How to Create Contrast

Time Several Hours

Budget $ $$$

Skill Level

WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on November 12, 2020

Modern stripes meet vintage florals. A sheepskin throw softens a leather sofa. A circular fixture illuminates a rectangular table. 

In interior design, sparks fly when opposites collide. That’s the magic of contrast, a basic principle of design and art. 

Designers use contrast to create visual interest and harmony in a space. You can, too. Just follow along with these contrast-creating tips from Havenly designers:

Contrasting Colors

It doesn’t get easier than this: Pair dark hues and light tones to create contrast through color. 

Unexpected combinations—like a soft blush and bold emerald green—add polish and sophistication to a space. 

You can also rely on the contrast of rich navy and soft sage for a classic effect. 

And black and white is a fail-safe formula for timeless drama. Think yin and yang. Salt and pepper. Or this American-Eclectic bedroom with black walls, white curtains, black-and-white pillows and a striped throw. 

Tour the entire Denver condo here.

Contrasting Patterns

Another way to make a statement through contrast is by layering simple and complex patterns in your space.

Two easy ways in: 

  • Mix stripes with organic patterns, such as botanicals or animal prints.
  • Pair large-scale prints with quieter motifs that repeat.

Just don’t overdo it. Incorporate a few solids into the mix to provide “visual breathing room.”  

Tour this Connecticut home to see pattern-mixing that is totally on point.

Contrasting Styles

If you find yourself drawn to the clean lines of Scandinavian design and the riotous color of a global approach, you don’t have to choose between the two. 

Mixing features of your favorite styles results in a space that is uniquely yours and packed with personality. 

Here, modern leather chairs, a traditional marble table and a contemporary chandelier look right at home together.  

Wander the rooms of this stately 1930s Tudor on Long Island to see how a Havenly designer married eclectic design with bohemian style.

Contrasting Textures

When a space features the same material from wall to wall — all upholstered chairs and sofas or every finish in chrome—the result is visually boring.

Contrasting different kinds of textures keeps things interesting.

This inviting Denver living room, for example, is a symphony of touchable textures — a different one everywhere you look. What makes it work is the interplay of those textures in a neutral palette.

For further inspiration, check out the contrasting textures in this glamorous, semi-circular living room in Southern California.

Contrasting Shapes

The eye thrives on the contrast of organic shapes and manmade items with right angles. 

By mixing round, streamlined and sculptural pieces in a space, you exponentially increase visual interest. That’s because the juxtaposition of different shapes is unexpected and exciting. 

This dining room, for example, would fall flat if the rug, table and chandelier were all perfect circles. Instead, the flowing shapes of the animal skin rug contrast with the geometric fixture and the round marble table. 

See more contrast at work throughout this Parisian-inspired flat in Brooklyn.

Work with a Havenly designer to create contrast in your space. Get things rolling with this design quiz to determine your style personality.

Words by Staci Sturrock