How Watercolors Can Change the Feel of Your Home

Simple touches can add a calming and informal vibe to your surroundings

Maybe it’s the soft diffusion of color or the delicate way they portray a slice of life—watercolors have a beauty all their own. Beyond the canvas, there are so many creative ways to incorporate them into your home.

“Watercolors bring texture to a space creating character and depth, rather than just focusing on one type of print,” said Cara Fox, owner and lead designer, The Fox Group, a full-service residential design and construction firm in Salt Lake City. “Decorating with watercolors contributes to a sense of dimension and an overall collected feel.”

To color your world with a softly shaded touch, follow these tips from design pros.

Let the Room Be Your Guide - (Marea Clark Interiors in San Francisco)

“Watercolors bring an organic element to a room. We try to give direction on color tone/saturation based on other furnishings we've selected, but otherwise want to let artists have creative freedom."

“Due to the lightness, you can certainly go for a mix of prints. We love classic florals but have also commissioned watercolor bugs and animals for kid's rooms. For a project in a child’s room, we commissioned a series of four botanicals from artist Kristen Morabito—all different but they work seamlessly together.

“We use a lot of fabrics that have been developed by watercolor artists. We love using Rebecca Atwood in particular, because of their organic, painterly prints that bring a certain softness to a room.”

Keep the Space Neutral - (Laurie Blumenfeld Design in Brooklyn)

“Watercolors immediately connote joy. They bring a vibrancy and indisputable energy. When I specify watercolors as part of the decor, I typically design the rest of the space in a clean palette, neutral taupes, grays, white.

“I typically gravitate toward a saturated mixture of warm and cool tones. They work well in most spaces. Walasse Ting is probably my favorite artist. My grandparents knew him personally, and I grew up with his works in my house.

“For the biggest impact, I specify one large-scale piece. Mixing gallery style is also beautiful. I have two approaches: an eclectic mix of sizes and all within the same color palette, or three works all the same size with different palettes. It doesn’t have to be art. It can be a textile, or wallcovering. If you’re mixing prints, you can play around with the scale of the print but keep the color palette the same."

Look to Large-Scale Designs - (Cara Fox, The Fox Group in Salt Lake City, Utah)

“Watercolors can be beautiful in any room. If they lift your mood, feature them in the bedroom, so you wake up to them every morning. Use them in a foyer if you’re looking to make a grand first impression. If you would rather them serve as a backdrop for special occasions, include them in a formal dining room to bring character to dinners and holiday gatherings.

“Wallcoverings are my favorite way to incorporate these prints because they allow you to get the watercolor effect on a large scale. For people who are looking to experiment with watercolors on a smaller scale, try them out with fabric on a pillow or ottoman.

“I love using watercolors with florals, landscapes and scenery. It’s important to let the watercolor be the star. Create balance by using solid colors or subtle patterns such as stripes throughout the rest of the room.

“Don’t be afraid to mix bold and monochromatic colors. It isn’t necessary to stay within a fixed color scheme; instead, decorate based on the vibe and energy of the room. If you love a specific piece and it feels right, include it even if it features brighter colors than the rest of the space.”

Consider Fabric - (William Cullum, senior designer at Jayne Design Studio in Manhattan)

“Watercolors add color to a room in a very soft and subtle way. We often use fabrics that have that washed watercolor look to them. In a guest room, I used a watercolor-like printed linen from Radish Moon to drape an Arts & Crafts-style bed. To trim it, we used a Samuel & Sons wooden tassel fringe that our decorative painter Chuck Hettinger hand painted. Instead of being lacquered a color, he washed them with purple paint, giving them a soft and watercolor-like quality.

“We prefer to place watercolors in bedrooms for a soothing and calming quality.”

Mix and Match - (Carla Fonts Hrncir in Dallas and Palm Beach, Florida)

“Watercolors give a room a more carefree, casual feel. But at the same time, they can have such precision—to the smallest details—that they can be such a beautiful work of art.

“I feel art is in fabrics, rugs, accessories, oil paintings and furniture, so adding a watercolor to the mix is another fantastic way to add another layer to a room. It makes your room look well curated and lived in. I make sure they all complement each other and, at the same time, individually speaking for themselves.

“I love incorporating personal aspects into a wall collage with oil paintings, photography, something 3-D like a ceramic plate, as well a watercolor mixed in. The wall becomes more interesting that way.

“There are beautiful wallpapers and fabrics that originated as a watercolor. With today’s technology, printing machinery has changed the way wallpapers and fabrics are made. There are so many choices to choose from.”