A Color Master’s Secrets for Killer Combos

published Aug 21, 2017
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(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

There was a lot to drool over, design-wise, in James and Kurt’s Chicago home. Contemporary art and cool furniture, and as a bonus, two homeowners that look like they must throw amazing parties. But there’s no denying it’s the color palette that really steals the show. Purple, yellow, blue, green — this vibrant home features a variety of hues that are unexpected and delightful.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

Though James and Kurt are clearly a stylish couple, working with a pro can take your home to the next level, and that’s just what happened when they hired Carly Moeller of Unpatterned to help them design their home.

“For James and Kurt’s home the color palette was a true collaboration and amalgamation of what they were starting with and where we wanted to take it. It really helped that they were game for color from the start.”

Perhaps most importantly, Carly takes color cues from both the personality of her clients and the architecture of the home. “A colorful home is not for everyone. James and Kurt’s home is a reflection of their personalities. They have colorful hair and fashion so of course their home is too!”

Below, Carly (in her own words) shares some of her color combining secrets:

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

Figure out what’s going to be the “star”

When working on a color palette for a home, the way we approach it really depends on the starting point — is it a blank slate, do the clients already have some significant pieces we are reusing, is there a color they want to incorporate, etc.?

I always start with a few paint wheels and if possible anything major that is going in the room — whether it’s a swatch from a sofa fabric, wallpaper, a tile backsplash, a patterned rug, or even an important piece of art. I factor in what will be the “star” of the room and then figure out if the walls are it, or if two major pieces can play off each other like a purple fireplace and an aqua sofa.

“It’s really important to look at the paint at various times of the day to evaluate: do you still like it in the morning light? Or at night?”

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

For [James and Kurt’s living room star] fireplace, we knew right away we wanted to repaint it from the cream and black that it was. Knowing we’d be peppering in yellow, a deep shade of purple was a great choice. I don’t always reference the color wheel, but in this case you can’t deny they’re complementary colors. I convinced the guys to paint the chimney and the surround to provide a floor to ceiling anchoring look. I think with the add-on of the arch color it would’ve felt too disjointed to paint one or the other.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

When we decided to do the black/white/gray/taupe tile gradient in the master bath, it stemmed from the clients’ idea to possibly tile each wall in the tub a different neutral color. I thought that might be too busy in a tub space, but came back at them with a tile gradient idea for the back wall that fades into black side walls. We ended up painting the bath vanity wall the same purple as the fireplace. Even though the tile gradient is “busy,” it is still all neutral colors and I think the purple on the opposite wall helps balance it out…and is a nice way to repeat that gorgeous color again.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

How to know when to repeat colors…

In the majority of cases, I like to repeat colors throughout the home when possible to create cohesion, even if it’s just in accessories. Such as in my own home, our triangle stencil on the entry wall was actually created from all the paint colors in the house (plus the yellow of textiles in the living room).

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

…and when to let color stand on its own

However, with that green Pratt & Larson backsplash in James and Kurt’s kitchen, it was such a true stunner, I think we’d be doing it a disservice to try to mimic it in paint or fabric elsewhere. I think it would be akin to wearing too many accessories or adding one too many flavors to a recipe. It was so gorgeous it had to stand alone.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

The most common color mistake people make (and Carly’s advice on how to avoid it)

I think when people are choosing colors on their own or sometimes even with a designer, they make the mistake of being too hasty with selections. A color that looks good on a tiny paint chip doesn’t always look good on the wall. Or a white paint that looks good after work in the evening light might cast pink in the morning light.

I always tape up large scale samples for clients at the very least, if not paint physical samples on the wall. It’s really important to look at the paint at various times of the day to evaluate: do you still like it in the morning light? Or at night? Does it look good next to the trim and the flooring and the cabinetry/backsplash, etc.? You can’t just look at it on one wall. And ALWAYS look at it on the wall (or however it’s being applied) as opposed to holding it flat on a table.

“So many people worry that dark or saturated colors will make a room feel small and in so many cases, that really just isn’t true. Especially with tricks like painting the ceiling the same color or doing floor-to-ceiling contrasting draperies. You can be adventurous; at the end of the day it’s just paint!”

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

The two most important color rules to follow

I’m a rule follower in most of life except design! Mix styles and mix color.

But when it comes to color I do think it’s wise to consider what will compete and what will complement. Consider all the colors and pattern and then edit, edit, edit. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing (except when it comes to pastries or cheese in my book.) The reason all the rich colors work well together in James and Kurt’s home is they are all on the same level of intensity – grape juice purple, bright yellow, aqua, cobalt blue and emerald green. Bright and bold. If we had mixed in pastels or warm intense reds I don’t think it would flow as well.

My other rule is to think about the visual connections with color. In James and Kurt’s place you can see the cobalt dining room from the living room and it leads you to it. You don’t just turn a corner and yowza, there’s a cobalt room.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

And remember, color doesn’t have to just go on the walls:

I’m not opposed to painting the walls white and adding in color elsewhere. For our “Glam Great Room” clients, they were trying to create a more contemporary space in their home that was built with tons of traditional details. Painting the walls and trim white provided a clean slate to incorporate color in the furniture and art and to help all the moldings and other in-your-face architectural details fade to the background a bit.

Thanks Carly!

See all of James and Kurt’s Chicago home → An Incredibly Colorful “Modern Nerd Chic” Chicago Home

See Carly’s own Chicago home! → A 1950s Chicago Home’s Ever-Evolving Renovation