Interior design

Color blocking – The new decorating trend

By 8 August, 2017 No Comments

What is color blocking?

Color blocking is the implementation of 2 or 3 contrasting colors in any given design to create a bold statement purely through the use of color. From fashion to the motor industry, color blocking is a trend that uses hue to make statements that have not been seen since French post-impressionism. Bold statement? Let us elaborate.

new color blocking


Matisse and color

In 1896 when Henri Matisse visited John Peter Russell in Brittany (he was introduced to the works of an as yet unknown Dutch painter who had a flair for color and was inspired by impressionism). Matisse himself later acknowledged Russell as his “teacher of color theory” and it was this introduction to Van Gogh which radically altered Matisse’s practice, use of color, and his general understanding of art as a medium.

Matisse went on to create some of the most vivid works in history. His practice is even more daring than that of Picasso in places, the Blue Nudes towards the end of his career used two or three colors, white, blue and yellow. And The Snail, currently housed in the Tate Modern in London, is the final and grandest work of their whole exhibition.

The Snail stands apart. It leans heavily on color – the forms and shapes have become notorious in the logo for the London Olympics – but it is the colors used that make this artwork so memorable. During its creation, Matisse was unable to move and confined to his bed during its creation, it was his assistant and his secretary who painted the giant sheets of paper to exact colors, before cutting them into shapes and placing them on the wall to Matisse’s instructions.

color blocking decoration

The artwork moves as you look at it. The colors reverberate and buzz, each color bouncing and complementing the next. This is a fun piece of work, from a man who was a master of color theory, causing both delight as well as criticism throughout the art world, but to us who love the practice of color blocking, this is the most successful artwork in history.

If you want to try out color blocking in your next design, Matisse is a great place to start for inspiration.


Color theory

Why does The Snail move?

This can be explained through music; the C note is 504hz while the G note is 378hz. Played at the same time, the peaks and troughs of the sound waves create a harmony, which is pleasing to the ear. The same principle applies to color and light waves, and each of the colors in The Snail work together to create the visual equivalent of a set of harmonies in music.

To successfully incorporate color blocking into a design takes some radical thinking, the colors you choose should not be traditional pairs. There are ways to do this using a color wheel which can give you colors that although far apart on the color spectrum, will have the right frequencies so as not to clash. There is some terminology according to color theory to be applied.

Colored chalk on a blackboard background



These colors are close to each other in the spectrum. If red is the base color, you would expect to see purples and pinks.


These colors will be the opposite on the spectrum, so if red is a base color, a green would be its complementary color on the other side of the color wheel.


These colors are varied in that they are the three triangular points from the base color. A red base would give you a yellow and a blue.

These fundamentals can be expanded upon to create split-complementary schemes that will combine analogous hues with complementary hues. This means that combinations can be created that will match frequencies and avoid color clashes. It is the designer’s eye that is required to make sure that the colors used in the scheme reflects the design criteria and make the right color choices.

color blocking


Not for the faint hearted

Some designs use color that you would not expect to see, and it is the ability to make the right choice that creates power and uniqueness in any design. Our earlier point that that hue can create bold statements that set designs apart is true as we have illustrated. The ubiquitous growth of design and the improvement in efficiency through tools such as Photoshop, it is becoming harder to make designs that are fresh, with color schemes that have not been used before: In an attempt to avoid uniform designs, a designer must be aware of the fine line between a clean design that incorporates interesting and unique colors, and a hotchpotch of garish colors that can come across as pastiche and, well, tacky.

papers color blocking

There are many places to take inspiration from your new designs, throughout the fashion industry, designers have been implementing the trend with great (and sometimes not so great) success. But we recommend the experts and seeing for yourself how artists have used color throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to make statements that go beyond a being just nice color choice, and start to reflect our culture and our lives.

De Stijl

The Dutch movement uses 2 or 3 colors of high intensity and only straight and vertical lines. The movement inspired a new thought process, a simplicity that continued through Bauhaus and is still being used to great effect by The White Stripes.


Warhol was the master. One of his most inspiring use of color blocking being the Playboy cover from 1989, using pink, red and blue. What Warhol did with Pop-art, was to convey a society that is fundamentally global and would one day become standardised.

color blocking decorative trend



The primary colors Lichtenstein uses in his comic book recreations are on display in some of the most important galleries in the world. His uniform polka dots, cross scenes of violence with the fun, playful ideas of childlike color schemes, purveying our media consumption.


Color blocking in interior design

Applied to interior design, color blocking can develop an interior to become more than a living space. The use of a clear color scheme that is consistent can draw the eye across the room. The color itself is important, according to the brief, this color is going to be the mainstay of the design and should reflect the character of the house and its owners. There are many ways to use color blocking to your advantage, it can be fun, and it can also be shocking. Depending on what you wish from an interior, color blocking can give you a list of alternatives that provide options in your design and can reflect more than you ever expected.

color blocking in interior design

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