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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Color My World

Today let’s talk about color. Selecting a color palette is likely my largest percentage of ‘consultations.’ I receive numerous phone calls for this weekly. Inevitably I always ask the same question, “What are you basing your color choices on?” I live in an area with plenty of new construction. People are often moving into homes larger than their previous one and would like to ‘start fresh.’ Often folks abandon their furnishings in search for bigger and better likely due to scale. There is nothing wrong with that (as long as the furniture is being recycled by donation). When I ask my question above, I often hear silence or something like, “What do you mean? We don’t have any furniture yet.” My consultations usually start out with education – go figure. I inform people it is a good idea to base a color palette on something that one would like to have in the room. When people do not have anything that they would like to place in their room and all they would like from me is a palette, I suggest we look at neutral colors (usually beige-like color) – either warm or cool depending on how the client would like the overall feel of the room to be. With neutral on the wall, selecting furnishings will be easier. Very nice neutrals that I have used well are from Benjamin Moore’s Historical Colors – Lenox Tan is a favorite. The Historical Colors tend to have more gray in them thus rendering them on the cool side. The added gray gives these colors staying power – one will not tire of them over time and furnishings can be changed out without re-painting. More on neutral palettes later.

When people would like to have color other than neutral on their walls, it is best to base the selections on something – a piece of art, wallpaper, wrapping paper even – as long as it appeals to you. A furnishing I often start with is fabric. If I have nothing to base a color palette on, I first work my clients to find a fabric that they love that will be used in the room capturing their colors. I have my clients live with the fabric for a while, look at it in different lights (full spectrum of natural daylight and artificial lighting) to see if it truly appeals to them or was it just the idea of a trend that they really do not think they could live with long term. I also have clients live with the paint color or wallpaper selections for a few days for the very same reasons. This may seem a bit tedious but color is very personal and evocative. Having to live with a hue one does not care for can be a strain on the psyche – trust me on that one – I know from personal experience.

Many of you have likely seen a color wheel. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. The secondary hues are made by combining the primary colors into orange, green, and violet. The tertiary hues are the combinations of the primary and secondary hues. They are yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

Once a color is found, a full palette can flow from it. The main color will need to be one that you love and believe you can live with over time. It also depends on the room itself. A child’s room will likely be a different color than living room (maybe not if you’re REALLY into color) but you get the idea. I’ll say it again, color is evocative. It one would like to be soothed, then bright pink may not be a good choice. Pure pinks tend to be festive. Let’s take a look at rooms presented by Elle Décor / Metropolitan Home – Point Click Home.

Designs by Kirsten Brant and Rafael de Cardenas skillfully illustrate a monochromatic palette. In Ms. Brant design, she appears to have used medium and dark values of pinks (darker on the walls than on the ceiling). She also used dark gray and white (neutrals) to complement. This room is the epitome of festive and cheerful. Ms. Brant added a textured rug and patterned window treatments and wall accents for interest. In Mr. de Cardenas’ design, light, medium and dark values of violet were used; light on the floor in an area rug, medium on the walls, and dark on the window panels and puff. Texture and pattern on the rug, in architectural wall art, and throw pillows add interest. Neutral upholstered chairs complete the vignette. Neutrals help the room not be overwhelmed with too much of a good thing. Mr. de Cardenas design suggests optimism and depth.

Achieve a monochromatic palette by finding a color that you enjoy – please have it represented in the room – and add black to reveal darker values and white to see lighter values. Black and white are not the only colors that may be added; browns and grays may be added as well for variation. When you look at the color strip in any color index, they always give you different values (using black and white) of the same color so no need to do it yourself unless you would like a unique look all your own.

Let’s look at a couple analogous palettes. These schemes are achieved by colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Usually three to six hues are used. One takes the lead role with a second in a supporting role. The remaining are used as cameos. On first glance, one may think Valerie Pasquiou’s design is a complementary color palette but after studying it, it seems an analogous palette using five adjacent colors. The lead role is the wall color; on my monitor it looks red-orange. The supporting role is four hues over -yellow-green which is placed on the sofa. The cameos are in the accessories – yellow on the throw pillows, yellow-orange on the lamps, orange on the stools. Neutrals are also represented in the upholstered chairs, art, lamp shades and rug (brown with red-orange circles). Lovely, just lovely. I feel this room to be quite friendly. I could sip some wine there. In Jonathan Adler’s design, he primarily uses green, yellow-green, and yellow, with green in the lead and yellow, a close second. He uses cameo pops of yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange and light and dark neutrals (casegoods and upholstered chairs respectively) for balance. This room is frank – ‘this is who I am’ – with integrity.

Complementary color palettes are the boldest of all, especially direct complements; these colors are opposite form each other on the color wheel. There are variations of the complementary if the direct contrast is too great. Split complement is one color with the two colors flanking the direct opposite. For example, yellow with red-violet and blue-violet. A triadic complement is three colors equidistant on the color wheel such as red, yellow and blue. A double complement is two pairs of direct complements that are right next to each other on the wheel (e.g. orange and blue and yellow-orange / blue violet). Lastly, a tetrad complement is four colors equidistant on the wheel (e.g. yellow, blue-green, violet, and red-orange). These rooms by Nisi Berryman and Ronald Bricke show the art of a complementary palette. In Ms. Berryman’s bedroom design, she uses red and green (the green has a pinch of brown in it) but the compliment can be seen. Texture, pattern, and neutrals add interest and pause for the eye. It just feels luscious. In Ronald Bricke’s bedroom design, violet and yellow take the stage. Even though there is a dark value of violet on the walls, the yellow ceiling lets the sun shine and makes the room feel lighter and airy.

And there you have it – color, color, color – done well.

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