Answers to Top Color Questions

Color expert Constance Ramos takes a look at the top 10 color dilemmas and offers simple tips for designing a beautiful space without creating a color disaster.

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Find the inspiration for your room, whether it's a stunning fireplace or unique mirror.

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  1. Color

Find Inspiration

Question: How do I start adding color to my space?

1. Find your inspiration.
A great way to begin adding color is by finding one inspiration piece to drive your color palette. Say you have a terrific vase from Portugal that has exactly the colors you want expressed in the room. Pull four colors from the vase and find ways to place them around the room in paint treatments, textiles, throw pillows, curtains, accessories, etc.

2. Start simple.
Another way to feel comfortable adding color is by remembering to take baby steps. I have a client who was a staunch believer in vanilla, so I coaxed him into trying just one color for an accent wall. He was so pleased with the effect he started getting really brave about adding color. One accent wall became two, neutral-colored floors got brilliantly colored wool area rugs, and even a few ceilings got accent color treatments. Start simply with just one element and see how if feels to live with it. If you like the way color makes you feel, dive in a little deeper and add more.

Color Choices

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Can't decide on a color? Use two contrasting shades.

Question: My husband and I don't agree on the same color choices. How can we pick a palette we can both live with?

Two people who love each other may not love the same colors. There is a way to meet in the middle and find the right color combination that you both will love living with.

1. Color is personal
It's important to understand that our perception of color is highly personal. We perceive color not only through our eyes, but also through our memories and our feelings. Remember that there are no bad colors, only colors that aren't working for you in this space at this time.

2. Talk it out and don't take it personally.
The best way to start finding a color solution is to talk about how certain colors affect each of your moods. Each of you should make a list of your favorite and least favorite colors. Talk about your choices, as you may discover memories attached to certain shades that you want to enhance or forget!

3. Try a combination.
Once you've discovered what colors work for both of you, see if those colors could work together! A great way to start is to choose an agreeable neutral color to be your main color field. Next, work in your favorite colors in small amounts, as focal points in the room. Maybe your favorite color could be cushions and throws, while his favorite color could be an accent wall.

4. Get a color expert to help
Sometimes the best way to find a solution is to enlist the help of a professional designer and color expert. They are trained to listen carefully to each idea and suggestion to find the best solution.

Monochromatic Spaces

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If you're afraid to use color, start by adding simple, yet colorful accents.

Question: I'm afraid to try anything but white. What do I do?

You've got an inkling of an idea that you'd like some color, but you're afraid of anything but white! Don't be afraid! Color can make all of the difference! Below are listed some of the most common fears of those people who only choose white when they really want a little color:

1. "When I sell this place, I'll have to have white walls."
That's not always true, since some buyers are looking for a "lived-in" feel when they choose a home. Color creates a mood and sets a theme, so you'll find many home buyers feel they've gotten a bonus because of a color theme set in a room.

2. "I have white furniture but it's disappearing into my white walls."
You started with a safe, monochromatic color choice: all white. Now, you've lived with it for a while and need a little color. A safe way to introduce color is through textiles and accessories. Start by finding throw pillows, curtains, vases or flowers that put spots of color into your room. Bring home your choices and make a composition of color that breaks up the overall white monotone. Next, when you feel a little braver, paint one accent wall color. Now, you're on your way to more color and more courage.

3. "But really, when I sell this place, I'll have to have white walls."
You can have white walls when you sell, but you're living here now. You have to honor your own living space while you're living in it, and paint color is the easiest thing and least expensive thing to change.

Redesign

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Ramos' design solution: Use green with more yellow in it to spread light around the room, and celebrate the unique architectural features of the room with color in patterns.

Question: I've inherited a bad color. How do I make it work?

You live here now so put your stamp on the room. When there is a specific room with the wrong color, the first thing you need to do is define what the room is all about to you by placing an inspirational piece that will drive the design for the entire room. For example, in this bedroom, our homeowners inherited a mint green color that made them feel sickly when they wanted to feel warmth and romance. The most beautiful statement in the room was their gorgeous traditional bed frame, which dominates the room view.

My next design step was to find opulent bedding that will fill the room with softness and warmth, adding the right color. This bedding has just the right look and balance of color to be the inspiration for pulling the room colors together. I found this gorgeous designer bed set with a perfect color combination to keep the couple's favorite color - green - in the design. Since the couple also loves their garden, the bedding has a classic garden pattern of roses and peonies accented by plaid and patterned fabrics that pick up the garden colors of yellow greens, corals and cream with a touch of light

Lighting

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Use yellow-tinted paints and textiles to spread light around a room.

Question: What's your solution for adding more light in a room?

You may have natural and artificial light available to the room, but it just isn't enough to make the room bright. If you want color, then it's an industry secret to use yellow-tinted paints and textiles to spread light around a room. For example, if the room needs to be green, try a yellow-green color on walls, furniture and accessories and watch how the room becomes brighter.

Eclectic Collections

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By using the bed as the focal point, work all the other elements into a cohesive design.

Question: I have an eclectic collection of pieces. How do I incorporate color?

You've collected many pieces that are dear to you but seem to have no relationship to each other. There are a few ways to make a cohesive design out of many different design elements.

1. Choose one piece to be your main inspiration.
This will be the focal point of the room and will drive the color in the design. From that main piece, choose colors for your walls, curtains, other window treatments, floor treatments, furniture and accessories to begin bringing the room together. Compose the rest of your pieces to fit with that main color scheme.

2. Select no more than four colors from your entire collection.
Reinforce those same four colors in each piece and in the surrounding field of color in the room. Are you able to change the color of certain pieces? If so, choose from your four-color palette and repeat the color around the room. Repetition in design makes the room feel more cohesive.

Color in Small Spaces

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By limiting your colors, you can make a small space seem much larger.

Question: I don't know how to use color in my small space. What do you suggest?

1. Color can make a space seem larger.
Since color is a focusing element, the eye is naturally drawn to color over elements that are neutral. Large features of deep color can actually make the eye see beyond the box. For example, painting the walls a deep color can make them disappear to your eye's perception.

2. Use a vibrant pattern on all the walls.
It will blur the edges of the room and make the walls disappear.

3. Limit your use of color.
The only thing you must remember about using color in a small space is that you have to limit yourself to one main color with two secondary colors as accents. Limiting the color palette allows you to make a big color statement in a small room that, if used wisely, will make the small room appear much larger.

Open Floor Plans

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Ramos uses a wall beyond the open floor plan family room as an endpoint for the new, red wall color.

Question: Where do I begin or end in an open floor plan?

1. Color defines a space.
Color can be an exciting and useful solution to bringing a large, open-floor-plan space into meaningful focus. Since form follows function, you must first define the functions in the open plan space. Walk through the room and ask yourself how many functions happen in that space, and where do they need to happen? Now, you have an idea of how to divide and define the space with color.

2. Define your endpoints.
In most open-plan areas, one area of a certain function may blend or overlap into another area of function. Begin to define areas by function and look for ways to begin and end color on the walls and floors. For wall color, look for turns or corners in the floor plan that create a natural end point. If there aren't any, you can create your own color endpoint by designing a terminus or special endpoint. In this case, I designed specialized wood molding for the walls in this open-floor-plan room that became a terminus for the very rich new wall color.

3. Color is not your only endpoint.
You can create artwork, molding or lighting elements to define the end of the color surface. For this project, I also designed a hanging art piece with a brown color that separated the area of the open plan.

4. Use visual endpoints as well.
Don't forget to use areas and surfaces that are visual endpoints to an open-floor-plan, even if they don't actually touch any part of the color-defined space. In these projects, I designed an accent wall that used the main color as an endpoint, yet, this wall was well beyond the defined area of color.

Paint Chip Mistakes

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While you may be excited to start a color project, the display at a paint store may be a little over-stimulating at first.

Question: I picked my color from a paint chip, and now it doesn't look the same on the walls. What should I do?

It's a very common occurrence to paint your walls and realize the color isn't anything like the one you had imagined from the paint chip. Here are some tried and true ways to make sure you get exactly the paint color you want.

1. Wow. That's a lot of paint.
First of all, realize the exhilarating display of color at the paint chip area is designed to get you excited about a new paint project. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and calmly proceed to select your paint.

2. Colors react with each other.
Colors create visual relationships, and your eye will pick up on that. The blue you see on the wall of paint chips may be reacting off of another color that's close by and look very different on its own. Pick out your favorites, and then walk away from the display area to examine them more closely.

3. Try it in a different light.
While you're still at the paint store, try the color chips in as many different light settings that you can find.

4. Take a small sample home, first.
Many paint companies sell small paint samples, two or three ounces of color, you can take home and try first. Ask your paint store employee if there are any of these samples in the shade you want.

5. Paint a large rectangle of color for comparison.
With your small paint sample, paint a large rectangle of each color you're considering on the desired wall. You'll be able to see and compare how the colors react to the light in the room and to the room itself, as well as decide which color suits you best. If you don't want to paint directly on the wall, use 24x30 foam core boards, which can act as very large paint chips. Since the boards are moveable, you can check the color reaction to light and furnishings around the room.

6. Live with the color for a little while.
Give yourself some time with your new color. Note how different lighting schemes, from morning to night, affect the color. A new color can sometimes make a dramatic change because of our own, personal response to color.

Toning Down Color

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Love red, but not red walls? Work in your favorite color in furnishings and accessories.

Question: The color I want is just too overpowering. How do I tone it down?

1. You want the color that is perfect for you, but you don't want too much of it.
Spend a little time working with the color composition of your room, as color needs a balancing act to be effective. Take your favorite color and let it be 75 percent of the room. For example, if you love bright yellow, but don't want bright yellow walls, try neutral colors and make the yellow pop by hanging floor to ceiling bright yellow curtains. Then, add three more focal points of bright yellow, such as a vase, an area rug and some throw pillows. Now, you have elements that lead your eye from the floor to the ceiling and use your inspiration color of bright yellow.

2. Don't forget patterns and stripes.
Your favorite color may work best when it's worked into a pattern or a stripe. Colors react with each other and your favorite color may be easier to live with when it's built into a relationship with other colors and patterns.

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