Color in Home Decorating

by Jo Stewart Wray

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Bring Color into the Home

After you have decided the decorating style you like, focus on your taste in colors, especially those that go with your favorite style. Think about the colors in your closet. Think about the things you already own.

Color is the single most important ingredient in decorating. Colors send messages. They create mood and can make you actually tingle with excitement. They can be dramatic or tranquil; they can suggest styles. Colors have the ability to enlarge or minimize a room or a piece of furniture. Think of how a dark, drab room can be changed by a coat of white paint.

Moods and styles can be created with color. A formal mood as in a classic Victorian house is best accomplished with roses, blues, beiges, wine, royal blue, and pinks. Since pinks are soft and restful, they are good for bedrooms. Pinks and greens may be used in country cottages. For a contemporary look, use blues, greens, off-whites, lemon yellow, and grays. For country French, use yellows, blues, and whites. For southwestern, use terra-cotta colors with primary colors and turquoise as accents.

Use yellows to make gloomy rooms look sunny and cheerful. Paler shades give a softer look. If you add blues or turquoises to green, you create the effect of water. Dark blues and greens are good bedroom choices, but red - a stimulating color- may not be. It is good for kitchens, though.

Consider the amount of light in the room you are decorating. How will each color look in the available light? Both artificial and natural light affect the colors you choose, so bring home as large a sample of the color as possible to view at different times of day and in different lights. Incandescent light enhances warm colors and washes out cool ones. Fluorescent light weakens warm colors and enhances cool colors. A color's value is changed by the surrounding light. Low light darkens value, but too much light can make a color seem washed out and weak. Your color scheme should include tones that everyone in your house likes.

There are several ways to use color effectively and inexpensively. One way is to use a basic color or two or three main colors throughout your home so that accessories, furniture and draperies can be used in more than one room. Any number of colors may be used in a room if they are similar in value and intensity. Alternatively, you could have a different color scheme in each room, which is fun but not economical. Painting all the walls in your house one basic color saves money on paint.

A monochromatic color scheme in which you use one color in varying shades and intensities shows off textures, shapes and accessories and makes your room look larger.

The easiest color scheme to use is the three-color scheme two main colors and one accent color. Think about the subtle colors in a beautiful sky and keep your color tones in balance.

Don't be distressed while choosing a color scheme for a room or even a whole house. Follow your instincts and the colors in your closet. The colors in your room can be the same colors you would want to wear together in a favorite outfit.

Color-Choice Tips

  • Choose the colors of nature: the blue and white of the sky; the blue-green and turquoise of water; the muted colors of a desert; the monochromatic color scheme of a moonlit night; the colors in a rainbow; or the colors of leaves in the fall.
  • Remember how different colors change in different lighting situations. A color that's exactly what you want on a paint chip may look totally different on your wall.
  • Look at your closet and make note of the colors you favor. But remember that just because you love to wear hot pink or red doesn't mean you should paint your walls that color.
  • Collect paint and wallpaper samples and fabric swatches. Soon your favorite color combinations will emerge
  • Keep the paint color cards so that you can remember the exact colors if you need more paint. Do not try to rely on your color memory.
  • Use a favorite painting to help you select your color scheme. Do you like paintings by Van Gogh, Matisse, or Dufy? Then choose clear morning colors for your color scheme. Or perhaps you prefer the dark, rich colors of Rubens.
  • To feel confident and comfortable in your choices, find the colors, values, and intensities that lift your mood.
  • Study the colors in nature around you and become familiar with how they change with the light throughout the day.
  • For a luxurious effect, try a no-color scheme. Walls, draperies, carpet, and even upholstery may be off-white or white. One accent color is used and green plants are added so that the no-color room develops a feeling of color. However, this is not a practical option for a family with children: White walls show dirt.
  • Strong, bold color schemes are made up of complementary colors. These should be used with care because of the intensity of the colors.
  • Be aware that certain colors are fads and using them in upholstery or other major purchases might be a budgeting mistake. It will be better to use these fad colors as accents in pillows or slipcovers that can more easily be replaced.
  • Choose your color scheme around what you have now in upholstery and carpeting. Wall paint, draperies, pillows, or art and more easily changed. Slipcovers can change the look or upholstery, and area rugs can cover carpeting, but they eventually wear out and must be replaced.

Keep in mind that colors actually affect your perception of surroundings. Following are some general rules:

  • Warm colors make a room appear smaller and more intimate.
  • Cool colors make a room seem larger and more spacious.
  • Intense colors make a room seem smaller, while low intensity colors enlarge it.
  • Dark colors make a room seem smaller; light colors make it seem larger.
  • Highly contrasting colors make a room seem smaller.
  • The more of a particular color you have in a room, the more intense it will appear.

Again, follow your intuition and your heart to your favorite colors and a meaningful decorating style.

Exerpted from The Cheapskate's Guide to Home Decorating by Jo Wray. It's available at your local bookstore and online at Barnes & Noble and

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