Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I know this may be unpopular right now given the current trends, but I am kind of sick of white, bleached out interiors. While a room awash in neutrals can definitely be serene and even sophisticated, when put in the wrong hands, it can end up feeling (a) institutional and cold or (b) like you took your realtor's advice and removed all the personality from your house because you're trying to sell it.
On the other hand, a room inspired by one (or more) colors of the rainbow is so much more fun. And of course the best thing about using bright, bold colors is that it works for any style and any space: just choose your favorite color (or two, or three) and go crazy.
The key to the success of all of these spaces is balance -- the Golden Rule of decorating. When you go big and bold on the walls, the room works best when furniture is more sedate. The drama in the room comes from the wall color itself and depending on the color choice, that can be more than enough. In contrast, when the furnishings are the stars, the walls should be kept neutral, allowing the chair, sofa or accessories to take their proper place at center stage. J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons' formal living room (below left) is a spectacular example of how even a small dose of color (here, the yellow sofa) can manage to make an otherwise neutral space extremely vibrant and -- in part because the contrast between the yellow and the gray is so high -- very modern. On the other hand, you can achieve a more traditional look by keeping the contrast between walls and furniture lower (see below right).
Another general rule of using color is that, the more varied your color palette, the more eclectic the overall effect. Pulling in every color of the rainbow creates a high level of contrast and mismatch, which can work if you're going for a bohemian look. Somewhat counter intuitively, a rainbow of accessories can -- when used in an all-white interior -- have a very fresh European look, as shown in textile designer Chrissie Probert Jones' entryway (shown at the beginning of this post). But generally speaking, if you're going for modern and/or minimalist, it's best to keep it to one (at most two) bold accent color(s), like Lee Kleinhelter's yellow and white living room or Mary McDonald's green, pink and white living room (each above).
The benefit of working in a single color family is that you can mix up the patterns while still maintaining a "pulled together" look. A great example of this is Annie Selke's blue-green coastal dining room (above right). Despite consisting of a striped rug, oriental wall mural, and Indian-inspired fabric on the chairs, Selke's room manages to be both calm and eclectic without overwhelming the eye. The pattern mixing also works here because the size and proportions of the patterns aren't the same: the mural is large-scale, the fabric medium, and the stripes are small. If all the patterns were either all large-scale or all small-scale, the end result would be too busy and not nearly as successful.
I had to dedicate an entire collage to violet because I adore it in all its many iterations. Like blue/indigo, purples are particularly successful in more traditional interiors, though Sara Story's masterful use of violet on the ceiling of a dining room otherwise done in various shades of gray is fantastically modern and helps focus the eye on the height of the room rather than on its narrow width. If you're looking to avoid an overtly feminine look, try using deep plums and aubergines. These darker iterations can be used for maximum impact and drama, as the first three pictures above illustrate.
Photo Credits: domino magazine, Cottage Living, Elle Decor, LivingEtc, House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home, O at Home, Sarah Story Design, and Jonathan Adler.