"Color is best used in small spaces that you pass through. A dramatic color in a room where you're going to be spending a lot of time might feel too heavy or dark, but if you use it in a foyer or pantry, it makes the whole house feel colorful. It also makes the house feel bigger, because it turns a space you might not notice into one that catches your attention."
― John Barman
Sick of beige, ecru, and white? The suburban model-home décor that would rather die than offend? Go ahead, and make an impact with your ideas! Something to make people stop and say, "Wow!"
Sure, you could just buy a shocking painting or something and hang it in the middle of the living room wall, but even then, the impact is focused on a single spot. No, for true wow-factor, you need discordant décor.
Put simply, discordant décor is one in which the elements don’t match. It sounds simple, but it’s tricky to do―most things can play well together, and when they don’t, there’s a fine line between awesome and ugly.
Ideas for the Living Room
Looking at the color wheel, the colors across from each other are complementary, meaning they work well together. Colors next to each other are analogous, and also work well. So where are the discordants? Nearby―for example, look at blue. Orange is its complementary, but look next door at yellow and red―these are blue’s discordants. They are neither complementary nor analogous. But of course, that’s not always enough―blue and red are certainly jarring together, but blue and yellow work all the time. So, another way to make discordants is to take colors that work well together and reverse their tonal values. Yellow is usually the lighter color, and blue is usually darker―so what if you used a deep gold with a sky blue? Suddenly, things aren’t so pretty anymore.
Of course, you don’t necessarily want the room to be ugly (although sometimes you might); but you have to decide ahead of time just how much impact you want. If you did the entire room in those same shades of gold and sky blue, the impact would be enormous and easily overpowering. But if the room was eighty percent sky blue with gold accents, the effect would be much different. The discordant color scheme doesn’t even have to be room-scale at all―try a monochromatic sky blue room, with a large gold area rug as the only non-blue accent. The gold area is large and definitely noticeable, but localized and nonthreatening.
Play with light effects to create discordance, too. When painting a room, the trim is generally painted a higher sheen than the walls. In your discordant room, try painting the trim a matte or eggshell and the walls high gloss―this works especially well when there is extensive trim work like wainscoting, picture rails, and chair rails. Another great discordance is the pairing of a high-gloss ceiling with a matte floor―for this effect to work, the floor can’t be carpeted, which is normally matte anyway. Try unpolished marble or distressed wood instead.
Another way to play with light is to play with the actual light in the room, although this technique alters the feel of the room (and possibly its utility) more than you might want it to. For instance, a home office is usually bright, so make it dim instead―eliminate any room light (ceiling fixtures, etc.) and use small, strategically-placed reading lamps instead. Or go the other way in the living room―instead of a dim room for watching TV, make it bright by uncovering windows, and installing multiple light sources. The great thing about playing with light in this way is that it’s easily reversible if you change your mind.
The last place to play with discordance is with the materials in the room. Most people tend to use harmonious materials instinctively because it just feels right. So, mix it up and play around to create some textural impact. Try a big, shaggy mohair pillow in a sleek modern room full of polished steel and lacquer. Or if your room is very natural looking, with rough stone, unfinished wood and natural fibers, plop a plastic mod table in the middle of it.
Decorating is about play, and creating your home in your own image. Don’t stick to trends, and do what makes you feel great. If it means breaking decorating rules, do it―and don’t regret it.