You’ve always loved the color red, but decorating with it can be intimidating. Will it be too jarring? Will it veer into Valentine’s Day cheesiness? Will you feel like you’ve moved into a Wendy’s? (There are worse things, if we do say so ourselves...) No, it doesn’t have to be any of those things, friend. When done correctly, incorporating red into your decor can make it feel more worldly and rich, not to mention create an invigorating vibe. It’s all about understanding which colors go with red (and which colors don’t go with red) so you can enhance your home’s best features without the bold shade overwhelming your space.
13 Colors That Go with Red, Because in 2023, Your Home Should Be Anything But Boring
Plus, tips for color matching as a newbie
Meet the Expert
Sue Wadden is the director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. She graduated the Cleveland Institute of Art with a BFA in 1998, after which she worked as a designer and a member of the Diversified Brands Division at Sherwin-Williams for many years. We chatted with her about general color matching rules to abide by, plus how to effectively decorate with the color red.
First Thing’s First: How Do You Color Match?
In short, Wadden says that “there are different ways to match colors. For example, when pairing two colors, match warm undertones with warm undertones,” but adds that it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of color theory.
Most of us are familiar with the triadic color scheme, which makes use of the three primary colors—red, yellow and blue—spaced an equal distance apart on the color wheel. But Wadden recommends exploring the other types of color theory, such as monochromatic, analogous and complementary.
“A monochromatic color scheme involves selecting a single color and then using that color in a variety of shades that vary in lightness and saturation to create a clean, sophisticated look,” Wadden says.
An analogous color scheme entails choosing one main color, then selecting a handful of shades that are close on either side of that color on the color wheel.
For a complementary color scheme, decide on a dominant color, then select complementary colors that are directly across from it on the color wheel to add contrast. “This method of basic color theory works for matching color, as well as understanding how to work with their undertones,” Wadden adds.
Next: How to Decorate with Red
Because red is often associated with strong emotions like power, passion and energy, using too much can overwhelm a space. Wadden recommends using red in spaces where you want to feel energized, like a home office, or where you want to really connect with other people. “Communal rooms—like kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms—can handle the fiery hue,” she notes.
Wadden also suggests using touches of red in the kitchen, like on a kitchen island, because of the color’s strong connection with food. Using red sparingly can liven up the space without making it look like a drive-thru, especially if you choose a shade beyond ketchup. “Consider the full spectrum of reds, which range from rich, moody maroon and oxblood to crisp, happy tomato red,” says designer Seana Freeman, aka Glamohemian Girl on IG (@bellybaila). “Reds are incredibly varied. There is bound to be one you like!”
Not only can red look great on walls and major focal points, like a kitchen island, but it can work famously on wood paneling or trim. “Try it on a front or back door, an entry hall or around the TV or fireplace in a living room,” Wadden says. “Tonal reds, such as red-brown or merlot, are sophisticated and add elevated elegance to a space. To encourage conversation around the dining table, consider painting just the ceiling red.”
13 Colors That Go with Red
Neutrals in general work with red, but Freeman suggests pairing red with white to make a punchy, graphic statement. The reds will stand out as the star while the white helps establish a “clean slate.” It’s sleek without skewing boring.
“Nearly all shades of orange look great with red because they create dimensionality,” Freeman says. Orange is also a close color on the color wheel, so it can be part of an analogous color scheme or a scheme close to monochromatic.
3. Soft Blue
Wadden tapped lighter, muted blues as great companions for a number of red shades. “For the more tonal reds, I recommend a softer blue,” she says.
4. Dark Blue
That being said, Freeman adds that nearly all shades of blue can work with red because they’re complementary. But she and Wadden agree that brighter reds mesh best with dark blues like navy or cobalt, which create “a great classic look,” according to Freeman.
Freeman says that many shades of red benefit from a metallic pairing, especially gold. Both have warm undertones that can brighten up a room in no time (and the combination is decidedly regal).
6. Jewel Tones
Jewel tones can be statement-making on their own but can play nicely with red by cooling it down a smidge, according to Freeman. Consider a bold peacock blue, striking turquoise or amethyst.
7. Soft Pink
Wadden says light pinks can add an element of grace and softness to a red color scheme, ensuring that your space can be equally striking and soothing. The key is choosing muted shades that don’t feel so Valentine’s Day-ish.
8. Mint Green
Pastels like soft mint green are excellent companions to red because they create contrast without competing for attention, Freeman says. (If you look at the color wheel, you’ll see the two are opposite one another—they seem to tone each other down.) Plus, if you love green and don’t want to Christmas-ify your space by accident, the lighter, milkier shades will keep the room balanced.
You may think charcoal is best suited for other simple, cool tones, like slate blue, white and earthy greens. But charcoal and red can also create a moody-yet-sophisticated space together. As a darker shade of gray, which is still within “neutral” bounds, charcoal adds a little more drama to your space.
10. Wood and Stainless Steel Tones
Wood and stainless steel can help mellow louder colors like red, and they incorporate more of an earthy, lived-in feel that allows you to get cozy with even the brightest shades. In other words, you're due for a field trip to IKEA.
Similar to light pink, apricot can add charm and elegance to your red-toned room without falling into a monochromatic theme. Plus, it’ll brighten up the space without competing against brighter reds (though it works famously well with darker, crimson-y reds).
While cream can jive with just about any red, Wadden notes that cream and crimson are an A-plus pairing. “Crimson colors are boldly modern yet infused with historic influences,” she says. “When paired with natural hues like cream, red takes center stage with a sense of cultivated beauty.”
While it may seem counterintuitive to pair red, an already loud color, with a bright, bold color like fuchsia, Freeman mentions that just like other jewel tones, fuchsia can bring out the best in reds. Start in small doses to ease your way into it as an accent, and make sure you incorporate a strong third color, like a moody blue, to balance things out.
5 Colors That Don’t Go with Red
Chartreuse is just as intense as red. The two shades are so strong that they'll compete for your eye's attention.
2. Emerald Green
Unless you want your home to feel like Christmas year-round, Freeman warns against this pairing.
“Your home reminds me of…meatloaf,” is a compliment nobody wants to hear. Sorry, not sorry.
All that’s missing are doilies and Cupid cut-outs, no?
“I find that combo too warm and jarring,” Freeman says. “It also throws me a bit back to an elementary school classroom.” She has a point.