In Partnership WithBenjamin Moore

Behind the Before & After: The Easy Design Principles that Made this “Secret Garden” Makeover a Success

published Jul 20, 2023
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Credit: Photo: Armando Rafael; Props: Margaret Ward

As a floral designer, Rachel Clark tended to keep her space neutral so that her designs could shine. But when her white walls started to feel boring, she wanted a refresh that added color but stayed subtle enough to let her decor — from floral arrangements to vintage furnishings — have center stage.

The result was part art gallery, part secret garden, and all Rachel. But it didn’t happen by accident: A lot of choices go into one pretty “after”! For Rachel, we thought a lot about balance, where to lead the eye, and one important number you’re going to want to remember the next time you’re paint shopping. Here’s how we did it (and you can too).

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Credit: Photo: Armando Rafael; Props: Margaret Ward, Photo: Armando Rafael; Props: Margaret Ward

Expand Your Definition of Neutral

Yes, we know, “neutrals” is a catchall term for shades of white, off-white, beige, and gray. But you can also think of neutral as a feeling: unobtrusive, subtle, subdued. For Rachel, who wanted only a hint of color to keep her space feeling fresh and bright, designer and visual artist Sara Weissler chose Icy Morn 457 by Benjamin Moore. It’s a light blue-green that’s serene but not showy. Plus, the vegetal hue complements Rachel’s floral work and gives the space a garden glow.

“I love colors that have depth but aren’t overbearing,” Rachel says. “I have a lot going on with decor and wanted a color that did not clash with my eclectic style. Icy Morn did not disappoint: It complements my love of nature and adds a hint of warmth, all while still reading as a neutral.” And since Rachel is constantly lugging in boxes of plants and shuffling furniture to make her designs, we used Benjamin Moore Regal Select Interior Paint. This extremely durable, washable paint will keep her space virtually scuff-free.

Credit: Photo: Armando Rafael; Props: Margaret Ward

Learn to Speak LRV

Living in a New York apartment, Rachel was nervous that painting her walls would make her already small place feel even smaller. “Rachel’s living room gets a lot of natural light, which will make any paint color change throughout the day,” Sara says. “But since Icy Morn is bright, it won’t absorb all that natural light and make the room feel dull.”

How did Sara know that? By paying attention to a little detail called Light Reflectance Value (LRV). As the name suggests, LRV clues you in to how much light a paint color will reflect or absorb: The lower the number, the less light will be reflected. A color’s LRV can be anywhere from 0 (black) to 100 (white). The Benjamin Moore website clearly lists each color’s LRV, which for Icy Morn is 65.84. That means that — as Sara predicted — this hue added a bit of color to Rachel’s space without darkening or visually “shrinking” it.

Once you know about LRV, it can be a powerful tool to help you make the right choice for your space — by, say, choosing a high-LRV color to brighten a dim room. LRV also varies between colors in the same family, so it’s a helpful factor when narrowing down similar choices.

Credit: Photo: Armando Rafael; Props: Margaret Ward

Use Paint to Direct Attention

We often think about using paint to attract attention (hello, accent walls). But it’s just as good as distracting attention. Before her makeover, Rachel’s color scheme was dominated by her front door, which had long ago been painted a muddy, industrial green. Sara suggested coating it in a classic white, Chantilly Lace OC-65 by Benjamin Moore.

“The green door was the most saturated color in the room and drew the viewer’s eye right to it. But the door shouldn’t be the star of the show,” Sara says. “What should be the stars are Rachel’s vintage pieces, curved furniture, or art.”

By manipulating the room’s colors this way, Sara pulled emphasis where it didn’t belong and redirected it where it did. Try to look at your own room anew: Where do your eyes land first? Where would you like them to go? Think of it like a visual narrative: Use paint color, layout, and decor to maximize what you want to show off and minimize what you don’t.