dining room features Twilight navy blue walls. If the entire room was this deep, dark color, it would be a little too brooding for my taste. So I painted the trim and the paneling, which covers the lower portion of the walls, in Garrity Cream. The Garrity Cream keeps the space from taking itself too seriously by brightening the overall appearance of the room. The room above achieves the same effect through Molasses, a yummy brown paint that’s also from my Mary Carol Artisan Paint line. Notice how the Garrity Cream trim gives the brown walls definition? And how the artwork just pops off the dark wall?
Black and white, a perennial favorite of mine, is gaining strength with interior designers again. We’re seeing it popping back up at market and in the work of new designers. It’s never gone out of vogue in my heart because it’s such a timeless classic. Check out how this powerful high contrast color combo is brought to life through the custom bedding at Nell Hill’s. You’ll find a lot of high contrast color combinations in the bedding at Nell Hill’s because it is so eye-catching – ensuring that the bed is the undisputed focal point of the bedroom.
You can also use high contrast color combinations in your furnishings. The photo above shows just how easy this is to do: Just place a light colored piece of furniture next to one that is dark. Bingo! Accent your light or dark sofa with a mix of contrasting pillows. Or, try this: If you have dark hardwood floors, zip them up with light area rugs.
2. Mix Refined and Rough Objects
Another of my favorite techniques for high-contrast decorating is to create tableaux that include both refined and rough elements. The display above, from Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, is a great example. We wanted to make this elegant silver tea service even more arresting. So we brought in some visual contrast by including a gritty garden statue in the display. The pairing of these two unlikely partners makes them all the more beautiful.
Look around your home and see what type of refined and rough pieces you have, then mix them together in a display. Maybe it’s a china soup tureen or English foot bath filled with earthy moss balls. Or a primitive wooden dough bowl cradling crystal candlesticks.
A natural place to blend the refined and rough is in your outdoor rooms. The photo above features a weatherworn cement table that stands in my courtyard year round. It seems ironic to cover this rugged piece of furniture with the gorgeous custom tablecloth, doesn’t it? The delicate urn on the table doesn’t belong out in the yard, or does it? It does at my house. When I entertain outdoors, you’ll find my best pieces on the al fresco dining table, from heirloom china to crystal water goblets.
3. Blend the Elegant and Everyday
When designing rooms, I intertwine pieces that are elegant with those that are everyday. I love how the mismatch of these elements takes visitors by surprise.
The photo above, taken at a friend’s home, is a great example. We dressed her formal sofa in sophisticated silk pillows. Then we contrasted this fussy fabric with no-nonsense window coverings: garden variety bamboo roller shades. I’m bringing the same concept to life in my home right now. I’ve covered some upholstered furniture in ticking, one of my favorite fabrics because it’s so simple and unassuming. Then I helped it go a bit uptown by tossing on some accent pillows in a formal damask. Some of my other elegant and everyday fabric combos? Buffalo check or burlap threaded together with luxurious velvets, plaids and paisleys.
4. Wed Objects that are Manufactured with Those that Are Organic
My style is ever evolving, and I’m increasingly in love with the clean and simple contemporary accents that are so hot today, like colorful pottery. But an unshakable bedrock of my style is using organic elements in my everyday décor. To create a high-impact, high-contrast look, I use them both, together, in my décor. I often display items that are made out of natural materials with those that are not. For example, I may place a lovely drinks service on a wicker tray. Or put a bird’s nest on top of a place setting of china plates. Or fill a china bowl with stones or nuts.
What natural treasures delight you? Collect things you fancy as you walk in the woods or along the beach, then interject them into your existing décor.
5. Showcase the Inexpensive and Expensive Together
Sometimes there is no replacement for using well-made, high-quality pieces in your décor. I feel that way about upholstered furniture. You definitely get what you pay for. But when I can, I love to cheat, opting for pieces that look super expensive but are a bargain. A great example is the blue and white bowls, vases and urns we carry at Nell Hill’s. I see our customers look at the price tags, then do a double take because the cost is a lot less than they expected. Why spend more when you can get the same look for less?
If you wander through my home, you’ll see pieces of great value mixed together with those that are inexpensive. Often, they are hardly distinguishable from one another. I embraced this marriage of inexpensive and expensive in my 20s, when I was too broke to purchase more than a few nice things for my apartment. I would save my pennies and buy one or two investment pieces, then fill in with low-cost pretenders. The place setting above is a good example. I grounded the display of china on inexpensive placemats.
Next Week … In the heat of August, nothing refreshes your decorating like cool, clear glass. I’ll share ideas on using glass pieces in your everyday décor.
Ramon Valdez saysAugust 5, 2013 at 11:13 am
Since the very first visit to Nell Hill’s and holiday open house I fell in love with this high contrast approach, I love the way you can mix old with new, or rough with delicate and make it look so elegant and effortless. Me like I am sure hundreds of your fans are always trying to follow your foot steps when it comes to our own decorating….. Thanks for all the inspiration!
Linda saysAugust 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm
#2 (tea set) is sitting in my dining room. It is beautiful and the only one. My lucky day.
Susan from SD saysAugust 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm
Thanx for so many great ideas month after month. I’d love to find a round outdoor cement table. Do you carry them?
Franki saysAugust 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm
My style is ever evolving….that truly nails my personal “take” on decorating. LUV your examples!! franki
Jaybird saysAugust 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm
Are the black pillows with the flowers (picture 3) available in your stores??
Do you ship??
I love that bedroom idea…pure genius!!
Thank you for always posting such interesting topics!
Mary Carol saysAugust 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm
Hi Jaybird! Yes, that picture was taken at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff and features our bedding ensembles, all of which are for sale. That said, things fly out the door pretty quickly here, so can you give us a call to let us know which pillows you’d like, and how many, etc.? If those are sold, we can just stitch some new ones! Our toll free number is 877-746-4320, and just ask for our fabric room and we’ll get you taken care of!
Hi Susan, I love that big old table! We’ve carried them at the stores, so just give us a call at the number above to see if we have on in at this exact moment. Thanks!
Phyllis Airington saysAugust 5, 2013 at 9:28 pm
As usual you fill me with idea’s and I start thinking of what I have and what I wish I had,
Your idea’s are so exciting and lovely You make one feel they can do it.
Such a talent.
Another thing you add is try it you may like it. I have some things I can use now but have idea’s for something to obtain in the future.
Thank you, thank you.
Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors saysAugust 5, 2013 at 11:24 pm
Miss seeing you gal ….. Seasons just flying by ! When is your fall ” open house ” scheduled for this year ? We will all be coming that’s for sure . Really believe in mixing the homes finer things with the natural elements of nature that can be found right outside your door . I live in vintage home very close to your stores and are happy to share my guest rooms for your gals wanting to visit from out of town …… If needed please contact me at Robin Frank @ email@example.com. 913-651-7600 VISION INTERIORS We have the best time going to ” FALL OPEN HOUSE “. Lets all go to open house then over to her stores and lunch !!!!!! Fun fun day !!!
Jan H saysAugust 6, 2013 at 11:47 am
Thank you, Mary Carol for inspiring your readers once again! Out of necessity, I’ve mixed the old with the new and find this eclectic look very comfortable and exciting at the same time. I’ve never liked the “model home” look anyway! You have such a talent for mixing the refined with the rough, the elegant with the everyday ~ thank you for sharing your ideas with others 🙂 Please continue carrying the finer pieces as well as the “bargain” accessories in your stores. Blessings to you!
Mary Carol saysAugust 6, 2013 at 8:28 pm
Phyllis and Jan, thanks so much for sharing you insights and kind words. We all get our best ideas from each other, don’t you think? I know I learn new things from my customers and online community every day!
Robin, what a generous offer! You are a sweetie! The Fall Open House is Sept. 6-7 and the Holiday Open House is Nov. 8-9. Check out my website for all the details: http://www.nellhills.com. See you all there!
Kerry@homecrushblog.com saysAugust 7, 2013 at 7:33 pm
Ditto what Ramon said! Your style of contrasts is exactly what made me fall in love with all things Nell Hill’s nine years ago. It’s like magic!
Elaine saysAugust 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm
Carol, Any idea the green paint color at your friend’s house?? Thanks much!
Mary Carol saysAugust 8, 2013 at 7:47 pm
Hi Elaine, the paint color is Gooseberry, one of the popular colors in my Mary Carol Artisan Paint line. It looks great with so many color combinations, like black and cream, brown, navy, you name it.
Lisa Fernandez saysAugust 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm
Lisa Fernandez saysAugust 9, 2013 at 9:26 pm
I’m having trouble posting on your blog.
SALLY & GARY MATTHEWS saysAugust 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm
DEAR MARY CAROL; GARY AND I HAVE VISITED BOTH OF YOUR BEAUTIFUL SHOPS THROUGH THE YEARS AND LAST WEEK MOVED TO THE VILLAGES IN FL. WE WILL MISS SEEING YOU AND VISITING NELL HILL’S FOR INSPIRATION FOR OUR HOME.. GUESS WHAT?
I OPENED OUR PAPER AND THERE WAS YOUR ARTICLE ON CONTRAST. HOW GREAT IS THAT!!
HOPE THEY CONTINUE TO PRINT THESE ARTICLES FOR ALL TO SEE. I NOW APPRECIATE THESE IDEAS AND YOUR BLOG MORE THAN EVER. BEST WISHES, FONDLY, SALLY MATTHEWS