Home design: The new power pastels

No longer confined to children's nurseries, pastels have been given a grown-up makeover, but are as pretty as ever

Tin Tile Wallpaper in Colour By Woodchip & Magnolia
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There was a time when pastel shades were reserved for nurseries – powder blue for boys, blush pink for girls, and lemon or mint if you didn't want to know the gender before your child was born. But pastels have been given a grown-up makeover this year, and it's proven so popular that we're confident it will be big well into next year.

The new power pastels are less bland and one dimensional, and more subtly complex than baby pastels, blending multiple colours with texture and pattern to create something altogether more sophisticated.

It's a distinctive look but not always easy to define, leaving a lot of room to stamp your personal taste on the finished effect. So the question is, how and where do you start? And how do you avoid falling into the trap of looking like you're expecting a baby or, on the other end of the scale, like you're decorating your Great Aunt Mabel's house?

Here are a few key things to think about when considering a pastel makeover, from palette to prints, texture, furniture and accessories.

Power palette

Quite clearly, the central colour palette for this look is made up of pastel shades. But that's still an awful lot of choice. The key to power pastels is to forget about using just one or two options, and instead to use multiple shades to create interest – think sugared lilac, frosty apricot, iced apple and milky blue. You can then add harder accents in shades like slate or navy to build layers. The great thing about pastels is that they're so versatile, you can adjust the look to suit your style. For example, use frosted shades alongside monochrome or even neons for a sharp, edgy look, or softer watercolour washes with metallic touches for a more relaxed, laid-back vibe.


Try this:

  Combine shades of lilac, sage, blush pink and soft sand with traces of darker brown for a natural look that reflects the Scottish Highlands.

  Mix rose, lemon, dove grey and white with gilt highlights for an ultra-feminine look that would suit a relaxing bedroom.

  Contrast soft mint, pale coral and mid-grey with vibrant emerald and touches of lustrous ebony for a sophisticated take on a 1920s look. 

Hamam Towels in a herringbone weave, in assorted pastel colours
Hamam Towels in a herringbone weave, in assorted pastel colours


Graphic prints

Because pastels are soft and gentle by nature, adding angular graphic prints will automatically create a more sophisticated, grown-up look. Chevron prints, triangles, hexagons and even stripes all work well – basically anything with sharp lines and angles, rather than curves. To keep things interesting, combine prints of different sizes, interspersed with sections of block colour to keep the overall effect from becoming too busy.


Try this:

Create a feature wall with a digital mural – a honeycomb print, a giant circle, or zigzag tiles ­in a bathroom or kitchen.

Invest in an oversized patterned rug that sets the base for your chosen palette, then replicate that pattern in one
or two cushions.

Frame segments of patterned wallpaper to create simple, cost-effective wall art that you can change as the mood takes you.


Interesting texture

The great thing about pastels is that they naturally create a very soothing vibe, but that can too easily slip into boring territory. That's why it's good to use texture to keep things interesting, and put the 'power' into your power pastels. You can do this very easily with accessories such as geometric or ribbed vases, or ornately carved mirrors and frames. By contrast, try to keep your textiles soft, making your room welcoming and appealing to touch. But do avoid anything that might make your room feel twee when combined with a pastel palette, such as patchwork fabrics and florals.


Try this:

Choose a couple of architectural plants for your room
– a spiky palm or dramatic philodendron would work particularly well.

For added drama, create contrasting pairs, such as a metal coffee table on a fluffy rug, or a smooth glass vase filled with frilly dahlias.

Wire makes for interesting visual texture, whether it's in the form of a dramatic wire frame pendant light or an Eames inspired chair.


Sleek furniture

Pair your pastel palette with mid-century style furniture for a really on-trend look. Balloon-back chairs and long sideboards are very popular, usually in wood or wood effect, which will break up the pastel palette and add a neutral element that highlights the soft colours. Contrast high-gloss finishes with softer textiles and, again, use texture to create interest – for example, contrasting sleek polished wood or laminate with intricate laser-cut graphics.

Try this:

Upcycle a vintage sideboard, painting some of the drawer fronts in pastel shades to complement the rest of your room.

'Dip dye' wooden bar stools halfway up in pastel paints for a funky look in your kitchen or dining room.

Replace the glass panels in your kitchen cabinets with pastel-coloured glass, or apply a coloured film as a cheaper alternative. 

Venus Bookends by MiaFleur
Venus Bookends by MiaFleur


As this is a colour-based trend, you can use pretty much any home accessories to highlight your power pastels, especially if they feature interesting textures or graphic prints (or both). However, glass is a particularly effective addition as it creates a diffuse light in the colour palette – look up LSA's pastel glassware range on www.amara.com. Glazed ceramics offer a different but equally effective way of adding a more textured colour wash, which is especially attractive when contrasted with a raw ceramic base.


Try this:

Display your favourite coloured and clear glasses in a display case to create a practical but effective art installation.

Put up a selection of box shelves, painting the outsides the same colour as the wall and the insides in a series of pastel shades.

Create a grouping of glazed ceramic pots planted up with a variety of houseplants, ideally with contrasting lead textures.


Limited Edition Petite Millbrook Bath Painted with Mylands Rose Blush 1884
Limited Edition Petite Millbrook Bath Painted with Mylands Rose Blush 1884

As with every room transformation, the best way to see how the finished effect will work (before you spend too much time, money and effort on doing the work) is to create a moodboard.

Don't be afraid to experiment, and give your board some 'resting time', hanging it in the relevant room for as long as you need to decide whether it's right long term or not. Do your research too – Pinterest is full of boards stuffed with pictures of modern pastels. Check out the painterly examples from the Designers Guild, uber-modern room sets from Find Design and gorgeous power pastel bedrooms from Giddy Kipper.

Finally, remember that modern interior styling is not about slavishly following a set formula, but using a trend as an inspiration base from which to play and experiment, ultimately finding the version that works for you.

After all, the idea is not to create a set for a magazine shoot but an environment that is designed to make you feel good every day.


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