By Denise Turner, ASID,CID CMG
The key to any great creative endeavor has always been to learn the rules before you can break them. Sometimes you can have beginner’s luck and a project can turn out fine. But more often than not, without a basic understanding of color and design, an innocent idea can be a costly mistake that you have to live with.
The good news is that once you understand the basics, you can customize these for your own rooms. Here are some basic “Dos and Don’ts” when using color:
~DON’T be afraid to express yourself with color. If you absolutely love lime green, then work it into your color scheme. It can be a great accent color.
If you simply must have that 1970s retro, upholstered chair in hues of orange and olive green, then surround it with colors that complement it. If you don’t feel bold enough to paint an eggplant accent wall, you can always use that color to paint an accent table.
~DO consider your home’s mood. Is your home energetic and lively? Refined and peaceful? Romantic and comfortable? Child- and pet-friendly? Your home’s mood should reflect your lifestyle and personal taste—key preferences to consider when selecting a color scheme. A word of caution: many homeowners experience emotional responses when their walls go from white to colored. Consider living with colored walls for a few days before deciding whether to go back to white. For more information about how color affects us, refer to Colors Unveiled.
~DO think small. If you’re color-shy and not sure where to begin, think small. Experiment with a powder room, accent wall, or laundry room. If you’re doing your own painting, practice on a small area first. Live with it for a couple days, and if you don’t like it, repaint.
~DON’T neglect the ceiling. Ceilings represent one-sixth of a room’s space, yet are often ignored or get nothing more than a coat of white paint.
White has been the traditional choice for ceilings, yet if you’re willing to step outside the box, using color on the ceiling can add striking contrast and excitement to your home’s interior.
~DO consider the room’s existing colors before adding new colors. Make sure to complement the existing colors in the room, especially those of fixed items, such as flooring, cabinets, ceilings, counter surfaces, and colors coming in from the window.
One caveat, especially if you’re a first-timer: be mindful of the colors already present before you clear out the room to paint. Once the room is cleared out, some colors that will affect new colors may not be apparent.
~DO understand the difference between warm and cool colors. The ability to identify a color’s temperature will make it easier to choose colors that work well together. Have you ever brought home paint samples or decorative items, and somehow they didn’t look quite right in your space? Odds are the color’s temperature was the culprit.
~DO get inspired. Color inspiration can come from anything that catches your eye or expresses your style. Select a favorite color to pull from artwork, rugs, photos, fabrics, dishes, and magazines. Even something as small as a flower or postcard from your favorite vacation can provide color inspiration and possible color schemes.
~DON’T be afraid to go beyond your color comfort zone. Consider soft neutrals as main colors and try vivid colors to accent. Live with the test colors for a couple of days and view them in different lighting; you may love the colors in one lighting but not another.
~DON’T look at samples under temporary bulbs hanging from pigtail lamp holders (refer back to lighting).
~DON’T purchase your paint after looking at the chips for the first time at the store. That would be like marrying a person after the first date. You have to ease into a color change. Instead, grab several paint chips (4-6 of the same color) and tape them together. It’s virtually impossible to visualize what a 2”x 2” paint chip will look like in an entire room, so try these tips to help you find the right color:
• Test paint colors against interior finishes such as carpet, fabric tile, wood, and solid surfaces.
• View paint chips in their intended color and lighting environment and be sure to check the color at different times of day.
• View paint chips vertically and horizontally; they may look different at different angles. Better yet, purchase small containers of the intended colors and paint them on poster boards. You can move the boards around, look at the colors in your home’s light, and see how the color reacts in the space.
• Let your test paint dry. Wet paint looks different after it dries. Recheck dry paint alongside your samples before making your final color decision.
• Many paint companies use software with tools that allow you to take a picture of your room and upload with the proposed color. This will give you a decent overall view, but I would follow the above tips to ensure accuracy.
~DON’T be afraid to use dark colors in small spaces. One of the cardinal rules that many of us learn in design school is that a small room should be decorated in light colors, so that it appears larger. While this may generally be good advice, it’s not always necessary. A small room can look stylish with dark walls, and light trim and accents. You may need to add more light fixtures, as darker rooms tend to absorb more light than off-white rooms.
~DON’T get overwhelmed with the magnitude of color choices. With the majority of paint color systems averaging 1,500 colors per system, there are literally millions of colors and style options to choose from. If you’re going to start a decorating project soon, give yourself a deadline for when you’ll stop researching and start decorating. Then, set a deadline to create the color palette, and get to work!
The easiest and fail-safe way to come up with a color palette is to pick up a color card at the paint store. They’re free and were created by color professionals like myself to help consumers select the right colors for their home. Go ahead and use it—it’ll be our little secret.