Overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing colors for your home? Take some surprisingly simple tips from top interior designers and create a palette that will please for years to come.
There’s no other design element that carries the power of color. “It’s the single most effective tool in our bag of tricks,” says designer Billy Beson of Billy Beson Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Used well, color can infuse a room with personality and energy, and create any atmosphere you can think of.” And yet, as anyone who has spent an hour deliberating in front of a wall of paint-store color samples can tell you, there are few tasks that cause as much confusion and frustration as picking a palette.
How to simplify the color selection process? Both Beson and Los Angeles-based designer Nicole Sassaman suggest starting with a single colorful focal point and then building the rest of the scheme around that anchor. “For example, if you’re planning to use a gorgeous rug in your living room, you might pull one of the softer or more neutral shades from its pattern and use that color on the walls, then repeat some of the other colors from the rug in your furnishings and accessories,” says Sassaman. As a general rule of thumb, it’s smart to keep permanant “investment” elements on the neutral side. Stick with classic designs for cabinets as well as flooring and countertops, such as Cambria in Waterstone, Marble or the newest Oceanic Collection. Save the more saturated design choices for items you can change more easily: like paint, accessories, and artwork.
“Hot” hues come and go—think circa-1970 harvest gold and avocado or the ’80s mauve-and-gray schemes—so it’s smart to be careful when using these colors. “Use them in small doses,” says Beson. “Instead of painting your entire house in this year’s trendy shade, just use it in a small area, like on an accent wall.”
Fortunately, some of the most on-trend colors right now are also perennial classics. “Navy is very hot right now,” says Canadian designer Janette Ewen. “But it’s one of those colors that will still look great ten years from now—it’s a classic that will really never go out of style.” Beson and Ewen suggest pairing a dark color like navy with plenty of white, for the most modern look. “The same goes for black” says Beson.
“A black room can look very dramatic, but to keep it from feeling constricting, it needs contrast, so think about deep mouldings and baseboards painted in white or off-white, and add a little sparkle to the space to reflect light around.”
Gray is also having a moment. “But not cold, blue-based gray,” says Sassaman. “Look for grays with warmer undertones, for a more contemporary feeling.” Add energy with contrasting pops of bold color like orange, hot pink, or yellow.
To figure out which colors (trendy or not) you gravitate toward, Ewen suggests thinking of the places that most inspire you and that make you feel happy to think about. “If that’s a beach in the Caribbean, you might pull sand and sea colors into your rooms; if it’s an Indian bazaar, you might prefer richer spice tones.” While there are no hard and fast rules for which colors work best in which rooms, a general rule of thumb is to choose calming colors like blues, greens, grays, and lavenders for bedrooms and bathrooms; warmer neutrals for the main living spaces, such as living rooms and kitchens; and more dramatic hues—rich red, deep brown, sapphire—for those rooms you spend less time in or use primarily for entertaining, such as dining rooms and powder rooms.
Open plans and connectors
Today’s flowing floorplans can cause more color confusion. When one space connects to another—think of an open kitchen, dining area, and family room—it can be difficult to know how to choose a color scheme that feels cohesive and yet helps to differentiate each space. Ewen prefers to keep it simple. “Don’t try to use wall color to separate the different areas,” she says. “Choose one complex neutral for the entire space, then let your rugs, furnishings, and accessories create slightly different color schemes in each zone.” Billy Beson agrees, adding a suggestion: “An accent wall in a dining area or on a wall with a fireplace can lend some dimension and create a focal point in an open plan.” For hallways that link spaces, again head toward sophisticated neutrals. “We’re really loving silvery, even metallic, shades right now,” says Beson. “That slight sheen brightens hallways, which are usually dark, and lends a very subtle glamour.”
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