Sunday, September 18, 2011

Straight From the Artist's Mouth - What I Wish My Clients Knew About Color

The essence of all art and design is composition and color.  Every masterpiece you see in a museum (or in stores - this fabulous pattern is from the "blink and you missed out" Missoni for Target collection) began in the mind of an artist who was thinking about his line and color choices.  This is no less true in people's homes  -  the essence of every great room is line and color.  As an artist I see this fleshed out every day, the good and the bad.  I'm in fantastic interiors every week, visit many more on consultations, and have seen many "before and afters" over the years.  All this adds up to one big, hands-on crash course in color and design! So here for you, my dear readers, are the condensed bullet-points of what I wish I could impart to everyoneListen up, grasshopper!

  • "Brown" is not a color scheme!
This is San Antonio's most common interior design faux pas.   It starts harmlessly enough.  An eager family moves into their new home.  Within a week they're surrounded by BrownBrown Leather Sofa (their biggest item) + Brown Hardwood Floors (especially in a pricier home) + Brown (Tan) Walls (clients don’t want "builder white" but are afraid of color) + Dark Brown Wood Furniture (Grandma's dining room set) + No Plans for Anything Else  =  No Color, No Style...  just uniform, unmodulated brown all over.  I see this everywhere!

It's a rookie mistake (and I see it in the most exclusive homes as well).  A monochromatic design scheme based on brown can work, IF you plan it out carefully and incorporate a full range of values (from beige to ebony), a variety of rich textures (no more than one leather piece in a room, please!), and strategic, intentional use of color to liven it up (everyday clutter doesn't count).  If your new home is still in the construction phase, go in with your eyes open on this one.

    • If you want a yellow or pink room, do NOT pick "solid" yellow or pink.  

    This is another very common mistake.  Yellow and most "little girl" pinks are very saturated colors - if you zero in on what looks appealing on a color strip, you've probably just picked a great accent color, good for a picture frame or pillow or two, but it's too intense to wrap the whole room.  

    Remember: wall colors are background colors, not accent colors (except in specific design applications).  Pick the softest, palest, warmest version of yellow or pink  -  almost a CREAM with yellow or pink undertones!  Trust me - you'll get the look you want. 

    • If you want a blue or green room, go warm!


    I love soft, soothing blues and greens.  (My dining room is painted with Sherwin Williams'  "Rainwashed"... the perfect backdrop for the eventual murals of trees and birds I'm going to paint, but it looks lovely all on its own.)  But most clients select the clear, cool blues or greens that evoke certain feelings and images - mint ice cream, baby blue, cloudless sky.  In my experience, these sweet colors look way too minty and cold on the wall - and especially so if your room doesn't get lots of full sun.  If you want your master bath to say "Spa Blue" instead of "Hospital Blue", pick a warmer version of that blue you've got your eye on.  

    • If you're going bold, try it on an accent wall first. 

    Do not paint your whole room that lively magenta (a favorite of mine!) until you've tried it on a wall - not unless you're prepared, emotionally and financially, to repaint the entire thing once you realize it looks sickly purple in your own room, with your own things. 

    And please... Do Not interrupt a deep, strong color with lots of doors and windows!  I learned this the hard way in my old kitchen.  The avocado green (sounds awful, but wasn't) which I loved in the breakfast area looked jarring in the kitchen, where strips of it surrounded windows and cabinets and backsplashes in a haphazard disregard for good design.  Do not try this at home.  Bold colors look best on solid rectangles of space, like an accent wall or a ceiling (yes, ceiling!).

    • Grey is the New Brown.

    My Living Room

    My Entry

    My Bedroom
    I've saved the best for last.  Soft, warm greys are everywhere now, and with good reason.  (I think the current Restoration Hardware line is almost entirely grey.)  Soothing, flattering, sophisticated and supremely versatile, grey is soft enough to go with creams and pastels but strikes the right contrast against black or red or hot pink.   We painted every wall and ceiling in our house (except the afore-mentioned dining room) in Sherwin Williams' "Agreeable Grey".  It's part of our palette of creams, beiges, and pale greens in the living room, but also works with the dark woods and raw silk "pumpkin spice" drapes in our bedroom.  If you don't want "builder white" but want to avoid the abyss of brown, try a grey!

    There you have it, straight from the artist.  You can no longer claim ignorance - especially you Brownites.  So tell me... What has worked for you, and what do you love?  Experimentation is still the best way to learn.  After all... Color is meant to be fun!


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    1. Great post! I also love SW rainwashed.It's that great mix of blue and green.You made some very good points, hopefully , your clients will listen!

    2. All good advice! I see the same things with my clients. While I may not share all the reasons you have, I do steer them in the same directions for those very reasons!

      Love your living room ceiling!

    3. And love the plum purple kitchen ceiling, as well!
      Great post for our clients to think about.

      Most of the time, safe = boring!

    4. I love grays!! I just did a dining room a light gray and the homeowners were so afraid to deviate from the "safe beige" that the entire rest of the house is in. I told them to be brave, and what do you know- they loved it so much, now they're painting their bedroom the same color! Thanks for the article; it was helpful!

    5. I think it was Picasso who said that "white was the last refuge of the unimaginative." That's why they need you & your eyes to see what they can't.

    6. Thanks, Tom! That's a great quote - I think if Pablo were in Texas he'd say, "Brown is the last refuge...!" ;)

      Here's to a great 2012, everyone!