Decorate

What’s the ‘unexpected red theory’ everyone’s obsessed with right now?

We cherry pick what you need to know about this expert design trick.
Dining and living area with pops of red and blue.Photography: Lisa Cohen / Styling: Amy Spargo

You’re not imagining it, red really is having a moment. We’re not talking about expansive red feature walls, but rather little unexpected doses in your decor. Similarly to how the fashion world is going crazy for crimson in the way of red ballet flats and cardis right now, it’s all about the small and surprise elements.

It’s been named the ‘unexpected red theory’ by Brooklyn-based interior designer Taylor Migliazzo Simon who’s recently been thrown into the limelight on a global scale. Her TikTok video about the concept has taken off in a big way, with 1.1 million views.

“The unexpected red theory is basically adding anything that’s red, big or small, to a room where it doesn’t match at all and it automatically looks better,” says Taylor in the video that’s thrown the internet into a frenzy.

The interiors expert makes a compelling argument. Her video shows dashes of red in rooms that are blue, purple and aquamarine, and they all just work. “I’m petitioning for red to be a neutral colour because it just looks good with everything,” the interior designer says.

A lamp, mirror or artwork are all ways to introduce ‘unexpected red’ into a home, and Taylor points out a couple of great examples. “This Victorian painting has no business having a red frame but it automatically updates it and makes it look so fresh,” she shares.

As Taylor suggests, art is a great way to harness the trick. For example, this classic Queenslander is designed with plenty of white and blue, but dashes of red elevate the palette. A console in the front entrance hall features Kate Roebuck artwork, ‘Two Blue Circles’, for a splash of red. 

A classic Queenslander with all-American red, white and blue includes a red artwork above a table and ottomans in the entrance.
In the entrance of this Queenslander, a Kate Roebuck artwork injects some red. (Photography: Tim Salisbury / Styling: Jackie Brown)

Should I use the ‘unexpected red theory’ in my own home?

The consensus among interior designers is a resounding YES. While the ‘unexpected red theory’ has been making the rounds online thanks to Taylor’s catchy new moniker, it’s a timeless idea that experts have employed for years.

Stylist and interior designer Jono Fleming agrees that adding a colour pop to a room can make your space feel more designer. “I think it’s all about context but it doesn’t just have to be red, any contrasting colour in a space could be that bold little moment you need to elevate a vignette or corner of your room,” he says.

In this restored heritage home in Sydney, homeowner Sarah found the entrance hall chairs secondhand and refurbished them. The red chairs stand either side of a sideboard that’s been in the family for generations, with lamps from Vinnies that have been recovered with No Chintz fabric.

Entrance hall with red chairs next to secondhand sideboard.
This space makes a case for ‘unexpected red’ with two vibrant chairs. (Photography: Dave Wheeler / Styling: Lisa Burden)

When to use red in interior design?

How do you decorate with red? Think of it as an accent piece, or like wearing red lipstick with a white shirt. It’s a way to transform a one-note space. “It doesn’t have to be a huge moment, just a small object, a lamp, a side table, a frame, could be enough of a special addition,” says Jono.

A great example is the renovation of this Melbourne heritage home, which uses colour to transform the space. The white walls and wooden floors are energised with the addition of a runner in fiery red.

A hallways with red patterned runner, striped sideboard and bright aqua artwork.
Different shades of red will give different looks. (Photography: Elise Scott / Styling: Bea + Co)

The other shades and patterns you bring into a space will determine the overall look. It’s all about finding the colours that complement each other. In the entrance above, a palette of aqua, peach, maroon and green plays well together with the orangey-red.

Below, Amy Spargo from Maine House Interiors has woven a rich red into her sister Clementine’s Mornington Peninsula home. It looks magnificent against the blue in this living and dining area.

Dining and living area with pops of red and blue.
Deep red and blue are beautiful when paired together. (Photography: Lisa Cohen / Styling: Amy Spargo)

We have a feeling the ‘unexpected red theory’ will stick around for a while. Invest in red decor and you’ll cherry-ish it forever.

Shop the ‘unexpected red’ trend

01

‘Manila’ machine washable rug

$249, Temple & Webster

The vibrant pattern on this rectangular machine-washable rug will uplift any room. Soft underfoot, it’s cosy as it is beautiful.

Sizes: Available in a range of measurements, from 180 x 60cm to 300 x 200cm.

Materials: Made from 100 per cent polyester with cotton, rubber and polyester backing.

Key features:

  • Power loomed
  • Soft and durable
  • Machine washable

02

‘Rollo’ decorative vase in Rust

From $19.95, Pillow Talk

This carefully crafted ceramic vase adds character and style to a dresser or table. It comes in two sizes, with a sleek stripe design.

Sizes: Small is 11.5L x 11.5W x 11H cm. Large is 14L x 14L x 13.5H cm.

Colours: Available in Rust and Mustard.

Materials: Ceramic.

Key features:

  • Waterproof
  • Wipes clean
  • Red stripe glaze

03

‘Brighton’ New Zealand wool throw in Cherry

$149, Temple & Webster

A luxurious throw to bring some love to your lounge space, available in an array of vibrant colours.

Size: 200cm L x 140cm W x 1cm D.

Colours: Cherry, Grey Melange, Sage Green, Beige, Green, Mustard, Navy Blue.

Materials: Made from 100% New Zealand wool.

Key features:

  • Handcrafted
  • 200cm x 140cm
  • Plush texture

04

Ngapa Jukurrpa IV red canvas framed in Black

$215 (usually $239), Freedom

This artwork is printed on canvas and mounted in a frame of your choice. It’s a lovely way to brighten a neutral space.

Sizes: Available in a variety of sizes, from 30 x 22.5cm to 160 x 120cm.

Materials: Archival inks on polycotton artist canvas, stretched and box framed in walnut, oak, black or white.

Key features:

  • Solid timber box frame
  • Indigenous artwork
  • Arrives ready to hang

05

‘Magnolia’ dining chairs in Red

$599 (set of 4), Temple & Webster

European-style cafe chairs in a warm red hue to inject some personality into any dining space.

Colours: Available in Red, Black, Forest Green, White and Yellow.

Material: Steel.

Key features:

  • Robust design
  • Wipes clean easily
  • Comfortable design

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