Working With Color

November 10th, 2008 · No Comments

A friend asked me today how I go about picking colors for a room.  To be honest, I don’t have a “system” or any really specific methods.  I usually just make that first decision, and the rest just seem to follow.  Mistakes are inevitable, but the best part of design is that it’s a process, not a product.  Have fun with it, and realize that you’re in control.

It can be nerve-wracking to be working with a blank slate, and for me something akin to writer’s block soon follows.  To help solve this puzzle, I’ll provide some really simple guidelines for picking colors.

Figure out what the room means to you.

When I start with a room, before I make any decisions I “listen” to the space and determine what I want it to be.  A home is a reflection of your own ideals, so think about what you want the room to say to you.  For example, if your bedroom is your sanctuary, think about peace and tranquility.  If you need your office to be a place of concentration, think about focus, determination and calm.  What do these values mean do you, and what colors come to mind when you think about them?

Another trick is to think of other places where you’ve felt the way you want your room to feel.  If going to the local spa makes you relaxed, look for the colors and features they employ.  If your favorite restaurant reminds you of flavor and savoring life, don’t just think about the food; can you use those colors in your kitchen?

Pick a palette, not a color.

This is the most important piece of advice I can think of.  A room isn’t one or two colors; it’s a range of hues working together.  As such, don’t go into a paint store looking for just that right shade of yellow; you probably won’t find it.  Instead, think of your room as a palette, a series of colors that complement each other and make your room feel like home.

Fortunately there’s an easy rule to apply when picking a palette: 80/20.  Try to make 80% of the room a series of calm, neutral colors, and use the remaining 20% to spice things up.  If you have dark furniture, try using some neutral flooring and wall colors, and perhaps a very light patterned rug.  Remember, accessories in the room give it color too!  Those red books on your white shelf will definitely stand out.  Also remember that black is not a neutral color; I try to use it in the same way I would a bright green, in that 20% category.

I really like the COLOURlovers website for picking palettes.  Not only does it let you pick a series of colors, but you can apply them to built in patterns to see how they interact.

Look for inspiration.

Don’t just go flipping through interior design magazines — those are other people’s rooms, not yours.  If you’re going to use them, think about how the rooms pictured make you feel, not how they look.

Personally, I prefer to look for inspiration outside.  You really can’t go wrong using a palette that appears in nature itself.  Not only does the combination of color in a tulip look beautiful, but it can make your room feel connected to the outside world.  Nature has an immeasurable impact on the way you feel both physically and mentally, so you should try to capture some of that in your color choices.

Remember, it’s your room, your choice.  You aren’t decorating for someone else, you’re doing it for yourself.  Don’t just buy page 26 of Crate & Barrel.  Take the time, look around, and your color choices will become clear.

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