Matthew Williamson’s foolproof guide to finding the perfect colour scheme for your home interiors

Interior designer Matthew Williamson  (Damian Russell)
Interior designer Matthew Williamson (Damian Russell)

As a teenager, my little box bedroom was my space to do as I wished with. It became a patchwork of potted palm plants, posters and postcards carefully arranged over a curious shade of lilac I’d picked out, with a painted silver door and matching woodwork.

My seven-year-old daughter, Skye, hasn’t yet developed that burning desire to manage the aesthetics of her space. One day that clear vision will kick in and it will be this fun, shared thing. If she wants to paint it fluorescent yellow I’ll say “Great — let’s do it!”.

We often forget that colour is subjective. Even the way I see green is different from how you see green, just as a meal might not taste the same to the two of us. You’re looking at turquoise — but to me, that’s jade.

It’s one of the reasons why finding your palette is so personal. We’re all programmed to wonder what the Joneses down the road are doing, but you should try not to be too “net curtainy” when it comes to online inspiration.

Matthew Williamson uses pink to give a room a decadent feel (Damian Russell)
Matthew Williamson uses pink to give a room a decadent feel (Damian Russell)

I know it’s tempting; I’m certainly not exempt from the Instagram forage, but this overwhelming labyrinth of imagery can easily derail you.

If I over-expose myself to stuff, I’ll come away with an even murkier idea of what colour my kitchen should be — because I’ve just seen a billion of them. We used to do it fine back in the day, didn’t we?

My approach is really about returning to that instinctual approach to decorating, rather than begging and borrowing from everyone else.

How do you want to feel in a room? If it’s peaceful and relaxed, maybe a bluey-green palette is wise. If cosy and cocooned, head towards earthier, warmer tones.

Cherished possessions will provide clues to what you want to live with. Maybe it’s a scarf you’ve had for years, a plant you’ve promoted to the front doorstep or the cover of a children’s book. Open up those drawers.

When I work with a client, I always begin the project by asking them the same 20 questions, which are designed to be answered quickly and impulsively. For each answer given, I find an image that reflects the response and then pin all the images to a board to create a visual design identity.

This snapshot of what they love most functions as a springboard for the project. Try it yourself, and then use it as an anchor throughout your renovation.

Paint will always be the most accessible, affordable and impactful part of the process.

In the same way an artist would transition from the background to the midground to the foreground, define that core colour first, then return to your moodboard for secondary tones. Use these for the big-ticket items such as the sofa or rug, or for contrast ceilings, door frames and skirting boards.

Three shades that you love, which work well together, are more than enough to create a scheme.

When in doubt, remember those nuggets from school — the basic premise of the colour wheel, which says contrasting warm and cool tones tend to be complementary.

I’ve always loved accent colours and sometimes I still jump ahead to the nice bits and bobs, but really the last thing you should be doing is your cushions and your lampshades.

In my fashion days, Anna Wintour once said to me: “Just stay in your lane.” There’s nothing wrong with doing what you know and doing it well. For me, that’s pink and green. Go your own way!


Matthew Williamson in his pink living room (Damian Russell)
Matthew Williamson in his pink living room (Damian Russell)

Pink is my favourite colour. There, I’ve said it. I’d need more than two hands to count the number of products and rooms I’ve daubed in one shade of pink or another over the years. From rose to plaster, fuchsia to cerise, pink is where I feel happiest.

While studying in London and living in my bedsit in my early 20s, the first port of call was to give my lacklustre galley kitchen a lick of candyfloss pink. Sugary and sweet, it was certainly kitsch and whimsical. I remember it as a lively little box of happy student domesticity.

My lounge in London is a large room with high ceilings and lots of wall space. It has recently been painted in a soft blush, but there’s an understated earthiness to the shade that somehow makes it barely even pink.

The colour gives the room a delightfully decadent feel, yet it’s comfy and cosy too. I can guarantee that more traditional neutrals would have been less successful. White might have been crisp and fresh, but it can also be stark and unforgiving.


Green is a calming colour for bedrooms (Damian Russell)
Green is a calming colour for bedrooms (Damian Russell)

Sage, eau de Nil, peppermint, forest, moss, lime, olive, sea foam… As such names clearly suggest, green is the colour we most connect with nature. Wherever I live, I use green liberally as I know my sense of well-being will be all the better for it. It’s my go-to colour and I know it will always work.

While deep, jewel-toned greens project luxury, glamour and decadence, softer, more calming green tones also crop up in my work in equal measure. Paler shades of green are great for bedrooms as they are relaxing and help us settle.

With all that in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that my own bedroom is painted top-to-toe green. A mid-tone of mint, called tequila green, it is at once crisp and striking yet evokes a feeling of calm. Where the ceiling drops down low, it is painted with a moodier and more intense basilica green.

An eclectic mix of rugs, artworks, bed linens and plants all sit in harmony together, unified by the colour green.


Yellow can add a burst of sunshine (Iaia Cocoi)
Yellow can add a burst of sunshine (Iaia Cocoi)

Perhaps, like red, yellow is perceived by some to be too bright and bold for a restful and liveable look, yet it needn’t be fluorescent or toxic (though I’m never opposed to a glossy flash of neon yellow). Yellow can be subtle and gentle, too.

Mellow yellow tones that are soft and buttery are the perfect backdrop colour for larger spaces. Think the sort of soft, dairy yellows that you might associate with the top of a bottle of creamy milk. If you are so inclined, play it safe and go for cream for a sense of understated calm, but I’d seriously consider a cream that has a touch of yellow in it.

If you feel like adding a bolder burst of sunshine to a room, maybe try a more earthy shade of yellow rather than the more usual stand-out shades of daffodil or canary.

In my summer room in Spain, which gets surprisingly little light, I’ve painted the walls an ochre shade of yellow. It’s cheery without being garish, has depth, and is always a room that we gravitate to as a family.


Red is an impactful shade that is best used to highlight features (Enkel Art Studio)
Red is an impactful shade that is best used to highlight features (Enkel Art Studio)

Red is certainly not the easiest colour to live with, but if you’re feeling brave and bold it can have a big impact. I loved my old hallway with its bright tomato-red walls, clad with treasures and trinkets from my world travels.

These days I’ve moved on from red rooms and have evolved into a phase where I now see red as more of an accent colour rather than for full room saturation.

Instead of using it as a top-to-toe colour, I now use it with restraint to highlight and draw attention to an accessory or an item of furniture that I particularly want to stand out.

A single piece picked out in red can do wonders for a space. I always try to bear this in mind when putting together schemes for whole rooms, and rein in the voice in my head telling me to go full-throttle red.

Instead, use it in moderation and as a full-bodied contrast to softer shades. All self-assured designers who I admire employ this trick, as it implies confidence and can be powerful and energetic.


Blue lends itself well to accessories and furnishings, and is also an elegant backdrop colour (Iaia Cocoi)
Blue lends itself well to accessories and furnishings, and is also an elegant backdrop colour (Iaia Cocoi)

Blue isn’t warm, but it’s so many other things — refreshing, light, airy and cool. From baby and Wedgwood shades to sky and sea blue, it offers an endless palette. In that sense, it’s hard to talk about blue as one homogeneous colour. There are simply so many variations.

I don’t tend to use blue on walls all that often, as I see it more as a colour that lends itself to fabrics and accessories. When I have used swathes of blue in interiors projects, it has been a cool Klein blue or a gentle, soothing shade.

While you’ll struggle to create a sense of warmth if you use it as your main backdrop colour, it can feel chic, elegant and refined.

This lounge, above, was an experiment. I wanted to try a white room with rattan and seagrass — I’m not really into white as a rule — but soon realised that it just wasn’t me. It became a more eclectic space, with lots of pattern and accents in aqua and electric blue.

Matthew Williamson’s first interiors book, Living Bright (£30; Thames & Hudson) is out now