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Hue at Home

Color is an expression of who we are and affects how we feel. Marilyn Soltis examines this and the trendiest colors forcasted for '08.

Color may be the most important element in interior design, but choosing color can be one of the most daunting of tasks. Color reveals so much of who we are, as expressed in the clothes we wear, the car we drive and the kind of atmosphere that stimulates or soothes us. While many of these attractions are second nature, even the most confident among us can freeze at the sight of paint chips and the idea of selecting a palette that will best express our interior design tastes.
    Several new books set out to help readers select a color palette and describe the factors that influence our color choices, including other nearby colors, pattern, texture and light. A good one to start with is The Color Idea Book by Robin Strangis (Taunton Press, October 2007). Simply laid out with stunning photos, the book shows how to combine multiple colors, visualize the colors in your room, manipulate the space with color and link and differentiate rooms with color.
    Start out by looking around you and seeing what colors you naturally love. A good indication is your closet. Clothes and accessories are usually the colors we’re the most comfortable with. Look around your home at the details and accents. Strangis says a rainbow of color will emerge. These colors and the feelings they evoke are likely what you want to convey in your home.

The Emotions of Color
    Strangis shows how full strength colors can cause different emotional reactions than tints or shades of the same colors. “Before determining which colors you want in a room, spread out a variety of paint chips (the larger, the better),” she writes. “You may find that by adjusting colors slightly you’ll get the emotional reaction you want.”
     Her color tips include:
  • Too much red can be irritating, but soft pink is calming.
  • Blue and violet are calming, but a room with too much blue can make a person look ill.
  • Deep orange adds excitement, but bright orange can look cheap.
  • Deep purple imparts loneliness, but soft violet is subduing.
  • Brown can be associated with melancholy—or stability when the shade is earthy.
  • White imparts purity and brightness of spirit, but a blue-white can look sterile.
  • Yellow is cheerful and healthful, but also means caution.
  • Black can be empty and depressing, but used in the right way, can also be dramatic.

...Gradations of color can change the feeling of the room completely. Strangis gives some examples. Blue is the most popular color in America and can easily be warm or cool and can take on aspects of either depending on other colors in the room. Even so, blue affects most people the same way—it is soothing and calming and brings out our deepest emotions, typically those that make us happy and friendly, according to Strangis.
    Green is the color of rejuvenation, new plants, optimism and youth, says Strangis. “It is also known to reduce blood pressure and can help us feel balanced,” she writes. “Lighter, toned greens are relaxing and restful, especially when combined with warm peach or rose tones, while deeper greens are sophisticated and intimate.”
    For a little excitement, use red. “Red has been proven to increase blood pressure and speed up the heart rate and respiration,” according to Strangis. “It’s also been shown to increase the appetite and can actually make you hungry. When muted, it can feel rich and elegant.”
    Pink can be a little tricky. Too pale and it makes you feel drained, but is good for the bedroom. Too bright can be too stimulating. Either way, it has reflective properties that give your complexion a healthy appearance.
    Yellow makes most people feel happy and can be used anywhere you want to feel energized and uplifted. It is a good choice for rooms that don’t get a lot of light. Brighter shades of orange are also making a comeback and are associated with energy and excitement. Toned down versions more commonly used are salmon, terra cotta, shrimp, rust, cinnamon and peach.
    For pure drama, purple is a good choice. Strangis observes, “Of all the colors purple is the most powerful and the most intriguing. It’s a color that can steal the scene, no matter where it’s used. Reactions to this color vary from meditative to magical, energizing to irritating. It can be uplifting and optimistic when used in the right strength, or if it’s too dark and muddy, it can be dreary and depressing.”

    In Interior Color by Design: A Tool for Homeowners, Designers and Architects (Rockport Publishers, November 2006), author Jonathan Poore explains how to first consider the context of your space, which includes elements of the interior that you have no control over and offer wonderful design opportunities. “Every region of the country has a different flavor color palette,” he writes. “The colors of the vegetation, trees, rocks, soil, and even the color of the sky and the quality of light each day have an effect. The use of these colors is a way of harmonizing, unconsciously with your environment.”
    Light is one of the most critical factors in choosing color. North light is cooler and less dramatic. The contrast of accent colors will give the room more depth and dimension. South light is warm and creates strong contrasts within the space and provides the backdrop for subtle, cool colors. Poore suggests, “A muted blue-green-gray creates a restful space that is constantly, but slightly, changing with the light. A color such as this is much like a chameleon. It appears to shift color, depending on the changing light and in response to the accent colors next to it.”
    Spaces that face directly to the east or west are filled with dramatic light in the morning or afternoon, shifting from bright to cool. To be safe, muted warm colors with rich, cool accents will work throughout the day.
    The proportions and shape of the space can be enhanced or downplayed by color. It can highlight moldings and architectural details or downplay a low ceiling. A warm tone on a cathedral ceiling can create a more intimate scale.
    In many homes you can see from room to room in a single view. The importance of color in the context of the entire interior is obvious. “If you conceive the color palettes as a progression through the sequence of spaces, the result will be a rich and dynamic layering of space, creating the impression of a larger, more spacious interior,” writes Poore. “In a compressed form, this layering is exactly how theater stage-set designers create the illusion of a vast space on a small stage.”
    Don’t ignore the existing materials in the space like woodwork, flooring, tile, brick or art glass. Outdated colored tile in the bathroom, circa 1970? Work with it. Use a color scheme that harmonizes with the tile, and you can end up with a room that’s fun and stylized, if a little retro.
    Poore observes that most people’s environments consist of a layered history of objects and furnishings, but often these collections do not have a visual or color cohesiveness. “By creating a strong, clear, cohesive design statement in the integral architectural color, you can more easily weave the disparate personal items and furnishings harmoniously into your environment,” he writes.

From the Ground Up
    In The Home Decorator’s Color & Texture Bible (Firefly Books Ltd 2007), author Adrienne Chin believes that rooms are created from the ground up and illustrates 180 decorating schemes starting with the flooring material and choosing colors, fabric textures and wall and floor surfaces to create a cohesive look. This book seems particularly helpful in showing how to blend textiles with their rich gradations of color and texture. No matter what floor you live with, this book has a solution to upgrade your look.
    Chin notes that the widespread popularity of neutral color schemes has caused many people to lose confidence in their ability to use color in their homes. This guidebook contains a color palette, along with examples of coordinated fabric and flooring for each room.

Color Pioneers
    For more advanced home decorators, professional designers and those who want to understand more clearly how their designer works, Color Space Style: All the Details Interior Designers Need to Know But Can Never Find (Rockport Publishers 2007) by Chris Grimley and Mimi Love gets more technical about the evolution of color wheels through the centuries.
    Isaac Newton split white light into seven colors in 1706. Orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and red were arranged on a disk in proportionate slices. When spun, the color became white. According to the authors, the German poet Goethe and the romantic painter Philipp Otto Runge further expanded color theory to include the contrast of complementary colors, the visual illusion of afterimages and the contrasting shadows seen in colored light. They were the first to associate color with emotion such as warm or cool.
    In the early 20th century Johannes Itten at the Weiman Bauhaus developed a color wheel based on primary colors of red, yellow and blue, resulting in a 12-hue color circle. Also during that time, American Albert Munsell developed a color analysis system based on hue, value and chroma. The book also shows usable color temperature charts and explains color schemes that turn color combinations into a set of rules around which the designer can select and organize colors in harmonious combinations. The six classic combinations are monochromatic, analogous, complementary, split complementary,
triadic and tetradic. If this becomes too overwhelming, go back to spreading out the oversized paint chips and pick out the colors that make you feel good at home.

Published: February 07, 2008
Issue: February 08 Money Issue