In living color

Local design professionals explain how to break out of your comfort zone and make color work for you

Story by Amy Newman

Craving some color? You’re not alone. Nearly 75 percent of homeowners say they want to inject more color into their homes, according to a recent nationwide survey by Sherwin-Williams. Adding color is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to evoke change and create more exciting living spaces.

It can change a room’s perspective, create a central focal point and even enhance your mood. But choosing a color combination for your home interior can be intimidating. It’s tough to know what colors work together, how much of each color should be used, and how to choose colors you won’t get sick of.

To help you build up your color confidence, we talked with three local design pros for their tips and advice.

Picking a palette

Color choices and combinations are endless, which can make choosing a color scheme seem overwhelming. But there is a trick to choosing a color scheme that decorators use (and you can too). It’s the color wheel. Familiarizing yourself with the color wheel can help you see the relationships between different hues and understand how to best mix and match a cool color with a warm one, for a naturally balanced room. Monochromatic schemes, for example, combine several shades of a single hue for a subtle palette, while complementary schemes use two hues opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, says Kim Herning, owner of Decorating Den Interiors in Fairbanks. One popular option is to choose adjoining colors on the wheel, such as red and gold, she says – these are colors that harmonize or blend well together.

But in today’s design world, inspiration can be found anywhere.

“If they’re people who enjoy nature, they can draw from a sunset or a garden scene,” says Sharon Campbell, commercial design sales lead at Curtis & Campbell in Anchorage.

Mimi Powers, design consultant at Williams & Kay in Anchorage, often has clients bring in a colorful piece from home that they love, like an area rug, wall art or even a lamp.

For clients that are truly stuck, Herning asks them to imagine how they want to feel in the completed space, and then has them choose colors that evoke those feelings.

Decorating magazines, fabric samples and even the ubiquitous paint chips are other good sources of inspiration, as are online resources that allow you to upload room photos and play with color.

Although color choice is extremely personal, designers do see color trends.

Campbell sees a lot of softer colors – light blues and greens, driftwood and melon. Powers says emerald green is becoming popular. Herning sees blues, greens, purple and orange, “as well as the earth tones that never go out of style.” If you’re thinking of adding yellow for a cheerful effect, Herning suggests whole wheat instead, because too much yellow often looks fluorescent.

Using color to transform

When a major renovation isn’t in the budget, color can help transform a space. For just a few hundred dollars, you can change the tone and feel of a room. A stark white room, for example, can be turned into a warm, inviting sanctuary through color. It’s not only an easy and affordable renovation, it’s also one of the easiest to change later on.

Dark colors on the walls and ceiling makes a room feel smaller, while painting the ceiling and walls different colors makes it feel taller, Campbell says. Different colors on opposite sides of a long hallway make it appear wider, she adds.

Adding color to an accent wall creates a focal point. Walls with architectural or other unique details that you’d want to highlight, like a fireplace, are good choices for accent walls, Herning says. If you want to go bold without being overwhelmed, Herning suggests using a strong color on a wall with openings or cut-outs to break up the color.

Avoiding a color catastrophe

All of the designers we spoke with agree that when it comes to color, the rules no longer exist. “In today’s world, you put colors together like you’ve never seen before,” Powers says. “Years ago, you never put pink and red together, you didn’t put purple and green together.”

But catastrophes can result when color is misused.

Too many colors in one area may cause a feeling of chaos, which goes against the general desire to create a calm haven, Herning says.

Misuse of color also can interrupt the home’s flow.

“Colors should work with each other from room to room, so when you transfer from one room to another it’s pleasing,” Campbell says. That doesn’t mean the same color in every room – you could do a soft blue to a soft green, with white molding for continuity, she says. Colors should also tie together within a room, she adds. If the wall is painted red, then at least one accent piece also should contain red.

Powers suggests choosing at least one color to be used in some form throughout the house, whether as paint, furniture or accent pieces, to help maintain flow.

Still unsure?

Still not ready to commit? Start small, suggest Herning. Add pops of color with accessories like rugs, lamps, window treatments and wall art. This allows you to play with different combinations until you decide what you like.

If you’re leaning toward bright colors, like turquoise or orange, Campbell suggests using them as accents in pillows, dishes or towels. These are easy to change if you tire of the brighter color, she says.

Whatever colors you ultimately choose, and however you decide to use them, the one thing you shouldn’t do when adding color is stress.

“Don’t be afraid, and have some fun with it,” Campbell says. “It’s an inexpensive way to change your home.”