It’s been said that the human eye can perceive an average of 3 million colors, with some highly sensitive or artistic types able to detect 7 million. Yet, I’ve noticed over the years that every decorator with whom I’ve worked gravitates to the same 25 colors repeatedly, which is how specific color palettes, or color languages, are born. Allow me to introduce my own…
For example, I have what I’ll call a “Chamberlain Palette” regarding my watercolors and oils. It starts rather traditionally with a warm and cool of each primary color plus an earth palette, and then moves into specifics I can’t live without—Olive Green Dark, Prussian Green, Golden Green; four more yellows, five more reds, Sepia Brown, and on into the night.
As far as colors for interiors are concerned, I feel like my taste is both very contemporary and very Old World. I favor bruise colors, underwater colors and saturated colors. I don’t like yellow or green as much as I like green-yellows and yellowy greens. Pink and purple are difficult, and I always prefer grey over beige or linen. I enjoy Vermillion, blue red, brown red and spice, but context is everything. Black is beautiful, and everyone knows I love Brown.
In choosing color for a whole apartment, I like movement and changes throughout, so that each room is a breath of fresh air and completely its own thing. I also like unity, dialogue, drama, whimsy, passion and play. How’s that for a philosophy of life in general?
Over the coming months, I’ll have articles on reds, blues, yellow, greens, neutrals and darks; and if anyone is willing to underwrite me, we’ll pick Pantones and start our own paint company from scratch. Volume One in this series begins with fundamental information no one should do without: how to choose an off-white. There are no pictures this time—white is impossible to photograph.
Swiss Coffee OC-45. This is my favorite off-white. It’s an off-white with no yellow in it, but it’s still warm and creamy and never random. Yes, this is what I use in my own home.
Minced Onion OC-128. I think of this as a distilled raffia color—it’s grassy and bright, and looks good with dark wood like mahogany and wenge. Where off-whites are concerned, this is as yellow as I go.
November Rain OC-50. I don’t like this as much as my clients do. It’s warmer than grey, and ideal for the sage green crowd. Good for downplaying an area. Not exactly cool, but still feels like Paris in the winter.
Soft Chamois OC-13. This color lies somewhere between gold and grey, and has a wet cement quality. I used this personally before I discovered Swiss Coffee. Looks great with dark red wood, such as Bombay Mahogany.
Titanium OC-49. This is just a nice, cool grey, but not too steely or blue.
Atrium. Quite possibly the king of whites, but little drops of purple make it difficult to mix and match, and impossible to use as a trim color. All-white Bauhaus aficionados, try this: Atrium as a wall color, super white as a trim.
Montauk Driftwood WW19. A decorator friend of mine turned me on to this, and it’s one of her favorite colors. It truly does have a dried wood quality, and oscillates between beige, blue and grey depending on the light and context. Use it on Park Avenue, or your beach bungalow.
Whisper VM133. Looks white, glows blue, especially in shadow.
Putty WW22. Warm like a French Grey, but still off-white.
Cove Point WW29. My new favorite off-white. Cooler and greyer than Swiss Coffee, but not ice cold. Sleek but still soft. If your tendency is Cameo or Antique, you probably won’t like this one.
White Dove and Decorators White. If you want something off-the-rack, try one of these for the wall: White Dove is warm; Decorators, cool. Use one for the wall and the other for the trim. These are also my default trim colors—White Dove for yellow or beige, Decorators for everything else.
Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.
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