5 Color Dilemmas Solved!

Color experts share how to solve palette problems for a bedroom, living room and more.

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The combination of dark woods, golden hues and the right lighting can create a very cozy and inviting space, like in this room designed by Jean Alan.

Hi HGTV.com,
I need desperate help with the colors in my living room. My house was built in the '70s and our living room has dark brown paneling with high vaulted ceilings. I also have gold-colored leather furniture. Help!! What do I do? I am on a tight budget so I mainly would like to work around the colors of my furniture. I also have a huge antique white bookshelf on one wall. I would like to have the walls a dark brown if you think that would look good. Please let me know what to do.
—Desperate in the Living Room

Dear Desperate in the Living Room,
Are you willing to paint the paneling lighter? This will create a more open and pleasant feeling in your room. It is possible, using the right primer/sealer and a stain blocker. Otherwise the height of all dark brown walls will feel rather like walls looming overhead, which would be a very uncomfortable space!

To make this room will feel both spacious and comfortable, try the following:


  • On the wall with the huge bookshelf try a mid-range color that relates closely to the bookshelf, perhaps a caramel-type color, as a background for the items displayed. Look for the undertone color of the "antique white" bookshelf, for color cues to the wall. "Antique white" is usually an off-white based on yellow or orange.


  • One basic principle you can apply: The eye is drawn to contrast. If walls are dark brown and ceiling is white, you will have an upward-emphasis in the room. This is why less contrast is better in your space. You did not mention the ceilings, but if possible make them a creamy off-white. If you must have brown on the walls, look for a rich medium brown, something like saddle leather. Gold-colored furniture will be compatible with a variety of colors especially a bronze, rust, even a dusty plum type. For accessories and pillows you can include a variety of colors that you like.


  • The whole effect will also depend a bit on the floor, which is a large part of the room. On the floor, you might use a rug with a large scale design, made in colors that include the gold of the furniture and perhaps, in small amounts, the accent colors you choose for pillows and other accessories.


  • You can lighten up the space with lighting. If your walls and ceiling are light, you can aim some lighting upwards, perhaps with fixtures that use halogen lamps that have a cooler light color. Also include table lamps with incandescent bulbs, which are more yellow light, for warmth.

—color consultant Barbara Jacobs, Integral Color and Design

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