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How to Decorate with Pastels

In 2012, the design world fell in love pastels, bathing everything from tableware to walls to upholstered furniture in pale pinks and baby blues and minty greens, proving that using Easter-egg colors can be sophisticated and chic year-round. Here are some inexpensive tips for incorporating pastels in a way that isn’t precious, looks grown-up, and is equally pleasing to both genders.

Start with a Single Pastel Moment
Dye your IKEA sofa's white slipcover pale pink. Paint the bedroom ceiling sky blue. Hang a pale-yellow shower curtain in an all-white bathroom. And, if you like what you see, consider adding another pastel touch or two spread throughout the room.

Create a Pastel Rainbow
The sumptuous color palette for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 movie about Marie Antoinette was inspired by the pastel shades of macarons from Paris pastry house Ladurée. If you’re undecided about which pastel shade to embrace, choose a riot of shades in complementary or contrasting colors. Their faded sherbet tones will keep them looking unified and sophisticated.

Play It Safe with Pastel Blues, Greens, and Yellows
If you like the idea of pastels but worry about making too sweet a statement, stick to shades of baby blue, pale green, and buttery yellow that will blend right in while giving a neutral space a lift. Perhaps because they are the colors of sea, sky, land, and sun, these three colors often read like neutrals in an otherwise subdued room.

When in Doubt, Use Pastel Paint
Try painting a single wall a pastel shade to add a subtle color variation to a room. You can also paint the doors of a gray room lavender, or swap out all-white walls for a wash of pale green, blue, or yellow to brighten and give the illusion of more space.

If that’s too much of a commitment, consider refreshing a tired-looking wooden table, nightstand, or mirror frame, or spray-painting a vintage metal chandelier a pastel color of your choice. Remember that paint is an easy, inexpensive move that isn’t difficult to undo.

Incorporate Pastel Textiles
Another low-risk way to embrace pastels is by using pastel-colored fabric. Swapping white linens for pale-blue sheets or adding a lavender bedspread will add depth and a hint of soft color without disrupting a neutral calm. Try whispery pink or peach pillows on a gray couch, pastel-yellow dish towels in a stainless steel kitchen, or an assortment of pastel linen napkins on the table. In the bathroom, mix in pastel washcloths with a set of gray towels, or add variation to a gray-and-white room with a pistachio-green or robin’s-egg-blue rug.

Mix Pastels with Bolder Colors
Nothing grounds a room like a hint of black, and using black accents, such as a wrought iron side table or a painted metal industrial floor lamp, in a pastel room is one way to keep the look from appearing too sweet.

Dining Room - White chairs, a round wooden table, and a pair of mirrored sconces in a dining space

You may want to try layering in pastel versions of bold-colored accents you already have in a room, such as pale-blue pillows on a royal-blue velvet sofa, or a pale-yellow rug to complement canary-yellow curtains.

Ephemeral Pastels
If you want to experiment with the look with virtually no commitment, place a vase full of pale-pink tulips in the windowsill, a gathering of celadon-green candles in a candelabra, or lavender paper napkins on the dinner table. They will respectively wilt, melt, and crumple before you can grow tired of them, and are easy to replace if you don’t.
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