Remember the golds and avocado greens of the ’70s, the blue-and-mauve interiors of the ’80s? We see those colors and can name the era instantly.
Today, however, “people are choosing their own combinations,” said color and design consultant Kate Smith. But that also means we have more decisions to make – and more ways to go wrong.
“We’ve all made mistakes before,” said Smith, author of “Color Confidence: Color for Your Home Interior.” “Color is not easy. It’s just not simple until you really understand it.”
If you find choosing colors overwhelming, Smith can help.
For six hours on Saturday and again on Sunday, Smith will sit down one-on-one at the Fall Home and Garden Show in The Woodlands with anyone who needs color advice. In 10-minute sessions, she’ll pore over photos, pick through paint swatches and offer her expert advice, whether it’s “What goes with this purple sofa?” or “What color should I paint my bedroom?”
While everyone’s space is different, we asked Smith to offer some general guidelines for being smart about color. She shared ideas for both interior and exterior spaces:
Even if you’re painting just a single room, you don’t want to start without giving the color a lot of thought. “I know oftentimes people say, ‘Oh, it’s just paint,’ ” Smith said. “I don’t believe in that. Let’s get it right the first time.”
Take it down a notch. Paint swatches can be misleading. “Most often, the colors that look the best on the swatch are the ones that won’t look as nice on the walls,” Smith said. A shade that looks buttery and warm in a 1-inch square can resemble neon yellow in the bedroom. How to get around that? Choose a shade that’s a bit duller than the one you love. You may not think it’s bright enough, Smith said. But “when they get blown up to wall size, those shades have a lot of color to them.”
Make a bigger sample. Smith likes to put two coats of paint on a piece of posterboard. That’s enough to help you see how the color will feel in the room and how it will change in different types of light. “You can move it around, put it up high, put it next to your carpet,” she said. You can even cut it in half and see how it looks on adjacent walls.
Don’t change your mind halfway through. “There’s a point when it starts to go up that you’re going to panic,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter how great the color is – it’s new, it’s different, it’s not painted from wall to wall yet.” If you get half a wall painted and you hate the color, don’t paint over it immediately. “The biggest mistake homeowners can make is to change the color while it’s going up,” she said. Sleep on it. Don’t make any quick judgments. “It takes about 48 hours for your mind to adjust to the new color and see it how it really is.”
Neutrals aren’t always a safe, easy choice. If you’re more comfortable with neutrals, that’s fine. But they’re not foolproof. Look at the undertones. Are your beige sofa’s warm undertones at odds with the cool gray of the walls? “They are actually fighting each other a little bit,” Smith said. Look for neutrals that have the same level of warmth, then add a pop of color with accessories or a single accent wall.
Take a trend and make it yours. Pantone and the big paint companies all trot out the color of the year (this year’s Pantone hue: Marsala, which resembles a muddy red wine), but it’s easy for the color of the moment to look dated in a few years. If you want to jump in on a trend, put your own spin on it, she said. Mix it with what you have already and come up with your own combinations. “If you’re seeing purple and gray everywhere, do purple and mint green,” Smith said. “Just do something slightly different that’s totally you. Then it will never look out of date.”
Don’t be afraid to commit to a color you love. Some people have a lifelong love for a particular shade. If given a choice, do you always opt for the teal shirt, the aquamarine car, the blue-green phone cover? If that’s you, “go for it,” Smith said. “Have a teal sofa. You’re not going to get tired of it; you haven’t been tired of that color your whole life.” But check your level of commitment. You’ve never particularly cared for orange, but now that it’s trendy you’re loving it? “You might not want to go for the orange sofa,” Smith said. Buy some orange throw pillows and see how you feel in a year.
You usually don’t have total freedom when painting the outside of your house – but having fewer options can make decisions easier. Smith lists five key factors – she uses the acronym FRESH – to help clients find the right color.
Fixed features: Brick, stonework, roofing materials aren’t going to change. Narrow your choices to colors that will work with the elements already in place.
Regional colors: “When you’re living in Houston, the (exterior) colors that are appropriate are not the same as they are in New England or Washington state,” Smith said. A New England Saltbox house might look perfectly tasteful painted the icy blue of Atlantic waters, but that same blue could look garish on a ’50s ranch house. If you want to be adventurous, go small: Try painting the door a brighter color or using bolder accent colors.
Environment and surroundings: Are you in a neighborhood? Then you probably don’t want the same color as your next-door neighbor. But you can take cues from the other houses on the block. “You want something that stands out in a positive way.”
Style of the home: “There are certain colors that work better on certain style houses,” Smith said. Bungalows and Victorian homes can look right with brighter paint, but a Spanish-style home with a red tile roof might need a neutral trim that doesn’t compete. Again, look at houses like yours in your neighborhood and in home design magazines.
Historic colors (or homeowner’s association): If you live in a historic district or belong to a homeowner’s association, your color choices may be restricted. If you need to get approval, do so before you start painting.