Most people I meet say they want to put more color into their home, but they're afraid to do it... yet. Our big Room For Color Contest always inspires (see finalist, Kelly, above and winner, Paula, below), but sometimes it helps to know a little more about WHY they all seem to work so well. Adding color is easier than people think and the main reason for this is that a little goes a long way. Here are five really basic, easy ways to not only add color to your home this week, but also to change how you think about color in general.
1. The 80/20 Rule
When considering adding bright or bold color to wake up a room, my 80/20 rule says to mix it in with 80% neutrals so that you don't overwhelm the room. In other words, you don't need to add much at all to get the effect you want and 20% goes a long way!
Paula's simple dining room becomes "colorful" with only the addition of two chairs (mainly the red one) and the blue curtain.
My favorite example of this is how women's lipstick is usually so bright and noticeable and yet takes up a very small proportion of a woman's face. When adding color, you want to think of "pops" of color and realize that even neutrals (browns, whites, greys, taupes) have color in them that will "wake up" when placed next to stronger colors.
Here's a nice example of a hot red popping a whole page of warm neutral colors - like lipstick. You see this often in advertising, because they are so smart. :)
How to do it: The simplest way to add 20% color is through pillows, throw blankets, lamps and shades, rugs, one piece of furniture or even a neat accent wall. Remember, that even one piece (as in Paula's room up top) will COLOR your whole room.
In Rachel's room above (winner of our 2013 Room For Color Contest) you can see that it's almost entirely neutral, but the sofa, pillows and books on the left "pop" with color and make the neutrals come alive as well.
2. Warm & Cool Colors
If you're feeling tentative or just getting started, it's helpful to be able to differentiate between WARM colors (reds, yellows, oranges, etc) and COOL colors (blues, greens, greys, etc) and to use them separately. This keep things simple. While mixing cool and warm can work, it's more complicated and can easily go wrong if you miss (that said, Paula and Rachel, pics above, do a nice job of mixing some cool into their warm rooms above).
These two color families live at opposite ends of the color spectrum (and meet in the middle). They have very different qualities, which can also help you to plan your room color project. For example, warm colors are warming and stimulating and therefore good for the social rooms of your home where they will support interaction. These rooms are your dining room, living room, kitchen and hallway.
Cool colors are cooling and calming and therefore good in private rooms where they will support relaxation and concentration. These rooms are your bathroom, home office, or bedroom (people often ask if the bedroom shouldn't be warm instead, and I say cool is better for sleeping and warm is better for playing around, so if you want to do a middle tone mix of warm and cool like lavender or green, go for it).
How to do it: Adding color in a bedroom is particularly easy and gratifying. You can simply buy some new, colorful bedding, add a headboard OR paint the wall behind your bed. I suggest doing all three!
Painting the wall behind a bed is usually a bit easier than other rooms because it's not as crowded, and the color is particularly striking as it reads like a huge headboard. The color I just painted my bedroom is particularly nice. It's called Brassica (it's a blue/red mix so it's warm and calming), and it's by Farrow & Ball.
3. Color Quality
This is an easy one to remember, but speaks to what you buy and invest in for your home. The quality of the color in your home is directly related to the quality of the material you have purchased and how that interacts with light. Whether that is paint, cotton, wool, or ceramic, choose the material of your products wisely. The depth of color and the hue and saturation will be greater and will last longer if the quality is better.
These two throw examples are made very differently from very different materials. They also have different costs so you can't compare them evenly. Everyone has to choose the best their budget will allow, but the one on the left is made of organic wool and natural dyes, while the ones on the right are made from 100% polyester. The one on the left is extremely rich in color and will look even better with time.
Color gains subtlety and depth from a number of material factors, and though I am no scientist, I can attest to my own greater attraction to those colors which are not simple, primary hues, but which are more complex mixes of pigments and hues. Additionally, I've found that higher quality materials carry a richer color quality which also lasts over time. While it can be deceiving to judge some things inside of stores under fluorescent lights, you can tell when you drag stuff out under the sun.
This lovely pic from The Rug Company shows some great color in some high quality materials. The rug is entirely handmade of lanolin rich Himalayan wool dyed with natural pigments.
My biggest lesson with this issue came from buying a number of rugs from IKEA many years ago. Much as I love the Swedish Giant, I found the color in the wool went "dead" fairly quickly, and I attributed it to the lower wool quality, which shed for months and picked up dirt and stains easily. If you've ever bought more affordable off-the-rack clothes at big box stores, you may also have noticed how the color quality, while seemingly fine at first, does not last long.
How to do it: When making a 20% color choice for your home, remember that this is the attention getting element and be aspirational with your budget. You will appreciate it as your home grows and this piece grows with you. This applies to textiles, paint, wood, ceramics AND artwork. When in doubt, read the label and go with the most "natural" ingredients and look into vintage or antique as the quality of the materials has to be pretty good if it's still around. :)
4. Darks & Lights
Right now we're in a trend cycle that is loving dark and saturated colors, but be careful! Darks contract and make space smaller, while lights are expansive and will open up a room. Our eye tends to like contrast and variation from one to the other, so both are very pleasing and useful when alternated.
How to do it: I recommend that if you want to work with strong dark colors, you use them sparingly and vary their use from room to room. This way you get a nice movement between rooms where the feeling is like an in breath and then an outbreath as you move from dark to light and back again.
5. Well Lit Space
Lighting is essential for any color to be fully seen and enjoyed. Light opens up a room as your eye will not travel where there is no light, nor will it feast on color that is not illuminated.
It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.
—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Sunlight is always best (though some rooms benefit from shading strong sun), but for the rest of the time I recommend at least three points of light in every room. It is amazing to me how many people I visit who underwhelm their rooms with poor light. In addition, electric light varies tremendously, so choose your bulbs wisely.
How to do it: You can probably make an improvement in the way color come alive in your home by simply changing some bulbs this week. Soft, white incandescents are great but gas guzzlers and akin to driving a vintage car: stylish but no longer really practical. I skip CFL's, keep some of my halogens and go right to LED's which ARE the future (and finally at an affordable price).
(Image credits: Paula; Ralph Lauren; Rachel; Living Etc.; Maxwell Ryan; Swans Island & Kmart; The Rug Company; Room Envy; Alexander Van Berge; Paris Nights)