KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jul 29 2013

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The Art of Using Color in Design

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. Photo by Peter Christiansen Valli

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. Photo by Peter Christiansen Valli

Color brings life to your décor. It can lift your spirit and inspire you or calm you down; even make you look better if used correctly. So why does color intimidate most people even though we all love it? The answer is simple. Color is powerful. It is as multifaceted and moody as nature but doesn’t have to be daunting to use if you follow some basic guidelines.

You don’t want your clients chirping, “It’s too bright, too loud, too bland, too bold, too, too, too…not me.” But your never want them to retreat to a bland safety zone ( no more Navaho White please!).

Even we designers can be less than confident at times and fall back to beige. But, no one would want to live in a monochromatic world, right? Well, neither do your walls and ceilings – so don’t limit them, wow them.

A little forethought will bring much success and help allay any fears of selecting the wrong wall color … for the 33rd time! Most importantly, the rewards of personalizing a home and using color correctly are great.

Pantone 101

Color doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is affected by everything around it. Exposure of natural light (north, south, east, west) tints color, as does indoor light. What’s happening outside — how much greenery is filtering the color or reflecting onto it from outside, depth of overhangs causing shadows, color reflecting and bouncing off itself — will either enhance or subdue your desired effect. This is why you test paint in a space before committing. I have noted below some simple but effective general and specific tips for using color successfully in your home.

Walls & Ceilings

Begin with checking the direction of your natural light. Rooms with north or east exposures will have the coolest, bluest light. Colors that do best in cool light are on the warm spectrum (yellow-orange-red-brown values) or colors having these undertones.  Warm color provides the counterbalance to cool natural light. Rooms with south and west exposures use the opposite rule. Bright and direct natural light should be counterbalanced best with cool color values (violet-blue-teal-geen).Rooms with south and west exposure can take much stronger, more intense color because it doesn’t disappear in the harsh exposure.

Secondly, don’t just paint ceilings “Ceiling White.” For a soft, soothing, enveloping feel, tint ceilings to complement the wall color. This practice works well for rooms you want to be quiet and restful.

For drama, paint ceilings in high contrast using metallic paints like gold, silver and bronze, etc., or use dark/vibrant colors with a high-gloss finish. This will make your special statement rooms stand out.

To create height/air/coolness in areas such as kitchens and porches, paint the ceilings a pale, sky blue. There is a bonus beyond beauty for painting porch ceilings skye blue! Flying insects that build hives like wasps and bees are less likely to build a hive/nest in a blue ceiling supposedly because they have trouble distinguishing it from the sky. I may be giving away Grandma’s tricks of the trade and lore here, but in my experience it’s held true, and the look is pretty and refreshing

Distinguish Architecture

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. A combination of pale colors that coordinate with your walls, and white, can be used to call attention to fabulous crown moldings the way it was done in 18th-19th-century Europe.

Say “yes” to black! Every room should have a touch of black used in a not-so-ordinary way. Think windows and fireplaces. I decided to paint the windows of my house a bronze-black to give them a European elegance and also make the windows themselves feel larger and not broken up as they would if they were white.

I also always paint out the interiors of fireplaces with a heat-proof black paint — making the openings feel bigger. This also hides the heat and soot stains and prevents them from looking dirty.

Don’t be afraid to gild-the-lily occasionally. A touch of gold or silver leaf or paint added to crown moldings, wainscoting or fireplace surround details will add brightness, sparkle and vivacity to a traditional home. Use of contrasting color combinations on wainscoting and walls or in doorways is also an effective way to add drama to a room.

Creating Visual Interest

Red is almost always right. Most rooms benefit from using red, especially in the details. Incorporate red into your art by using red frames or mats for pictures, photographs or paintings. It’s especially effective for highlighting antique prints and Asian art, as I have done with antique watercolors over my fireplace.

Black is a great accent in accessories, lamp bases or used in one striking piece of furniture because it’s an anchor. Black is like the period at the end of the sentence.

Metals and metallic finishes add sparkle and reflect light, which enliven a room and even your outdoor areas. Any space, inside or out, can benefit from the spark it brings!

 – Kristi Nelson of KMNelson Design, LLC



This entry was posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013 at 5:10 PM and is filed under Bath Design, Inspiration, Kitchen Design, Projects, Trends, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1.  silk bedding |

    The pastel colors are very beautiful, I like this feeling of relaxation.