Color Questions and Answers

Color experts, designer Mark McCauley, ASID, and decorative painter Barbara Jacobs answer your color questions.
Green Eclectic Sitting Room

Green Eclectic Sitting Room With Zebra Rug

For a modern look, pair green walls with nothing on the windows at all, as seen in this living room designed by Shelly Riehl David. Photo by Roy Quesada.

For a modern look, pair green walls with nothing on the windows at all, as seen in this living room designed by Shelly Riehl David. Photo by Roy Quesada.

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My name is Andrew. I just bought a new condo in San Francisco and am in the process of decorating it. My walls are light apple green color and I have a light-colored hardwood floor. My color question is "what color should my curtains or vertical blinds be?"
Thank you,
—New Homeowner

Dear New Homeowner,
Congratulations on your new home! Your question is really twofold. First, you ask about color. With a lighter shade of hardwood floor, and walls that are light apple green, you want to look for window treatments that are not too dark. Using fabric, you could look for something neutral, with a background of medium "wheat-color" beige to medium brown, and which also includes greens that are both a bit lighter and deeper than the light apple green. This could be a print or a woven, textural material with those colors. You might consider the following: To make the room more light, airy, casual feeling, stick to lighter colors. For a more cozy feeling or serious mood, try the deeper colors. You can often get fabric samples, or even samples of window blinds, to look at in your home.

For part two of your question, consider actual window shape and size relative to the room. Vertical blinds, as we have known them for many years, are not in style right now, but some great updated options are available, such as blinds with top-and-bottom, or side-opening operation. For blinds, consider either "silhouette" type (translucent, so light and view will filter through), or one of the slat or woven woods, in a lighter color. Based on your description of wall and floor colors, if you are not using curtains you should use a lighter color window treatment, perhaps something that can open very wide to become almost invisible when open. Expand the space and soften window edges with your curtain fabric folds on each side. Curtains should be able to pull completely aside to reveal as much window as possible.
—color consultant Barbara Jacobs, Integral Color and Design

I am having a problem choosing a color for my bathroom. My décor is light oak and I am looking for a paint texture similar to leather with light colors to match the light oak. Do you have any suggestions on what colors to use, and how to texture the look?
—Stymied in the Bathroom

Stone Bathroom Wall

Jerusalem Stone Bathroom Wall

A natural-hued Jerusalem stone wall complements the dark cabinets in this bathroom designed by Christopher Grubb.

Photo by: Christopher Grubb

Christopher Grubb

A natural-hued Jerusalem stone wall complements the dark cabinets in this bathroom designed by Christopher Grubb.

Dear Stymied in the Bathroom,
I would not recommend that you colorize the walls too closely in value to the depth of the color in the cabinetry. Instead, I would suggest using a lighter value in the faux leather such as latte (a light brown resembling coffee with cream added). And here’s why: a palette of all browns can start to look a little lazy and muddy. Why not sharpen things up with a wallpaper with a lighter valued cream background and a pattern that picks up the light oak color? If you do consider wallpaper in the bathroom, try to marry the pattern to the room size. Don’t choose too large a pattern if the space is small or too small a pattern in a large master bath. Be sure to take samples home and look at the scale of the pattern vs. the room size.

If you’re still in love with the idea of paint in the bathroom, be sure to look for the color under the color. The latte I suggested would probably have a pink/red undertone, which would be fine in a bathroom. But sage green, for example, has yellow beneath it, and teal is a green with blue beneath the color. If you apply your makeup in this bathroom, these "hidden" tints can impact how much makeup you put on and in what shades. If the wrong hue is chosen beneath the bathroom’s main color, you may look great in the bathroom mirror, but somewhat yucky on the streets.

Regarding how to texture the look in faux painted leather, there are a great many resources here at for you to access. However, let me caution you, an inexperienced faux painter may have difficulty in replicated the leather look you mentioned.

In this case, I would recommend a professional painter. Professional painters use glazing and other techniques to replicate leather (there is also faux leather wallpaper on the market and real leather wallpaper if you feel like splurging), plus they have the training in application that the novice may not possess. To create the look you want a professional is for sure your best bet.
—color expert/designer Mark McCauley, ASID


I have a kitchen that has maple cabinets with navy marble countertop and wood floor. My kitchen and living room is open so I am wondering what color schemes could I do for my living room that would go? I think I need some more colors besides navy. I think I need to correspond some color in the kitchen and in the living room that would work. I am not sure what to do. I need some ideas of color of walls, furniture and accessories. Thank you so much for your help.

—In the Navy (Kitchen)


In this open kitchen designed by Erica Islas, a dark stained ebony floor connects the spaces. But it’s the fresh pop of blue on the side of the counter that we really love.

In this open kitchen designed by Erica Islas, a dark stained ebony floor connects the spaces. But it’s the fresh pop of blue on the side of the counter that we really love.

Dear In the Navy Kitchen,
Many people use the kitchen as the jumping off point for the entire interior design of the home. Often when I am working with a homeowner on new construction, the kitchen colorization is chosen first, as the cabinetry choice will impact the other woods in the home for flooring and molding and hence the softer goods such as upholstery and window treatments.

In order to move color about the home, use these simple tools:

Divide the spaces in 60 percent of a dominant color, 30 percent of a secondary color and 10 percent of an accent color. You have, in fact, already begun this type of decorating in your kitchen with the navy blue countertop and the maple cabinets, essentially blue and yellow, representing two of the three colors you will need.

But what should your third color choice be? To decide that, consider your first two hues: Blue and yellow are primary colors and complementary colors opposite each other on the color wheel. This creates more formality and higher edge definition, as the colors are highly contrasted and the edges of objects are clearer. Your kitchen may not be inherently styled formally, but complementary color schemes do have that effect and are more stimulating visually.

To create color flow in your home, take the Maple, or yellow, color which represents the 60 percent hue in the kitchen and use it as the 30 or 10 percent hue in the living room. In other words, by choosing a deeper yellow colored sofa and coordinating chairs, you would be making yellow your 30 percent color.

To move the blue into the space, use throw pillows, comforter or lamp shades in blue. The blue, which was your 30 percent color in the kitchen, is now the 10 percent color in the living room.

The next issue is the third color. With blue and yellow, the obvious answer is red, the third primary color. Red accessories—kitchenware or dishes—or curtains or chair pads would be a great addition to your kitchen. Perhaps you could soften the red down to less intense versions such as pink for the living room.
—color expert/designer Mark McCauley, ASID

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