Make a Statement with Red

February is a good time to explore the power and possibilities for going red. Not only is this the time of year for ruby roses and Cupid’s arrows, it’s also the month to “go red for heart health.”  Even the experts at the Pantone Color Institute have selected Marsala, “a naturally robust and earthy wine red,” as their 2015 color of the year.

To state the obvious, red is a bold color that draws attention to itself—think fire hydrants or stop signs. Despite its energy and intensity, red can work with almost any color scheme, adding drama, spicing up a neutral palette or drawing attention to features that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.  Many designers feel red raises the energy level in a room. According to Better Homes and Gardens, red has been shown to raise blood pressure, speed respiration and increase heart rate. Red is also credited with stimulating the appetite which is why you’ll often find this vibrant color option selected for restaurant interiors.

Red can create the “wow” factor for your rooms in a way that no other color can.  However, many people are reluctant to introduce this attention-grabber into their home. Although it’s unlikely to ever be described as a wallflower, the color red can be used in a myriad of ways without overpowering. There’s no need to fear red if you follow a few simple guidelines for utilizing this commanding color with confidence.

A Pop of Red: This painted table from "I'm Busy Procrastinating" is a great example of how a pop of red draws attention and adds life.
This painted table is a great example of how a pop of red draws attention and adds life. From I’m Busy Procrastinating.
  • A little red goes a long way.  Red accessories and lighting selections are a great choice to perk up any room. Pops of bright red for an accent wall, pillow or throw rug work well for contemporary designs while the same features in a rich burgundy provide a more traditional aesthetic.  A bold red accent can also be used to draw attention to specific elements in the room, like painting the inside back of a bookshelf or china cabinet.
  • Red is a statement color, so choose carefully.  Reds that lean toward orange tones generate energy; while more purplish shades like burgundy or maroon can make a room feel cozy.  When combined with other colors, red offers even more versatility. Red with light gray (the new beige) and a few pink accents fosters a soft, feminine style.  Red with a touch of brown or purple works well with natural wood tones and will feel warmer than primary red with hints of pink.
  • Red can influence the perceived size of your room:  Painting your walls red will typically make a room feel more enclosed and intimate. Conversely, limiting this powerhouse to selected areas will highlight features without being overwhelming.  Using red on one wall of a long, narrow room can visually minimize the perceived length. Particularly when using red as a bold statement on every wall, balance the richness of the red with soft neutral shades for floors and furnishings.  Deep reds often absorb light, making a room feel more enclosed, while brighter reds allow light to bounce off walls for more of an open feeling.
Recognizing the right red. This illustration shows how a basic red changes its appearance in relation to other colors in your room. Notice how dull the red appears against an orange background and its crisp and slightly larger appearance when adjacent to black.
This illustration shows how a basic red changes its appearance in relation to other colors in your room. Notice how subdued the red appears against an orange background.

This versatile color can feel contemporary, traditional, rustic, timeless or romantic, depending on the shade and context. Red is a great complement to black or white, a sophisticated, classic combination.  However there is no need to limit yourself to this palette.  Red highlights can warm up a cool blue and white room, or a combination of neutral beiges and whites with softly patterned burgundy accents can create a relaxing color scheme.  A vivacious mix of spicy reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and lime green work well with deep neutral flooring and walls for a lively gathering space like a family room, kitchen or sunroom.  Similarly, brick reds work well when used in combination with soft yellows for a country French color scheme.  If you want to include a mix of rustic antiques with contemporary elements consider a color scheme of crimson red, deep, rich browns and light tan or beige neutrals to successfully integrate the traditional with the modern.

From crimson, ruby and scarlet to auburn, chestnut and vermilion, there are endless ways to use this warm shade.  And if you’re not quite ready to go red, consider pinks, corals or mauves.  These alternatives, incorporating a touch of red, offer many of the same opportunities for enlivening and adding dramatic flair to your interiors.

Adding dram to dining from Houzz.
Red adds drama to this dining room featured on Houzz.


Color of the year, marsala, featured in a living room on Houzz.
Color of the year, marsala, featured in a living room on Houzz.







One last bit of trivia about red: According to Benjamin Moore’s Facebook fans, the most popular rooms for red are bedrooms and bath/powder rooms! Some favorite reds are caliente (AF-290), moroccan red (1309), crimson (1299), and patriot red (2080-20).

Abby Stewart, IIDA, has more than 10 years of experience as a commercial interior designer.  Her top tip for using red is to keep in mind that small doses are often more effective than large amounts of this strong color.