Unexpected Red Color Theory: Design Items to Buy Now

Perhaps you’ve heard of the viral “unexpected red” color theory? If you’re not on social media (lucky you!) you may not be familiar: the idea is that adding a small pop of red to a room instantly makes the room look more pulled-together and elevated. It can be a red rug, a vase, a shelf, or even an accent wall.

Does it work? Debatable! Red, in its various shades, is a bold and often playful color, and it engenders an emotional response in a way few other colors do.

That said, there’s no reason to think that red is a general solution to all decor problems, or even that it necessarily improves every space.

It’s all about adding red in a way that feels unexpected and charming, yet still sophisticated. In spaces that are minimalist or are full of neutral tones, a bright cherry red can add a sense of fun. In a room of pastels or dusty colors, a slash of burgundy offers an elegant contrast.

While it would be easy to think that Scandinavian design is all about tones of beige and minimalist design, red is actually a typical color found in Scandinavian homes. While it’s been in and out of style over the years, the “unexpected red” color theory seems to have brought it roaring back…and we couldn’t be more pleased to see this pendulum swinging in this direction. Red can be divisive, which is why it goes in trends, but wait long enough and your red pieces will look modern again.

Still not sure how use the “unexpected red” color theory to decorate your space? We’ve got ideas.

Here are a few Scandinavian design items that will add the perfect pop of “unexpected red” to your home:

Danish designer Verner Panton’s classic Flowerpot is as quirky as ever. In this bright red color, you get a soft silhouette in a bold color, ideal for a side table or desk.

The VP9 version is portable, so you can move it around to find the right placement for that delicious pop of red.


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Mid-century designs look great in primary colors – there’s something about the combination that feels natural. Cobalt blue, canary yellow, and cherry red look great paired with the dark wood and organic shapes of these pieces.

This Eames armchair is comfortable, classic, and an excellent accent chair for any room.


Swedish brand LAYERED makes excellent furniture, with their rug collection sitting front and center. The Lilly Wool Rug draws the history of on early 20th century Swedish female textile designers.

The light, cool red contrasts with the plush texture of the rug, resulting in a refined and easy-to-integrate piece of design.


Inspired by Torii shrine gates and drawing on Japanese joinery techniques, the Harry Stool by Swedish company Massproductions is a study of harmony in design.

It’s an ideal piece to add as extra seating in a living or dining room, a place to get ready in an entryway, or a piece to brighten up a corner of the kitchen.

Made from glossy, laminated wood, the Harry Stool has a wonderful balance of organic shape and playful color that makes it an ideal “unexpected red” item.


“Butter dish” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what design elements to add to your home, but let this one by Finnish brand Alessi change your mind!

The geometric shape and bright color make it a showstopper, while the small size and functionality keep it humble.


Designed by Maija Isola in 1964, the Unniko print has become an emblem of beloved Finnish design house Marimekko. The original red color will never go out of style, and it’s as much at-home in a sophisticated interior space as it is in a kid’s room, bathroom, or summer house.

Marimekko puts this print on loads of goods, so find the small home item that’s right for you, from a pillow to a shower curtain to an oven mitt. Now you can have a pop of red (and pattern) anywhere you want!


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Rebecca Thandi Norman

Rebecca Thandi Norman is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief at Scandinavia Standard.