Color trends may come and go, but some paint palettes just seem to have staying power—perhaps because they’re rooted in the past. Interior paint schemes grounded in period architecture can look as fresh now as they did in their heyday, especially when given a bit of a twist. Amp up the color without veering into kitsch by sticking to one part of the spectrum.
This kitchen, in an 1889 Stick Victorian, showcases three shades of green: a dark trim color taken from the original floor tile, plus two shades that echo hues used in other rooms.
A strong yellow runs up the walls and onto the ceiling to help draw the eye up and brighten the small space; it’s a visual trick that also would work where ceilings are low. A Victorian-era kitchen might have included more stained wood, says colorist Sara McLean of Dunn-Edwards Paints.
“But the layers of over-the-top color here are true to the home’s original character.” Greener Pastures (trim, cabinet boxes); 3.
To get a similar effect that’s a tad subtler, swap in colors that share the same undertone (here, yellow).
In a room where orange-tinged woods are the standout detail—in furniture, flooring, or casings—choose colors that enhance those existing hues. “One option is to balance warm wood tones with cool colors like blue or slate gray,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. The scarlet and honey shades here turn up the volume on the usually subdued earth tones in a Craftsman color scheme.
Colors borrowed from nature make sense for showing off unpainted wood. For a more traditional take on this look, dial down the wall color with an earthier shade of red. The dark beams, iron railings, and arch details in this Spanish Revival–influenced interior inspired a lush, neutral palette with classic browns and golds.
“The less traditional blue accent calls attention to the style’s signature graceful curves,” says Behr color expert Erika Woelfel.
Warm white overhead hints at typically stuccoed walls and makes the painted wood beams really pop. Vary the intensity, pairing saturated accents with more modest wall and ceiling hues.
“Using color strategically keeps the look clean and uncluttered.” In this kitchen, pairing silvery gray on the ceiling and upper cabinets with charcoal on lower cabinets and trim “anchors the intense blue-green wall color,” Woelfel says. The palette evokes the classic mid-century combination of turquoise, black, and white, but the less dramatic contrast keeps the room from looking too retro.
This kitchen’s cool grays recall mid-century chrome, but warmer shades work too. These neutral off-white and greige tones bring welcome balance to a daring wall color. If your walls have never been anything but white, expand your comfort zone with a subtle tint like the barely-there blue in this space. “With darker trim in the same color, it’s a monochromatic scheme that’s easy to live with,” says Benjamin Moore color and design expert Andrea Magno.
The dynamic hint of red peeking in from the next room shows off the grayed-out quality typical of Colonial colors—a result of the natural, and often costly, pigments used. Though many Colonial colors are low-key, saturated shades are also part of the palette.
A trim color that’s darker than the walls is visually interesting and historically accurate.