Contrasting dark with light in this painterly living room by Benjamin Moore brings out the best in both.

There are many paths you can take when decorating a room. It often starts with the furniture that you have on hand and walls that have been painted by the latest tenant or owner. When it’s time to put your personal stamp on your surroundings what direction is best followed to get that extra pizzazz, that fuller picture of a home that beckons you? It could be that you have a good idea of what draws you in, but don’t know how to get that look. I have discovered that the definitive solution to a room well done is the successful use of contrast.

That old adage ‘opposites attract’ helps us to understand the goodness and strength that comes with contrast. Two colours that sit across from each other in the colour wheel, called complementary colours, balance and bring out the best in each. It’s helpful to be aware of the complementary colour couples especially if one of them is on your favourite list. Love blue? Then orange is a happy matchup. Drawn to yellow? Purple will make it pop. And a seasonal favourite as well as one of nature’s best is the red green pairing.

There are many other ways to establish contrast in your room. Dark shades appear to advance or stand out; they’re warm but too much can be heavy. Introduce the cool ambiance of light shades, which recede and you’ve got a lovely balance. Shown here from Benjamin Moore is a stunning living room with a dramatic dark purple wall. It’s a large room with plenty of natural light, and in the evening the combination of the white sofa and carpet brings each colour alive.

Contrasting textures introduce interest in the same way. The shine from the black leather chairs shows up against the matte white cotton upholstery. You can play with textures in cushions, carpets, draperies and smooth or embossed wallpapers. It’s your choice whether you prefer the contrasts to be bold or subtle. We do feel with our eyes.

Shapely carved lamp bases create an appealingly uneven visage set against the straight lines of the walls and windowpanes. The varying curves of bare table and chair legs, the geometric design in the carpet all draw your attention. This vignette is a study in contrasts that started with a daring colour. It may have taken a trained eye to create such a balanced and inviting room, but you can make your own magic with a little experimentation.

Combining colour combinations is tricky if you are faced with small colour swatches at the paint store. Pictures help and there are hundreds to view on pinterest and other sites. For inspiration on a larger scale, why not visit your local fabric outlet? You’ll find bolts of every shade of colour, solid and patterned. Layer your favourites, surprise yourself with a shade that you might not like on its own, but wow what it does beside that navy blue. And to put the finishing touches on your décor, add an accent colour. Note the effect of a bowl of pink blossoms beside the couch and small piles of books with yellow and green spines on the footstools; quietly diverse and somehow making the scene richer.

Opposites do attract; one can make up something that is missing in the other, balance out too hot or cold, brighten up too much solemn. If your rooms are letting you down, try a little contrast. You’ll be amazed.