(Image credit: Apartment Therapy )
I recently took a call from Anh-Minh Le at our sister site AT:SF, who was interviewing people for a piece on color in small spaces for The San Francisco Chronicle. I decided to type up my notes to her as a column of my own…

When pressed with the issue of what colors are best suited to small spaces, I realized that I don’t really consciously adjust my palette at all but am always asking myself, “What does the room want?” My color interest generally lies in dark, saturated colors and old-world colors used to contemporary advantage; and if the room “wants” a dark color I’m happy to oblige. I’ll note that the annotated Farrow & Ball catalogue will describe something like Hound Lemon No.2 as a cool yellow to be used in well-lit rooms, but that Pale Hound No.71 gives the effect of Hound Lemon “when used in smaller spaces.” I think a good colorist would make those same decisions based on gut instinct.

For the article we focused on my own 225 square-foot New York studio apartment as an example. It’s so small that last week I pushed the key in the door too fast and broke the window, but that doesn’t stop me from painting a long dark accent wall that I could curl up under.

The color shown is Galvanized, UL12 from Ralph Lauren. I can’t decide if it’s a black that feels brown or a brown that feels black, but in this context at least it’s a very dark color with a red base and looks like an espresso bean. The wall opposite is exposed brick and the walls in between are off-white so it never feels completely like a cave. Every single guest I’ve had over here absolutely loves it — it’s cozy, urban, handsome and sexy. People are seduced by this room, they settle in and then float away. How’s that for comfort? In this context, darkness doesn’t matter in smallness of space. A dark wall doesn’t merely shrink the room, it makes it vast like the night.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy )

Another clever trick I recommend for small spaces is this: paint fun saturated colors in bathrooms. They’re small, ugly spaces in which we spend enormous amounts of time every day; or try decorative painting. For my own small bathroom (5’x7’) I’ve just completed what I call a Faux Chinoiserie, mostly as bird practice for my decorative painting for children. I’ve started by painting an ugly grey strié over a bad strié, which wound up looking like hopsack cloth. I continued by painting weird, vivid birds I’ve found from high-end wallpaper catalogs and adding flowers, trying to make it my own and fit into this particular room. The effect is transporting and whimsical, and I forget that I’m in the smallest, ugliest bathroom in Christendom. When life gives you lemons, or a small bathroom, make lemonade by painting colorful birds and flowers. Call for yours today.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy )

(Completionists and devotees of this column will remember my former Riviera Bathroom, posted one year ago. Ok, so it got a drubbing from the peanut gallery and I, too, loved it but didn’t like it. For me the color was the problem, it was too vivid. I miss my cypress alley and those grass steps every day. But ugly bathrooms are like a blank canvas and next year I’ll have probably have something new to show yet again. Neo-classical grotesques? Stay tuned…)

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter