Painting your walls is, without a doubt, the single most transformative tool in all of interior design — and one of the most flexible. The impact of it is immediate, transforming the mood of a room and your idea of its size. Use it to spotlight overlooked details in a home’s architecture or to make ho-hum furnish- ings spring to life. The worst faux pas you can make is to just accept the standard default white paint that was slapped on the walls by your contractor or landlord. Nothing makes a room feel more unfinished. Your new home awaits you; it’s only a trip to the hardware store away.
While painting a room is relatively easy, selecting a color can take time. But take note: There is no such thing as a bad color, only bad color combinations. Take mauve and teal. Who would ever conceive of pairing them? A former editor of mine called the duo the “colors of a bruise.” It’s not a flattering combination, but it is avoidable.
Unfortunately for most people, decorating is not as easy as dressing. If a shirt clashes with a pair of pants, you just change one of them, but once you have committed a wall or sofa to a certain destiny, it takes more time than a wardrobe change to remedy it. Which is why we find ourselves laboring over tiny fabric swatches and paint samples, wondering if one color goes with another.
To simplify your options, try this foolproof recipe: Pair color with white. Choose absolutely any hue on the color wheel—for paint or fabric—and pair it, trim it, or surround it with white and the result will be a fresh and sophisticated look that’s a dynamic backdrop for any design scheme.
The Power Of Paint
Painting is the easiest, least expensive way to beautify your rooms. That said, it can also be an overwhelming process as the options are limitless. And what looks good on a one-inch paint chip can look very different when you’ve dipped a whole room in it.
What goes wrong between loving the paint swatch and hating the painted room? It’s usually comes down to light. The way a room receives (or doesn’t receive) light is the biggest factor in how you perceive color. Too much light and paint loses its saturation and looks like a photo that’s been overexposed by a flashbulb. Not enough and color falls flat on its face, lifeless. While window coverings can help diffuse this conundrum, you can also prepare for it by taking a practice run.
The simplest way to judge a given color is to try it out. Most companies sell small, inexpensive sample pots for exactly this purpose. Pick your favorite color (or colors) and paint your walls with a few 12-inch square patches. Alternatively, you can paint the color on a few painters’ canvases or pieces of foamcore board (you can purchase both at an arts and crafts store) and place them around the room in question. Painting several areas versus just one will give you the truest representation, because while paint reacts one way to direct sunlight, it can look completely different in softer, diffused light. Live with the patches for a few days and watch how they change from morning to night. Quality paint will take on different hues at different times of day.
Breaking The Rules
You’ve probably inherited some notions about paint colors already and about that miracle-worker white paint especially. Maybe you’ve heard it’s the only appropriate color for small spaces and for ceilings. Or that rich or dark colors make a room feel smaller. Throw those concepts out the window; life is too short to play it safe with white paint.
Normally, our perception of a room’s size comes from seeing where ceiling meets the walls and walls meet each other. It’s easy to pick out the boundaries of a room when it’s painted white and loaded with dark corners. Now, consider coating the walls (and maybe the ceiling) in a saturated color. All of a sudden those telling lines have disappeared before our eyes. Shadows become nuances—and when you’re thinking about nuances, you’re not obsessing about size.
Painting four walls and ceiling one color is best for bedrooms (so you can actually enjoy staring at the ceiling), bathrooms, and any room that’s blessed with high ceilings.
With a few gallons of paint, you can be your own sorcerer. Here are a few ways to transform your rooms with a brush and a roller.
Declutter a room: Paint walls the same hue as your sofa or largest piece of furniture and watch the furniture recede into space.
Spotlight art or photographs: Paint a dark or bright color on a wall featuring framed pictures, objects, or books. They’ll pop from the contrast.
Raise the ceiling: Coat the ceiling in a tone or two lighter than the walls—but not necessarily white. It will appear higher.
Highlight shapely furniture: A chair with a spec- tacular openwork back or a curvy sofa can be amplified by painting the wall a contrast color. Lavender, powder pink, and robin’s egg blue help dark wood look its best, while more saturated colors will let a crisp white sofa shine.
Sleep tight: The bedroom is the only room where you fully see the ceiling. Dipping your whole bedroom in one hue, such as pale celadon, guarantees a cozy, enveloping sensation each night. If you’re stuck on white ceilings, pick a hue that borders on powder blue for the illusion of a cloudless sky.
Review Your Choices
The color choices most paint companies offer is, in a word, overwhelming. And the average person will only have an opportunity to test a handful of colors in a lifetime, but for decorating and style editors like me, it’s a regular hobby. I’ve tried so many colors—for photo shoots, in friends’ houses, and in my own home—that I’ve whittled down the bunch to a hot list of no-fail favorites.
I tend to use paint from two companies: Benjamin Moore and Farrow & Ball. Benjamin Moore paint is easy to find and it offers a huge array of colors, all of which are reasonably priced, easy to apply, and quite durable. Farrow & Ball, a small British firm that has a growing presence online and in the United States, offers a tightly edited color palette of less than 150 colors. The paints are made traditionally, with a much higher concentration of pigment, giving them noticeably greater depth and complexity. And they have a price tag to reflect that ($75 per gallon vs. Benjamin Moore’s $35). I like Farrow & Ball’s entire palette; each hue is spot on. But when you’re wading through the staggering inventory of a Benjamin Moore, you’ll need a bit of direction.
Joan McKenzie started her working life as a signwriter. Today she is an interior design consultant and blogger. Her work can be found at www.homesrental.net