By Marni Jameson
I’m about to make your life a lot easier.
For years I have followed and shared this design principle: When choosing a color palette for your home, start with an inspiration piece — a painting, rug, fabric, or wallpaper swatch you love — and let the colors be your dowsing rod.
Now I know why.
While talking recently with interior designer Susan Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, of Cleveland, I told her about an area rug I was using to divine color in my home.
Her response: “Using a great piece of art, or area rug or fabric that contains colors you love as a guide is foolproof because the colors have been curated.”
Of course! Trained artists select and combine – or curate – these colors.
Light bulbs went off in my head like paparazzi at the Oscars.
Curated is to color what surgical training is to surgery. Artists who select the colors in rugs, textiles, or, heck, even giftwrap, have color training. They know what goes together – and more important – what doesn’t.
Pshaw! How hard is that? You say. After all, you got a 64 pack of crayons as a kid. You know your primary from your secondary colors. I’ll tell you, color is complicated. Combining colors is triple black diamond difficult. I learned how complicated years ago when I took a color theory class at UCLA, and studied not only pigment and hue, but also value and tone, and undertone, and tetrads and triads, and learned that yellow can be cool and blue can be warm, and neutrals can be accent colors, and accent colors can be neutrals.
I learned enough to know that certain folks know a lot more than I do about color, and that their expertise is worth latching onto.
So here’s where I’m going with this. When choosing a color palette for your home, let the experts give you a running start. Trying to cobble together a combination yourself is like extracting your own tooth.
It’s far less painful, and you will have fewer complications, if you let a professional help.
Painting companies have also made color selection easier by vetting colors and combining them into families. So you can confidently pick from one color family and know that the curated colors – even those as different as teal, mocha and persimmon — will get along.
I’m taking to Wadden about all this: “I’m such a hypocrite,” I say. “I always recommend people stay on one color strip and move up and down it when choosing wall colors for their homes, then I go and paint my house in five different colors. How can I defend that?” I send her pictures as we talk.
The interior walls of my new home incorporate five colors, which would be risky, except they are all part of Sherwin Williams Historic Collection.
“I love the idea of painting rooms different colors, so long as there is an intentional palette,” she said. “Sure, a beautiful elegant way to design your home is to stay on one strip. You will get a really sure, safe look. Going off the strip and incorporating different colors is more difficult, but you pulled it off because you started with something you loved, the rug, and paired that with a vetted color collection.”
And I let the experts lead the way.
Here’s what two of my favorite design experts have to say about working with curated color.
- Find inspiration. “You can’t go wrong by starting with something you love and making connections,” said Wadden. “Find a fabric, pillow, piece of art or rug that already has curated color in it and let it inspire your palette.”
- Use paints from one family. Once you have a palette, you can paint rooms inside your house different colors – but pull colors from the same color collection, which most paint companies have put together. These color groupings are vetted to make sure the colors work together. You will save yourself hours and possibly thousands of misspent dollars if you rely on experts trained in color combining. For instance, the Behr paint line has several curated palettes: Artisan, Cottage, Classic, Modern and Neutral. Each contains 28 colors that all get along.
- Look outside. Nature is a natural curator of color. Look to her for background and accent colors, said Dallas interior designer Betty Lou Phillips, author of “The French Way with Design,” and many more design books. “Be open to seeing what you like together, and then pick up and follow the clues.”
- Watch the proportions. To achieve color harmony, you also need to mix colors in the right proportion, said Phillips. “The music is in the fabric. Look to the composition for how the colors are mixed and in what proportions. Add and subtract until you achieve balance.”
- Note color placement. “Position is as important as proportion,” said Phillips. “You don’t want a color that sticks out because it doesn’t relate to the rest of room.” If your accent is orange, for instance, and you have an orange stripe in a seat cushion, place an orange candle across the room, an orange flower somewhere else. “Distribute the color in some way, even a small way.”
- What’s in a name. Designers name colors intentionally, said Phillips. Their names offer hints to their best context. Davenport Tan is a traditional classic. Procession pink strikes a nice note for a girl’s room. Now, proceed with color caution and some curated clues.