Using Color To Design Your Space

Published June 27, 2012 by Julie Provenzano

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way- things I had no words for

            - Georgia O’Keefe 

It's as true for design as it is for fine art-  no other element is as suited to conveying character and mood than color.  Whether soft and muted or bold and spirited, color has the capacity to both define and describe the spaces in which it is used.  It can soothe or energize.  It can be used to create a feeling of freedom or intimacy, passion or serenity.  If color is such a vibrant and significant part of our lives, then why do we often find ourselves in a quandary when it comes to using color in the design of our homes?

Let's take a little journey, explore the multi-faceted nature of color and discover the best ways to maximize its power within our interior spaces.

Most of us are familiar with the color wheel, its spectrum of warm and cool colors and how they either compliment or contrast one another.  To further explore these concepts, it helps to take a look outside and observe how color shows up in nature:  A field of red poppies against a robin’s egg blue sky, the muted tones of smooth river rock beneath clear rushing water, snow capped mountains, threatening thunderclouds, rainbows.  As you picture these scenes in your mind's eye, you are most likely also feeling them in your gut.  The poppies may have sparked energy and movement, the river serenity and inner peace, the mountains wonder and possibility, and so on. 

Contemplating the wide range of emotion color elicits is an ideal starting point for using it in our homes.  For the color-wary, a safe place to begin using color is with accent pieces.  Keeping backdrops like flooring, walls and major furnishings neutral while placing pops of color throughout a room allows for interchangeability in both mood and style.  For the more courageous, an accent wall or area rug can bring an emotional boost to a space without overpowering it.  Using vibrant shades of red in a dining room, for example, stimulates appetite and creates intimacy.  If you are new to using color, Frisco based designer Phyllis Johnston suggests using the formal dining room as your starting point.  “Using a darker color in the dining room can make the space more intimate.  Because large, eat-in kitchens have become the focal point of many homes, formal dining rooms often go overlooked and unused.  Yet, designing these rooms with a specific color scheme in mind can add tremendously to the overall design aesthetic of the home.” 

Which color scheme to use depends on the personality of the homeowner.  “It's no longer ‘white after Memorial Day’ says Johnston.  “Anything goes.”  While colors within the red family are great options for dining rooms, the point is, when it comes to color, to think outside the box.  Exactly how to do this depends on, you guessed it, personal taste.  Taking a look around your home and basing your color scheme on a color that’s already present means not only will you be able to utilize existing pieces, but you will be using colors that appeal to your personal taste.  Just make sure you’re using pieces you truly love, not ones acquired through inheritance or simply because the price was right.  A great place to begin is a fabric store, the paint hub of a big box home improvement store or your favorite art gallery.  Take the time to feel what colors speak to you, without over-thinking your choices.  When you’ve tapped into that emotion, you know you are making the right decision.  For example, muted shades of beige, blue and green might be classic symbols of serenity, but if your personality screams pink, don’t be afraid to splash your bedroom with it.  Again, neutral walls and flooring can provide the perfect contrasting background to a room bathed in the romantic hue of pink.  Like brilliantly colored flowers against more neutral foliage. 

 Another area to consider when using color is blending exterior and interior spaces.  If your home boasts a fabulous view- and it doesn’t have to be beach front to be fabulous, a shady tree lined street or twinkling city-scape can be just as appealing- take advantage of it and bring some of the outside color in. 

Modern metallics and natural stones work well in urban condos for the same reason billowy whites, rustic hardwoods and classic primaries work well in more rural settings.  Both use the colors contained in the home’s location and natural surroundings to create dynamic interior spaces.  Love your wide front porch with its lazy porch swing?  Use complementing throw pillows outside on the swing and inside on the sofa to create natural flow between these spaces.  Again, which colors you choose depend on personal taste.  If a color resonates with you, use it. 

Finally, if you may be considering selling your home, neutral paint colors tend to work best.  While pink may be your signature hue, it can be a highly emotional color and people’s opinions of it tend to fall on opposite ends of the spectrum; i.e. they love it or they hate it.  Therefore, if your home is on the market, and you must use pink, or any other pizzazz, use it in accessories rather than paint.  While its not possible to remove all traces of individuality when home staging, you want to make potential buyers feel their lives will slip effortlessly into their new home.  Brightly colored walls, while they might rev you up, will likely put the brakes on a potential sale.  You can take your fuchsia pillows with you, and they may provide the perfect accent to really show off those hand scraped hardwoods. 

Like Georgia O’Keefe said so eloquently, color is one of the best ways to convey mood.  It can spark energy, center it, spread it and change it.  Start small, work your way up, and never compromise personal taste for passing fancy.  Using inner voice as your guide, mother nature as inspiration and armed with a few strategic tips, you can create an aesthetically pleasing color palette in your home.  Its inexpensive, easy and good clean (colorful) fun.