Color Rules for Small Spaces

When it comes to coloring your apartment, it's definitely okay to go outside the lines.

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True or false: An all-white color palette will make an apartment look larger. False! This is a common misconception of small-space design, along with the idea that less furniture makes an apartment feel larger. Instead, carefully placed furnishings and carefully chosen color can create an inviting space with style way beyond its diminutive size.

The number one color rule for a small space? There are no rules — really. If you want your apartment to look like your favorite Pucci scarf, do your thing. The goal should always be to make your rented space personal and appeal to you. Having said that, the experts who deal with color and interior design all the time do know a thing or two. Here are their tips and tricks.

Choose Sharp Colors

One of the best ways to expand a space is with very clear colors, says designer Mark McCauley, ASID, author of Interior Design for Idiots. "Choose a palette of sharper colors as opposed to duller ones. Sharp as in bright chintzes mixed with colorful plaids or really hot reds and electric blues, yellows and greens (with plenty of air between the pieces). Color combinations with negative space in between will enhance the space's clarity and openness."

Color Unexpected Accents

Bring splashes of color to a radiator, the inside of a bookshelf or a windowsill to bring excitement and depth to a room. If you're lucky enough to have a foyer or hall, paint that a dark color and ease into a lighter shades in the living room, which will make it feel more spacious by comparison.

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Create a Focal Wall

While some designers frown on the idea of painting one wall a different or deeper color than the others, it can work wonders in a small space, says designer and actress Libby Langdon, a contributor to HGTV's Small Space, Big Style. "Don't be afraid of bold colors," she says. "Sometimes a darker color on one wall can make it recede, making the space look larger."

Connect Spaces With Shades of Color

Just as different wall colors can divide your apartment into different work areas, different shades of the same color can unite all the rooms, as can a pattern that's repeated. "In a small space, in particular, these little touches — the pillow that matches the lampshade fabric, the style of the mirror that echoes a side table — can all add up to a cohesive space," McCauley says.

Get Spicy in the Kitchen

Apartment kitchens are a great place to use color, says kitchen designer Jason Laudau of Amazing Spaces, LLC (www.amazingspacesllc.com) in New York. "Hang up the china you never use — it saves space, adds color and glams up the kitchen," he says. "Or be very bold and paint the walls a trendy color. Red is hot!"

Go Bold in the Bathroom

Sure, something pastel in the peachy-pink palette will look great in the bathroom — especially when you look in the mirror and see your rosy complexion. But for major affect, increase the bodacious scale. That's what designer Ron Marvin www.ronmarvin.com (www.ronmarvin.com) did in his New York City apartment bathroom that's painted a rich, chocolate brown.

Vamp It Up

Beautiful faux finishes and specialty techniques can add a lot of character to a small space, says designer Dawn Burns-Pratt, ASID. "Painting the ceiling a darker color and extending the same color down the wall about 14 inches, or using metallic stripes in that same space with a chair rail and lighter color below looks terrific — and expands the appearance of the space," she says.

Add Color That Travels

The wonderful thing about color is that it's a really cheap way to decorate, and it can be added in non-paint ways, says designer Alice Fakier, this year's HGTV Design Star runner-up and host of Ask Alice on HGTV.com. "Apartment dwellers can get color on their walls by painting big canvases, hanging fabric or using wall decals," she says. And when you're ready for a larger space? You can take your color with you and go.

Red Dining Room With Black Table

Red Dining Room With Black Table and Chairs

Stretch It With Stripes

Draw the eye up with a wall of colorful stripes, says Langdon. Or paint the ceiling a lighter color than the walls to make it seem airier.

Don't Forget Black

Whatever colors you choose for your small space, add one object that is black, says designer McCauley. "The black item — say, in a torchere lamp or a frame — will help ground the space and clarify the other colors. Try it, it works!"

Experiment With Color

Before you start slapping paint all over the blank canvas that is your apartment walls, consider these "baby-step" options.

- Experiment with 2-ounce samples. Many paint companies, including California Paints and Benjamin Moore offer them. That's enough paint to cover a 1’ by 2’ area, which should give you a good idea of what your chosen hue really looks like. Make sure to view it in natural and artificial light.

- Check out HGTV.com's My Color Central to find the color that suits your mood — and your space. You can check out various color combos via interactive color guides at BenjaminMoore.com, www.Farrow-Ball.com and www.Behr.com.

- Use photos of your own apartment and mix and match paint colors with Benjamin Moore's Personal Color Viewer CD. Visit www.BenjaminMoore.com for details.

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