Skip to Content

What is lived in color specialist?

A lived in color specialist is an interior designer who specializes in creating spaces with a collected, eclectic, and lightly worn aesthetic. Often referred to as “the new traditional” or “casual elegance,” lived-in color reflects a move away from stark, perfect interiors to welcoming spaces that feel warm, inviting, and full of character.

What are the characteristics of lived in color?

There are several key characteristics that define the lived-in color aesthetic:

  • Neutral background colors like warm grays, taupes, and soft whites allow the furniture and accessories to take center stage
  • Pops of color and pattern come from rugs, pillows, art, and other accessories
  • Furniture has visible signs of wear and use – nicks, scratches, faded spots
  • Rooms feel collected over time with a mix of antiques, vintage finds, and comfortable contemporary pieces
  • The palette features natural textures like wood, rattan, leather, linen, ceramics, and rustic metals
  • Books, art, collections, and meaningful objects are displayed to add to the collected look
  • Soft layered lighting creates a welcoming glow

The overall effect is casual, inviting, and full of visual interest. Lived-in color allows a home to evolve organically over time, honoring pieces from the past while making room for new loves. This look shuns formality and perfection in favor of character and comfort.

What is the history and origin of lived in color?

The lived-in color aesthetic grew out of several cultural and design trends over the past few decades:

  • Shabby Chic: In the 1980s, Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic brand popularized the use of distressed, faded antique furniture and gently worn vintage fabrics. This provided inspiration for the collected look of lived-in color.
  • English Country Style: English country decor with its mix of floral chintzes, ticking stripes, faded oriental rugs, pastel hues, and cozy clutter paved the way for the eclectic collected vibe of lived-in color.
  • Tuscan Style: The heavy use of natural textures and materials in Tuscan decor – wood beams, terra cotta floors, rough-hewn stone – aligned with the casual warmth of lived-in color.
  • Industrial Style: The reuse of factory and warehouse items like metal lockers and leather belts introduced more patina and imperfection into interior design.
  • Rise of HGTV: In the early 2000s, HGTV introduced the masses to designer homes with elegant but inviting spaces aligned with the lived-in aesthetic.
  • Blogs: The late 2000s saw the rise of popular interior design blogs like The Inspired Room, Young House Love, and Decor8. Their accessible, realistic spaces helped make lived-in color mainstream.

By the 2010s, the collected casual look we now call “lived-in color” was a firmly established interior design style.

What are some key principles for designing spaces with lived-in color?

Here are some guiding principles skilled lived-in color specialists use:

  • Start with a neutral backdrop – Paint walls, ceilings, and trim in soft hues like gray, tan, or white to let the furnishings shine.
  • Incorporate personal mementos – Display old family photos, kids’ artwork, flea market finds, and travel souvenirs.
  • Mix old and new – Combine antique or vintage pieces with newer comfortable seating, lighting, and rugs.
  • Add patina – Seek out items with a timeworn look like leather club chairs, farmhouse tables, or antique glassware.
  • Layer light – Use lamps, sconces, and candles to create a warm ambient glow.
  • Include greenery – Add life with houseplants, fresh flowers, herb gardens, and outdoor planters.
  • Maximize texture – Incorporate nubby throws, wool rugs, ceramic vases, rattan baskets, and wood accents.
  • Repeat colors – Pull a color from artwork or pillows into flowers, books, or other accessories.

By decorating with personal treasures old and new against a calm backdrop, lived-in color specialists create spaces with comfort and character.

What are some common color palettes for the lived-in look?

While each lived-in space is unique, some popular color palettes emerge:

  • Grays + Blues: A mix of warm grays and taupes with sky blues and denims creates a relaxed coastal or cottage vibe.
  • Cream + Greens: Soft creamy whites paired with sages, olives, and minty greens gives a fresh organic look.
  • Tans + Terracottas: Earthy browns and rich terracottas complement each other for a grounded, nature-inspired palette.
  • Blush + Navy: Pairing dusty blues with rosy pinks and peaches achieves a romantic lived-in style.

Experienced lived-in specialists layer colors, patterns, and neutrals to craft a unique custom palette for each space and client.

Color Palette Mood Textiles Wood Tones Metallics
Grays + Blues Relaxed, coastal Denim, nautical stripes Weathered driftwood Brushed nickel
Cream + Greens Fresh, organic Linen, floral prints Bleached oak Antiqued brass
Tans + Terracottas Grounded, earthy Kilim patterns, wool Rustic pine Oil-rubbed bronze
Blush + Navy Romantic, vintage Chintz, toile Whitewashed wood Pewter

What are some common mistakes to avoid when trying to get the lived-in look?

It takes skill to give a space a collected look that feels genuinely evolved over time. Some rookie errors to sidestep include:

  • Looking too contrived – Don’t overstyle a space. Allow decor to accumulate gradually.
  • Appearing impersonal – Fill the home with family photos and other mementos for character.
  • Feeling cluttered – Edit regularly so vignettes feel curated, not crammed.
  • Using all new items – Mix in some antique or vintage pieces for that collected charm.
  • Forgetting patina – Add interest with naturally worn and weathered items.
  • Skimping on texture – Incorporate wood, leather, linen, rattan and other organic textures.
  • Trying too hard – Let your authentic lived-in style evolve on its own.

The essence of lived-in color is casual, comfortable, and collected over time. With some restraint and thoughtfulness, you can craft a home full of character without overdoing it.

How can you add lived-in charm to a rental or temporary space?

Renters and those in temporary housing also crave the comfort of lived-in color. Some easy ways to inject character into short-term spaces include:

  • Hanging artwork – Vintage maps, landscape paintings, and family photos warm up plain walls.
  • Adding cushions – Throw pillows and floor cushions quickly add comfort, color, and texture.
  • Displaying collections – Fill shelves with favorite books, frames, or quirky tchotchkes.
  • Planting greenery – Potted plants, fresh flowers, and herb gardens inject life.
  • Layering rugs – Fuzzy area rugs over sisal or seagrass rugs adds depth underfoot.
  • Lighting candles – A candle collection adds flicker and glow to cozy up any space.
  • Unpacking – Stow boxes out of sight and fill the home with decor from day one.

With clever accessories and personal touches, even short-term spaces can embody the charm and ease of lived-in color.

What are some budget-friendly tips for achieving the lived-in aesthetic?

You don’t have to splurge to get the collected look and feel of lived-in color. Some budget-wise tips include:

  • Check secondhand stores – Shop thrift shops, garage sales, Facebook Marketplace for unique vintage items.
  • Upcycle what you have – Give hand-me-down furniture and flea market finds new life with paint or fabric.
  • Embrace imperfections – Display items with flaws like peeling paint or missing hardware as “character marks.”
  • Mix high + low – Pair expensive investment pieces with budget pillows, lamps, and accessories.
  • Prioritize key items – Spend more on durable seating and save on accent tables, wall decor and tabletop items.
  • Work in phases – Gradually evolve your style over years as budget allows.
  • Do it yourself – Try DIY projects to update lighting, window treatments, and furniture.

With smart shopping and creative reuse of belongings, you can craft a stylish lived-in look to match your budget.


Achieving the welcoming lived-in aesthetic requires seeing imperfections as charming evidence of a life well lived. With its blend of comfortable furnishings, collected objects, and timeworn patina, this casual style has moved far beyond trend into a new traditional decorating approach. By embracing what you love, keeping rooms uncluttered, and adding personal touches over time, anyone can infuse their home with the laidback spirit of lived-in color.