Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

An Introduction to Color, Sans Stick up the Butt (Don’t Worry, We’ll Get Technical Later)

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

You’ve been there before.  It’s time for a change, and you’re poised to paint your parlor with that perfect pair of pinks.  Or purples.  Or reds.  You find yourself in Home Depot, surrounded by paint samples, and well, what do you do?  You’d be amazed how overwhelming it can be.

photo credit:

photo credit:

When I started learning about design, color was a topic that surfaced frequently.  (Actually, my color education began in college painting classes, but that stuff is probably totally not useful here.)  Color is, to me, the apéritif of daily life – it gets our juices flowing, sets a mood, and can intoxicate better than a carefully hidden flask of Jameson.

And I think people take it way too seriously.  I mean it.

Research color on Google, and you’ll find a veritable tangled mess of information.  If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re looking for the straight and skinny.  You don’t need half the stuff.

There are some laws that remain somewhat true, and could influence your use of color around the house.  Red works great in kitchens, as it’s warm and supposedly stimulates the appetite (and passion – have some strawberries on hand!).  Conversely, blue represses hunger (besides blueberries, you don’t find a lot of blue foods in nature and spoiled foods are often blue, purple or black) and supposedly increases productivity.  According to some studies that I cannot verify, prospective employees who wear blue to interviews are viewed as potentially more loyal than the average interviewee.  Body builders have been shown to lift heavier weights in a blue room, as opposed to other colors.  Blue can be soothing, and is often recommended for both offices and bedrooms.

I’m cool with some of it (I do feel a correctly placed red can really get the juices flowing in all sorts of ways), but I really think a lot of this is crap.  You can’t place too much faith in a study if you don’t know how the study was constructed, who participated, the size of the participant pool, etc., etc., and etc.  I recommend trusting your gut feeling when you see a hue that might suit you.

Me?  I painted my bedroom a rich, bright, vibrant orange, which is a no-no in the field of design.  Orange inspires unrest and is considered too stimulating to occupy a bedroom wall.    My bedroom remains my cozy, wonderful, warm space, and I guarantee that any sleepless nights can be wholly blamed on my tastes for strong teas.  I feel better in orange. Oh, and I did paint an old bedroom blue, and I felt sluggish and bored when I should have been inspired.

You’ll find that certain colors speak to you, sing to you, and whisper sinful things to you.  Go with it.  It’s your home, right?  It’s not like you’re bound for a feature in Better Homes and Gardens, right?  Claim your territory and make your home uniquely YOU.  So if you think that your bedroom needs to rock out with an obnoxious yellow, go for it.  You want a purple kitchen?  Do it.  A blue dining room (gasp)?  Go a-freaking-head.

Yes, there are still a few things to keep in mind.


If it were up to me, I’d paint my bathroom marine blue and red-violet.  But well…

Think about it this way.  You’re most likely to comb your hair and apply makeup in the bathroom.  Your bathroom is the place where you’re going to use the mirror the most.  Color works as a function of light, and you want the purest light you can get.  Do you really want to apply your lipstick in a blue tinted room, only to have daylight morph that neutral shade into coral?  No.  You don’t want to look like Tammy Faye.  Keep your bathroom white, Nemo.  And while you’re at it, stick with waterproof mascara.


The outside of your house is what you present to the world.  The judgemental, HOA-espousing world.  Keep color here neutral or dusty.  By dusty, I mean take that green and add some slate to achieve a calmer tone.  You don’t live outside your house, anyway.


Childhood is an amazing, awesome time.  Let your little one pick the color of his or her room and suck it up if you hate it.  You won’t be allowed in there, anyway.  Your kids will have great memories of creating his or her own space.

I also highly recommend using chalkboard paint on some part of your child’s room.  You can find it almost anywhere, and it’s pretty much a chalkboard you can slather on a wall.  Kids love to get creative, especially on a formerly forbidden surface, like walls.

And don’t quote me, but what I’ve seen suggests that a white board (as in dry erase markers) paint may well find its way to market in the next decade.

Tight Spaces

Smaller rooms, especially tiny living rooms require lighter paint colors to open them up.  A dark shade will make it feel like a cave.  A lighter green looks fabulous in these places, and if you let light in, you’ll be amazed at the difference.  But of course, I also advise following your gut, so if you feel better in a brown space, enjoy it.

Complementary Colors

You want your foyer one shade, and you think the hallway stemming off it would look great in a coordinating hue.  How do you choose?  This is the easiest part, I swear.

Most paint companies manufacture color cards that feature several colors of paint, all stemming from the same color (per card, I mean).  The difference you see involves changes in intensity and shade.  Find a color you like, and pick others from the same card – it will coordinate.  Choose a paint company and see what tools they offer to aid in selecting additional shades.  Most likely you’ll find something useful.

If you can’t find a color that speaks to you, bring in an object that you love.  Most paint companies can match the shade.  They have wonderful doodads for it.  Don’t be afraid to purchase cheap sample bottles to compare paints on a wall.

Remember the Golden Rule

So many people forget this one truth, and it’s usually what trips them up.  Learn this.  Never forget it, and you will never stress about color again:

You can change any color in a matter of hours.  Nothing is permanent.

You’d be surprised how many people, when confronting a mistake, think it’s the end of the world.  Nope.  That chartreuse shade of suck on the dining room wall can easily be corrected with some primer and a gallon of paint.  Let the Golden Rule offer you some flexibility and room to experiment.  It may take days and a ton of primer, but you’ll eventually stumble on the one color that makes you fall in love.

Most importantly, have fun!

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