How to mix a Colorful Sofa into a Neutral Room

We had a pretty successful initial design presentation yesterday with our new Chestnut Hill clients and they surprised me by being pretty open to velvet teal sofa.  This space is going to be soft, pretty and fresh with a blend of traditional and modern pieces.  I envisioned using various pastel tones of grays, blue-greens and lavenders in a mix that felt mostly neutral  One might think that throwing something bold like a colorful sofa into the mix would automatically make the space overwhelmingly colorful.  On the contrary, I picture one stunning, grounding colorful moment with a pretty muted palette mixed around it.  Forget the pop of color on the pillow, this is a more elegant grown up version.

So how do you successfully mix a colorful sofa into a more neutral room?

1.  Limit your use of accent Pillows

how to use colorful sofa in neutral room- teal sofa no pillows

image source

I know, I know, pillows are super fun, but I noticed a common themr amongst stunning rooms with colorful sofas- Very Few Pillows.  It makes sense really, if you are going bold on the sofa, shouldn’t the focus be on the sofa instead of the pillows?  I’m not saying no pillows, but don’t use pillows for big personality, maybe just soft colors, quiet patterns, etc.

2.  Keep the rug Neutral!

how to use colorful sofa in neutral room- neutral rug

Studio MRS

With a bold sofa, it is really essential to keep the other big pieces simple.  Nothing takes up more space in the room (visually and physically) than the rug.  To maintain a neutral feel, stick with a sisal, creamy Moroccan, of a softly colored patterned rug.  We aren’t doing white in our space (hello it’s a family room with little kids!) but it will have a quiet, yet interesting feel to it.

3.  Place the Sofa in front of a window

how to use a colorful sofa in neutral room- in front of window

Ashe and Leandro

Instead of making a statement with a piece of art over the sofa, it can feel very serene to have the sofa in front of a large in window.  Obviously it doesn’t work in every scenario, but it will work in our layout and I think it will help the room feel more neutral.

4.  Limit your color pallet to two colors

how to use colorful sofa in neutral room- similar tones

The sofa doesn’t need to be the only color in the room!  Go up a few tones on your color wheel to find softer tones that coordinate well without feeling too busy.  Choose a completely different color that works well as your second color.  I love the use of lavender in the room above.  By limiting the pallet to two colors the room will feel softer and more cohesive- thus more neutral.  Note that I don’t consider white or gray “colors” so feel free to mix them in with wild abandon as well.

5.  Mix More Textures, Less Colors

how to use colorful sofa in neutral room- blue tufted sofas tamra sanford

Tamra Sanford via Erika Brechtel

For a softer feel mix varying levels of the same tone in different textures (velvet, shimmery, furry, matte.)

6.  Resist the urge to repeat your sofa color 

how to use colorful sofa in neutral room- mix neutral chairs

It can be tempting to do an accent chair in a coordinating pattern that ties into your sofa color.  That’s fine and good, but it will take you away from a soft, neutral feel real qick!  A little color goes a long way, so keep the accent chairs white, cream, gray or a coordinating softer color.  Keep the other Upholstery Neutral instead of Matchy.

7.  It’s OK to Match a Little.  Pick one Tie-in Piece.

how to use a colorful sofa in neutral room- tie in with art

Leverone Design

Wait did I just totally contradict myself?  Whatevs.  I think you can repeat your color ONE Time.  I love how the art ties into the colorful upholstery the room above.   This was one of my main inspiration for our design.

We still have a lot to finalize with our Chestnut Hill project and our client has not committed yet to the teal, but I’m starting to get pretty excited!  What do you think… Is the concept of a colorful sofa in a neutral room make sense to you?  Or do you think of “neutral” in a more strict non-color terms?

Before & After: Indian Creek Living Room

I’m taking a break from current project happenings to share a reveal of a living room we finished last year.   I’ve been holding onto this one for awhile, and I don’t feel like waiting anymore!   We took my client’s formal living room from dark, dated and deserted to a vibrant,  relaxed retreat where everyone actually wants to hang out. The best part? We re-used most of my clients furnishings.

It’s amazing what a slipcover, paint and a new mix of textiles can do.


I was called to do this project after we successfully updated their family room last year. I find a lot of people like to give me a “tester room” and once that goes well, we move on to a few more. Most of my clients are working with an interior designer for the first time and it can be a little daunting. I have no problem taking it slow and learning how to best bring their design goals to fruition. This being our 2nd time, I had a good sense of their style and the design came together quite smoothly.  We did this room in conjunction with their dining room, which I shared a few months ago.  (See it HERE.)

Here are the BEFORES

living before indian creek


As you can see the room was very green.  Green carpet, green chairs, green swagged curtains.  And a big floral sofa.  Look, I like me some floral, but this just wasn’t feeling fresh any more.

My clients were interested in updating and making the space more inviting.  They wanted to make improvements that would help the house sell.  They also wanted to re-use what furnishings they could as they had invested in quality pieces years ago.

See the whole transformation HERE!


Project Profile: Chestnut Hill Living Room.

Today I wanted to share my own thoughts on a recent project; the living room in our client’s Chestnut Hill Home.   This project was featured on Style Me Pretty Living back in April and I have been slowly working my room through each room sharing details.  This home was one of my first major decorating projects and challenged me to create a space that was much more neutral and traditional than my own style tendencies.  I’ve been delighted with the results and relish the opportunity to tackle more neutral spaces.  I find pushing my own boundaries really help me grow as a designer.

I wish I could call this post a Before and After, but sadly I have no “before” photos of our Chestnut Hill Living Room Makeover.  Just imagine an empty white room with high ceilings, crown moulding and no furniture.  We tackled this room after previously working with our clients’ on several projects including the family room, powder room, bedroom and dining room.  By the time we got to the formal living room I knew my client’s tastes quite well and this one came together harmoniously and quickly.

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Living Room wide

The room is a smaller square space and our first challenge was working out a floor plan.  When thinking of space planning I always ask how a room will be used.  In this case, they wanted a more formal, yet cozy space to read the paper, entertain, have a glass of wine and relax.  We opted for four chairs around an ottoman as it felt more intimate.  My client’s husband’s main request was that he be able to put his feet up on the ottoman.

1 Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project Living Room

With the ottoman as the driving factor in the room, I knew it needed to be special.  I sketched up a custom octagonal piece and presented it to my client.  The legs had a slight Moroccan flair and the faux snakeskin fabric had definitely attitude.  My client could have easily said “NO” or “that’s too bold” but instead she told me she was scared, but trusted me.  Boy am I glad she did, because we absolutely LOVE the result.  When doing a neutral space you need a few surprising elements and some interesting textures!

3 chestnut hill living room ottoman

Keeping consistent with most of the first floor, we used bound sisal rugs and off-white walls.  This flow from room to room really tied the rooms together and created a soothing effect.  Each space has it’s distinct feel yet you also could swap pieces from room to room and they would look great.  I love creating flexible design.  Some people never shift rooms around.  I will walk in a year later and everything is exactly how I left it.  Others evolve in their spaces and continue to tweak.  Neither is wrong.  Your home, your happy place.

black bamboo armchair with cushion- design manifest

Keeping that airy feel, we opted for creamy sheers.  They are stationary panels-not functional- just a little something to add softness to the space.  The shutters provide all the privacy they could need.  (Side note- loving shutters right now and I just want to use them everywhere!  Well at least at my house.)

For additional seating, I found these vintage bamboo chairs and had cushions made in a Kelly Wearstler weave.  I love a little black, a little eclectic and a little old in every space so these chairs checked off quite a few boxes!

living room wingback lounge chair

For the main seating, we used 4 wingback lounge chairs from Lee Industries.  I love how they are super cozy, elegant yet not too massive either.   The proportions were just right for the room.  We let the chairs curves do the talking and used a quieter simple linen.   The pillows provide just enough pop.

My client used personal pieces for art on all four walls.  Above is an antique rutter found on the Cape.  My client’s vacation up there and it feels very “them.”  I love that it is not traditional art, but is still beautiful and tells a story.  I think its so important for a room to have these little bits of personal character.

vignette on vintage tea table

Besides seating, we filled the room with two tables.  Above is an antique tea cart that sits between the two front windows.  Below is a wood console table that fills the long empty wall.  While it’s not an antique, it matches the tea cart quite well.  By limiting the finishes in this room it felt softer and more serene.  Sometimes I feel like in an effort to be layered rooms can have texture overload.  Wood, metal, stone, lacquer, rope, lucite, animal print…. it can all be lovely mixed together, but sometimes less is more.  (And sometimes more is more.  It’s personal ;)

wood console table flanked by floor lamps- design manifest

For the console table, both my client and I were in sync with our desire to flank the table with floor lamps instead of placing them on the tabletop.  This was great for two reasons.  1) It filled in this long empty wall nicely and 2) it left room on the table for collectibles and plants!

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Living Room sideboard detail

My client commissioned the painting above the console table.  It is based on a vintage family photograph.  I just love that!  As for the fab lamp shades, we added the black trim ourselves.  I love the little bit of definition it adds to the lights and the wall.

There was this framed moulding above the fireplace that was a little bit perplexing.  We discussed filling it with paper, art, paint, even taking it away.  We ended up mounting antique mirror inside the frame and floating a piece of art over it.  In my opinion you can never have too many mirrors in a room- I love the brightening and expanding effect.  (When done in a tasteful way.  Scary 80’s plate mirror would be an exception.)

art hung over mirror- design manifest

A couple of white pierced garden stools do double duty with providing a little visual texture AND a place to plop that glass of wine.  I like the mix of shapes and lines we used in this room: round, linear, curved, octagonal… it helps make the square room flow better.

white pierced garden stools as side tables

And that is my two cents on the Chestnut Hill Living Room design.  I hope you enjoyed the tour!  You can see the whole project HERE.

Images by Courtney Apple

If you live in the Philadelphia area and would like to discuss your own home project, please contact me at

Chestnut Hill Family Room Before and After

Here’s the design story of our Chestnut Hill Family room renovation.

When our clients first came to us their family room furnishings were a collection of randoms and hand-me-downs.    An old sofa, an assortment of uncomfortable chairs  and a rug that didn’t suit their style were all given the boot.  We also didn’t like the television over the fireplace.  It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the room.  We needed a better focal point.

family room before

My client’s have a family of 6 and wanted a space that was elegant yet comfortable, kid friendly yet chic.  They favored neutrals, but weren’t opposed to  pattern or a the use of selective color.  The goal was clean, bright classic, beachy but not beachy.  “Hip traditional” is how I like to think of it.

The room is pretty large with high beamed ceilings and two sets of french doors.  We wanted to keep the walls white, the windows bare and beef up the architecture in the room.  Here’s what we came up with…

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Family Room built-in bookshelves

We built white bookshelves along the empty wall that previously housed the American Flag.   The television was relocated from the fireplace to the bookshelves.  I love placing the TV amongst books and personal items… it’s such a good way to “hide it.”  Now this wall gives us great storage, display and TV viewing.   Oh and the built-ins provide for that stronger architectural presence we wanted.  Quadruple winner.

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- bookshelf detail

While the walls are an off-white, we did the back of the bookshelves in a very soft blue.  It’s pretty and subtle and adds a cheerful touch in the room.

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Family Room bookshelves

You might be thinking that a sofa facing away from the Television is not very practical.  Don’t worry there are two sofas!  While TV watching definitely goes down in the room, we also wanted a space that was conducive to conversation and socializing.  We placed two sofas facing each other in front of the fireplace.   This is the heart of the family room.

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Family Room fireplace

 I love the look of two sofas with an ottoman in between.  So classic.  The stools in front of the fireplace are the perfect cherry on top.


family room before 2


12 family room 3

There are a lot of neutrals, woods and irons layered in this room.

Linen Sofa, tufted linen ottoman, sisal rug, cowhide, reptile velvet  stools… ALL neutral.

Yet it interesting and rich.  I believe it’s because all all the textures and finishes.

ottoman with rugs

family room sofa ottoman stools

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- End table detail

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Family Room sofa detail

I really enjoyed selecting my neutral pillows!

Luckily my clients were down with a a little chinoiserie and greek key.

Who says you need color to have fun?

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Project- Family Room Chest

Speaking of neutral and beautiful, I’m still in love with this chest we selected for under the stairs.  Hexagon antique mirror on wood.  It’s really a special piece!

paisley bergere chair by design manifest

Just because the room is neutral, doesn’t mean it’s boring.  We went bold on the bergere chairs with a black, white and caramel paisley.

I love black, white and caramel.  I could do that scheme over and over again.

Design Manifest Chestnut Hill Family Room

I just love how this room turned out.

It’s such a happy, beautiful space.

I know the whole family uses it and enjoys it too!

What a fun one to work on.

I’m hoping there are a lot more hip traditional projects in our future.


Thank you to Courtney Apple for the beautiful pictures.

Sources for this room can be found on the Style Me Pretty Living Home feature.

One Room Challenge: Bachelor Pad Edition Week 6 Finale

Woop Woop its time!  I’m both incredibly excited and nervous to reveal the finished Gentleman’s Bachelor Pad.  This project was an awesome challenge for me and sharing it with you guys over the past 6 weeks has been incredibly fun.  Not gonna lie, there were a few moments of sheer terror, but mostly it was fun and  rewarding.  I’m so lucky this is my day job.

The goal was to create a space that was modern, masculine, layered, warm and most importantly, family-friendly.  You see, I’ve been touting this place as a “bachelor pad” but the truth of the matter is, it’s a home to a father and his two sons.  My client’s focus and priority from the beginning was to create a comfortable home for his kids.  My priority was to meet his needs and make it pretty.  I think we both succeeded.

Prepare yourself for picture overload.

If you’ve been following from the beginning, you know it started with a chair

Gentleman's Bachelor Pad by Design Manifest- Black wall eames chair colorful accesories

The Eames lounge chair set the Mid-Century tone for the home.

The Jim Dine lithograph established the color story.

Gentleman's Bachelor Pad by Design Manifest: Black wall shelf stylilng

Brass and gold is sprinkled throughout the accessories, lighting and hardware.

Old, new, patina, polished… I love how it all works together.


With this being a rental, we relied on paint, art and furnishings to transform the space.

Perhaps the black wall was the biggest game changer.

Remember how we started?

gentlemans bachelor pad before and after by Design Manifest