“How can this room best take care of you?”
That’s the guiding light that drives every decision I make as both an interior designer and a homeowner. When given the blank canvas of a new room, or presented with the idea of a redesign, it’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed. That’s why many of us want rules. What do the experts say I should do? Believe me; every designer has been there, myself included. Experts are experts for a reason, and a little bit of research into the basics of what works and what doesn’t is never a bad thing. But, too often we can get bogged down by the idea of “right” and “wrong,” overwhelmed by all of the rigid and often contradictory dos and don’ts, and as a result we lose the most important part of the room: ourselves.
Rules are great, but you like what you like for a reason, and at the end of the day it’s going to be your space, so you should go with your instincts. Advice is great, and it would be foolish not to listen to informed guidance, but the ultimate decision is something you should feel comfortable with, and that makes you feel good.
Color design is no different. You can look at examples and research the hues and tints that perfectly complement each other forever. You’ll still never find the “right” answer because none exists. You ultimately need to choose for yourself. That’s why, when talking about my own basics of color design, my first priority will always be…
Design Your Space, Not the Perfect Space
How we experience color is a deeply personal and idiosyncratic thing. Sure, there are general guidelines, and we’ll get in to them below, but none of them take precedence over your own personal preferences, feelings, and needs. By way of example, many designers, myself included, would tell you to avoid bright, stimulating colors in your bedroom, as they might interfere with your ability to get a good night’s rest, but that’s hardly a universal truth.
A friend of mine, an early riser, has an open bedroom with huge windows she leaves uncovered. She likes to wake up to the sun, and her walls are a bright, not quite canary yellow, softened by wood furniture. Would I make this choice? Never. Does it bring her endless joy to wake up to such a bright space? Absolutely. And that’s what’s important: she made the space her own, and did what she needed to make it fulfill her needs. This will always be a smart move.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain higher-level suggestions you should consider.
Warm and Cool Color
Oftentimes, having categories to break down large decisions like color selection can be very helpful. The dichotomy of warm vs cool colors is a particularly helpful framework, because those terms are so evocative of the senses and we all, to a certain degree, intuitively understand what they mean. Warm colors are vivid and bright, the colors of flames and electricity, of sand covered deserts and flower-filled gardens. Cool colors, meanwhile, are rich and intense, the rich green-blues of the sea or the dark foliage of a dense jungle.
These distinctions are helpful because they help communicate the effect each color palette has on the way a room feels, how it impacts your mind and body. Warm colors energize us. They excite the eye and invite the sunlight inside. Their lighter shades can make a room feel more open and spacious, giving you the sense that you have room to breathe, that you can stretch your legs and open yourself up to the day and tasks ahead. Cool colors, meanwhile, soothe and relax the mind. Instead of invigorating you for the day ahead, these palettes bring you back to a place of calm. Instead of feeling open, rooms featuring cooler colors cradle you and hold you close, making you feel safe and at peace.
Think, as you design your space, how do I want this room to make me feel? What role does it play in my life, in my day? Do I want it to help me rise to my feet or finally relax? Is there a way I could use both principals to make a more versatile space? Again, these aren’t rules so much as things to think about. It’s all about empowering you to make the decisions that best take care of you and your home.
The Versatility of Black
All of us seem to understand the necessity and versatility of black in our wardrobe. Black dresses or shirts or whatever aren’t the big bold statement pieces in our closets; they’re the basic pieces we won’t get sick of that are easy to build around. And yet, when it comes to designing our living spaces, many seem to be deathly afraid of embracing the darkest of colors for our walls, floors, and finishing touches. There seems to be this sense that black is always uninviting, dour, melancholy and off-putting. Well, I’m here to tell you that heavily featuring black in your space, whether it’s on the walls or elsewhere, can be rich, warm, and beautiful.
In fact, designers have been embracing black more and more. Whether it’s the black walls featured above, or black kitchen cabinets, there’s a reason it’s becoming so popular. The walls in the above image are a bold choice, but they don’t dominate the room with darkness. Instead, the room as a whole, with its abundance of natural light and the softer tones of the furniture, manages to be elegant and refined without being overstated or stuffy. I mean, look at it; it’s a relatively simple space. It certainly isn’t trying too hard to get your attention, and without the added dimension of the black walls, it might actually be a tad bit boring. The rich black walls add an entirely new dimension that transforms the room into something exciting, a room that looks pleasant, inviting, and relaxing. Black walls inspire fear in many homeowners, so I encourage people to find examples like the room above so they can see all the possibilities that are out there, and how many of them will surprise you.
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Live Well, and Be Well.