how to decorate with neutrals

Whenever I speak at a conference or go to an event or meet people who read my blog in the produce section of Wal-Mart….

….they usually ask me one of four questions.

1.  Do I really wear red lipstick?

2.  Do children really live in a house with all that white furniture?

3.  How do I pronounce my name?

4.  Do I really like all the neutral colors in the house?

And the answer is yes, yes, yes and oh wait for it….yeeeeeeesssssssssss…..

….and here’s a little bit more explanation to all four questions.

Farmhouse Kitchen gray and khaki

1.  Yes, I wear red lipstick.  It’s not fancy.  I buy it at the dollar store in the dollar lipstick section and my favorite color is called Fresh.

2.  Yes, we have a lot of white and off-white furniture with four children, three cats and three dogs.  My secret is this microfiber cloth that they make that you can scrub down upholstery with water and the dirt usually dissolves.  Kind of like a magic erasure for furniture.

And I try to keep all the strawberry soda in the kitchen.

3.  I’m not particular about my name.  Most people say it wrong and I don’t correct them.  I’m just happy someone is calling me.  But if you are all about pronunciation and saying things correctly, you pronounce my name car (like the car) + long e + anne.  It’s norwegian.  I wrote a post about my name and where it came from here if you have an extra cup of coffee and want to read all about it here.

4.  And neutrals and how I decorate with them?  Read on my friend.

Farmhouse Kitchen Hutch

Rules for decorating for neutrals that may or may not need to be broken.

1.  All neutrals are not created equal.

Did you know that there were 5,026 shade of white?

Just kidding.

There’s only 5,025.

You get my point.  Whites are warm.  Whites are cool.  Whites can have a background of pink or yellow or gray or blue.

And the same goes for gray.  And khaki.  And gold.  All neutrals, but….so not the same.


2.  Choose your paint color wisely

Here’s some neutral paint colors I am currently crushing on (in no particular order).

Sherwin-Williams Dorian Gray.  I just found this new friend.  It’s a little richer than Mindful Gray without the green of Anonymous.  If you are looking for a gray that’s a little mysterious, it might be the one.

Sherwin-Willliams Ivoire.  It’s the perfect go to for neutrals if you like off-white, but you want to take it up a notch.  Kind of like the person at the party leading the conga line.

Sherwin-Williams Stamped Concrete.  I used this gray to paint the floors upstairs.  It’s amazing.  And it has this incredible ability to camouflage dirt and make the floors seem almost clean all the time even with stinky socks and two teenage boys.

Sherwin-Williams Repose Gray.  This gray is working its way into my heart.  It’s almost replaced Mindful Gray and that’s saying a lot.  It’s a little softer and cooler than Mindful Gray and perfect for rooms without a lot of natural light.

Thistlewood Family Room

3.  All textures are not created equal

The key to decorating with neutrals is to layer in texture.

Over and over and over again.

Think textiles and pattern and patina and fabric.

Inspiration board Family room Thistlewood

Here’s a collage I put together from the family room.  See the basket and the table tops and the map and the raised pattern on the fabric and the carved pieces and the aged crackle of the mirror.

All these textures are subtly layered into the space.

And when you put them together they become the “color” in your room.

planter window

4.  Balance all that neutral with a little green

Real green if possible.

As in plants and ivy and indoor growing things.

There’s just something about a little pop of fresh green that makes all the neutrals sing.

dining room table centerpiece planters

And there you have it.

All the pressing questions of the universe answered in one post.

All you ever wanted to know about Thistlewood and a few extras for the road.

So if we meet at a conference or a retreat or run into each other in the produce aisle of Wal-Mart….

….let’s talk about Poldark instead. 🙂

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Nancy @ Slightly Coastal Nancy @ Slightly Coastal

    I love decorating with neutrals. I have the pops of color in my kids rooms (like you) so I can have fun with color in there. But the rest of the house I want to seem calm. Maybe I'm secretly hoping that a calm and serene space will ultimately affect the inhabitants in a positive way. More calm and serene in our lives? Yes Please! I love all the texture you have. The collage of texture really makes the point. Maybe I need to go through my space with a little Thistlewood Farms cheat sheet and see if there is some texture I'm missing. Thanks KariAnne!

  2. Image for Cheryl Cheryl

    I have been following your blog for several months and get your emails every morning. I love your style! Two and a half years ago we moved from PA to Ohio. We bought a house that was built in 1964. The former owner had painted all the rooms with a dark color. The livingroom, hallway, bedroom, three baths, and laundry room were brown, the dining room was a dark cranberry. The roof overhangs the windows by about 4 feet and there are awnings on the front windows. I joked that we had to use flashlights during the day to get through the house! This summer we painted the living room, dining room and family room. You can read about it all on my blog. I am loving the neutral paint colors. In the early morning my living room walls look like a pearl! Everything looks clean and calm. So, I have joined your neutral club, at least on one half of the house.

    1. Image for Kris Kris

      Yes, I wanna know that, too! I love your neutral scheme. I'm a big fan of having the "main" parts of the room be neutral so you can change up colors with accents for little money and effort. I don't do it nearly as well as you do, though ....

  3. Image for Cecilia Cecilia

    I'm slowly converting to neutrals...I have fallen in love with taupe or as I like to call it brown-grey. And Mercury glass and creamy whites and yes (shock) even greys. I agree green is the perfect accent color. Now if I can just keep the pets from destroying all my plants! Happy week, friend!

  4. Image for Sharon H Sharon H

    Miz karianne....I would know you anywhere, and would be delighted to see you in MY Walmart produce isle! LOL Someday, I wish you'd do a neutrals expose'on the warmer taupe, caramel, quicksand....chocolate!!! Have a great the post today.

  5. Image for Michelle Rudis Michelle Rudis

    Tusen takk for the much needed lesson in decorating with neutrals! I've always been a little nervous about going all neutral but you make it sound so easy. ;-) And, yes, I have been pronouncing your name all wrong in my head so thank you for that too. A very dear friend who is also Norwegian has the same issue with her name. It's spelled Laila and everyone, of course, pronounces it Layla but it's actually pronounced Ly-la. Easy, right? Not so much her husband's name...Sverre. Yipes, I still have problems pronouncing that correctly. Even after 20+ years!

  6. Image for Barbara Barbara

    Car-e-anne! Now I know:) I was saying it all wrong- love your name even more now!! Love your neutrals too and the textures are beautiful!!

  7. Image for Linda Linda

    You always make me smile in person & in print. and oh yeah, I do learn from your blog post too. We aren't entirely neutral. I seem to always want to pick up a red something! Happy Monday, Linda

  8. Image for Mary Mary

    Thank you for clearing up the way to pronounce your name. I thought it was Care (like the bears) E- Anne. Very majestic - Norwegian! That's where you got your your pretty curly blonde hair.... Sure wish I had your paint list before I painted my entire house in a gray... I like it tho so I probably won't be making any changes any time soon. I like how most paints change with the sunlight. I face East and West.... ughhh... it's a challenge. Because of that sun exposure I have 2" blinds on all windows. But now I think I may take my curtains down and have naked windows for a while... just to see how I like it. It's very hot here in Saint Louis but at some piont in time I HAVE to wash windows. AND blinds. :( Thanks for all you do! Please keep posting because like one of your other readers said --- I LOVE looking at the pictures. I have a folder on my computer where I put all the Thistlewood posts... for future reference. Enjoy your day KarieAnne.... I have an appointment with the wash machine.

  9. Image for Sherry Fisher Sherry Fisher

    On one if your blogs awhile back, there was a little video of you on a talk show and the hostess pronounced your name the correct way. I had never heard that name before and it was so nice to read the story behind how you got it and the lovely wedding story. I found it to be so sweet that in the song about Kari, that her love was a sailor, just like yours. I was named after a bottle of wine that my mother happened to see in a display at a grocery store. I always joke that I could have been called Cabernet! And those living room drapes have been calling my name for awhile now!

  10. Image for Rowena Philbeck Rowena Philbeck

    Love your colors and your answers…Thanks for where you got your colors. I have lived in my house for almost 20 years and never painted the walls. They were done when I first moved in. I do love the light grey colors and may do my light tans with the grey. I have a lot of wood in my home and kind of scared to paint them but I do love the look for sure.

  11. Image for Susan Susan

    I love how adeptly you show that neutrals are, in fact, colours with just as many nuances as reds, yellows, greens, blues etc...thank you for that! I'm taking mental notes of all of these pro-tips you've shared with us...most especially the tip about using lots of texture and your awesome collage really drives your point home! This is such a great post! It's weird but pretty much every time I come to your blog, I hear the Hollies' "Carrie-Anne" playing in my head, which isn't a bad case of earworm at's actually rather pleasant...I just wish they hadn't misspelled and mispronounced your name! The next time I hear it playing, I will yell at the radio...that'll show 'em! :) I've always thought your name was beautiful...just like YOU! Oh, one more thing...I wonder if you could tell me which microfiber cloth you use to clean stains from your furniture if you have a few moments you could spare? It sounds like some kind of voodoo magic that I need in my life! Thank you!

  12. Image for Marisa Franca @ All Our Way Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    I think I need you to flesh out your answers a little more, if you have the time. Do you match your toe nail polish to match you red lipstick or do you like to live a little dangerous and go for an accent shade? And does the natural green you have in the house, does it have to be live?? You see, I lost my green thumb. One morning I woke up and it was gone -- everything in the house started turning brown and I just couldn't figure out what was going on. It couldn't have been the fact that we were gone for two months, could it?? The silk plants I do have get water too -- when I wash off the inch of dust on them. They really like the bath - they seem to perk up right away. I love, love, love your neutrals!! I pinning so I know what the names of your paint colors are. Big Hugs!!

  13. Image for Sheila@mykentuckyliving Sheila@mykentuckyliving

    While I am normally a big "color" girl...I am trying neutrals in a bedroom makeover. You are absolutely correct on each point you make. There are millions of whites, taupes, grays, black, etc. Each color has so many undertones. I think texture is the big thing that many overlook. And YES to green, as in plants. It seems to help any room. Now that you have my seal of approval I bet you feel so much better. ha! Just kidding. I need to check out the lipstick at the dollar store. MAC is so far from my Kentucky town. ha! Have a great week Miss Karianne.


    I love, love, love all the neutrals on your blog. Until I do it in my house. Then for whatever reason it looks so blah to me. We are renters and all the walls are white so maybe that is why? But I do stare longingly at your neutrals.

  15. Image for Anna Starner Anna Starner

    Great tips for using neutrals. When I was in a design group we found a lot of newbies to design think they should have every white (or any color you choose) in the room match exactly. It is much more interesting and gives more depth if they are slightly different. Something living and something black just finish a room.

  16. Image for Yvonne Yvonne

    I have color in my home but in my dream house I'd love all neutrals. That home would be at the beach, of course! The only color would be my red lipstick! I reread your wedding song post and tears flowed again. It's such a sweet story! I just bought the first three Poldark books and the DVD. Sigh.

  17. Image for Dale D. Dale D.

    So many wonderful tips packed in this post, between paint colors and the art of texturing. Your grid of examples of adding texture really helped too, smile. My home has a touch of tropical with lots of texture from rattan, bamboo, mixed with a few antique and painted pieces. Hawaiian artwork, hula implements (gourds used for dancing or when chanting), blue and white china mixed with lots of greenery and terrariums as well. Our styles are a bit different but we both surround ourselves with things that we cherish and love. Right now my front room has a corner with my granddaughter's pink kitchen set and toys. Although I hate the clutter, it brings her joy and I know this time is fleeting and her pile of tutus will be replaced with other things in a blink of an eye. Your photos of your home are dreamy and so enjoyable. Thanks for sharing, truly.

  18. Image for Toni Toni

    Of COURSE I had to go back and read about how you got your name as I'm always fascinated by those personal stores you share. Your story was BEAUTIFUL! What a treasure....what a wedding....what a Dad.....what a husband....what a fortunate woman you are!!!! I loved this almost as your post on decorating with neutrals.....which I love too! Your blog is one of my very favorites!

  19. Image for Becky Becky

    Your home is so welcoming and warm. You've done neutrals beautifully. And you're right, it's the texture that makes it work. It's not enough to paint everything white. Who wouldn't want to spend time relaxing in your home? I went back to read about how you got your name too. What a beautiful story. How did you ever make it through your wedding ceremony?

  20. Image for Bethanie Bethanie

    Someone asked me if all that white and grey didn't seem blah... It's so soothing and calming. I wish I would have done it years ago! I don't know about you, but calm is good!

  21. Image for MaryS MaryS

    OK, love the decorating..... just so calming... but what is this magic cleaning cloth you are talking about? I need 2 or 22 of them!

  22. Image for mary beth at MBZ Interiors mary beth at MBZ Interiors

    Beautiful! I love looking at neutral decorated homes and your textures are luscious. My home is neutral - the bones of it - but then our accessories and furnishings are full of color. I figure if we ever sell and take our colorful things out of the home, someone who loves neutral will be able to move right in. The expensive bones or permanent fixtures of a home should definitely be neutral, unless you have oodles of money to keep changing it :)

  23. Image for Kelly Kelly

    My mom never let us paint our rooms a color when were growing up. When I moved out on my own, my room were full of color, mostly in the furnishings. The house I live in currently has a couple of rooms that are painted colors, and I can't wait until I have time to repaint them neutrals. After working all day, I feel more relaxed coming into my home that is neutral and not so busy with a whole lot of color.

  24. Image for Ann Marie Ann Marie

    I LOVE Dorian Gray. I had a near impossible time choosing the right grey for our living room. We have a floor to ceiling brick fireplace with medium-toned pine trim and wide pine floors. It was not an easy decision. But I am so glad we went with Dorian Gray. It's the perfect grey without too much green, blue, or purple (ugh - my color nemesis).

  25. Image for Peg Peg

    The neutrals at Thistlewood really do sing!! Been pronouncing your adorable name all wrong in my head! Now you sound like a Norwegian princess!! Love all you do. : )

  26. Image for Mindy Whipple Mindy Whipple

    Beautiful neutrals - a gal after my own heart! I love the addition of living plants in a space as well - brings a bit of life to a space and improves air quality. Your collage is stunning, truly.

  27. Image for Evie Evie

    Hi Karianne, I love your neutral Thistlewood farmhouse! One of my favorite s is your beautiful neutral paisley area rug. So....thank you for all your tips and inspiration you give everyday.

  28. Image for Emily Emily

    I've been watching Poldark. It's very good, but somehow I thought I would be a little-- happier. Thanks for the recommendation though. Did you have neutrals in your house even when you had little Little kids-- you know the kind with chocolate frosting smiles, and grape jelly hands?

  29. Image for Angie M Angie M

    Haha! Yes, let's discuss Poldark and how much I miss his gorgeous face... Thanks for this! I am planning to make-over my mother's home soon. I'm wrestling with neutrals and whites. I'll be adding some of these paint colors to our list to check out.

  30. Image for NormaJean NormaJean

    You are definitely the Queen of Neutrals! You make it look easy, but I know for the average wannabe decorator it's not! Face it girl, you've got the gift. Like a few others, I too, would like to know about this "magic" cloth that "erases" dirt from fabrics.

  31. Image for Lisa Mothersead Lisa Mothersead

    Love, love, love your home. After the Mary Engelbreit 1990's, then the red, green, and yellow rooms following, I am in a neutral home since 2007. I do pops of green and agree about the live plants. I guess I needed some calm and this home has been a more peaceful space. My family has finally adjusted, but at Christmas I do add some pops of red for them.

    1. Image for Bea Bea

      Just found your blog via Stonegable! Where have I been all this time? Love the neutrals as well. I am now trying to get my backbone up to paint all the stained trim downstairs in my house. It's taken me several years to talk hubby into it and I'm there now! All the trim upstairs was already white when we moved in. Pronouncing your name was easy when you said it was Norwegian. I have a friend who's name is Karen And it's pronounced the same. Poldark! Love the show!

  32. Image for lynda hamilton lynda hamilton

    Karianne- I've been a little MIA on reading any blogs but every time I read yours it just puts a smile on my face. Your pictures are just stunning and your story telling is like NO other blog anywhere!!! You are one of a kind and I just cherish your words... thank you for just being you!!! xoxo

  33. Image for Sharon Sharon

    I started watching Poldark because of your post. All I can say is "oh my". And meet you in Walmart? Well, I couldn't imagine anything more exciting.

  34. Image for liz liz

    I am amazed that someone would question your choice of neutrals - your home is BEAUTIFUL!!!!! No matter what stress or problems I may have encountered during the day, I am sure the minute I stepped into your lovely and peaceful home, they would all fade away. I am slowly converting my home over to neutrals and you are such a major inspiration for me. Love your home and love your blog!!!!

Comments are closed.