› Neutral Colors For Living Room

Neutral Colors For A Living Room:
How Many Is Too  Many?

"Cherry, Oak, Porcini & Chocolate ... how do I get all these neutral colors to work together?"  (Reader question)

Hi Renate,

I painted my living room walls two neutral colors that I love: a soothing light grayish tan (Behr "Wild Porcini")above the chair rail and a darker shade of a similar color (Behr "Cup of Cocoa") below it.

My woodwork trim is a neutral mid-tone oak. I also LOVE my curtains: a light grayish green (sea-mist?).

All that is fine, except I had to get cherry stained furniture - two bookcases, two file cabinets (I know they don't belong in a living room but they help form the wall of storage) and a large tv stand. They cover an entire wall and sort of look like a built-in unit.

My problem is that the cherry is clashing a bit.

Is there any way to make this work? Would chocolate brown accents (in pillows for example) help?

The floor is a laminate that is also sort of a mid-tone oak. We do have to replace our area rug. Is there any way that the right rug could tie this all together? I don't want a chocolate brown rug - we would like a lighter tone rug to lighten up the room.


Hi Tracy,

Wow, your wall & curtain colors sound really beautiful.

With the cherry-stained furniture and the oak trim/laminate, it looks as if you had ended up with exactly one neutral color too many - oak often has a slightly yellowish cast, whereas 'cherry' pushes the deep red tones. Either color would probably work with your current wall paint, but not both together.

Also, the cherry cabinets, bookcases & TV unit have added a lot of dark wall space to your living room, which needs balancing out. (What I'm saying is based purely on what I see in my mind's eye after having read your letter, so please forgive me if this analysis is off base!)

If you'd like a bit more information on wood colors & other neutrals, you could subscribe to my e-zine & receive the free e-book on Neutral Colors.

I think your instinct - to cover up one of the two wood tones - is smack on. You can't really go far wrong with a large, light area rug in a light neutral color, something akin to the 'wild porcini' upper walls, or a cream/oatmeal tone that works with the rest of the room. This will still leave you with some laminate on view, but it may soften the impact of the clashing browns.

You could, of course, look for ways to cover up the cherry-stained wood, either by painting it completely, or by lining the inside of the bookcases with (wall)paper or fabric in the 'wild porcini' color. If the bookcases are purely utilitarian storage space, you could also look at getting magazine/storage cases in light solid color(s), which will create a soothing background & help take the dark 'edge' off the room.

With one wall in a color different from the rest, it's always good to repeat that color around the room. So I think your idea of chocolate-colored accent pillows is basically very good; I'd make them as close to the cherrywood tones as I could. This will help restore some balance to your living room.

Having said all that, the other option is, of course, to re-paint your living room walls. You could choose living room paint colors that either

  • echo the color of the oak flooring & trim, or
  • are a very light version of the cherrywood (in this case you would have to paint the oak trim as well).

I hope some of these ideas are going to work for you, Tracy!

Good luck with the project!

Update from Tracy, I:

Hi Renate,

You were right-on with your analysis of my room. It's the clash of the wood tones that is the problem. We are going to try and find an oatmeal colored rug as you suggested. I just hope it ultimately helps. We put so much time and money into the room and its so sad when you mess up due to lack of decorating knowledge.

Update from Tracy, II:

I really appreciated your personal reply, and it was helpful because it identified what was bothering me about the room and interestingly the different wood tones bothered me less after that. But I also tried to spread the darker tones and chocolate colors throughout the room to balance it out which helped alot too. And I think that caused the lighter trim to fade into the background more.

As far as the rug color - you had suggested an oatmeal but we haven't been able to find just the right one, so we just bought a really inexpensive brownish one and it looks pretty good. We will keep looking in the meantime for a nicer one.

Thanks again!

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