Many people attend my Color Theory class with a desire to learn how to use color in their homes. There are so many interesting interior design-oriented programs on the home channels and so many arty magazines that give us a peek at elegant living, many people yearn to make changes in their own home environments, adding some personalization and creativity to their surroundings. But using color in your home can be so daunting; where to start?
It’s no surprise that folks get bored with the cookie-cutter neutral color scheme favored by builders of low-and-middle-income housing, especially when we see that upscale builders use custom color for their clients, rather than dishing out the same eggshell-finish off-white that everyone else in the subdivision got. There’s something luxurious about a personalized color scheme, but some of us are leery of diving in, fearful that we may spend hours (not to mention some hard-earned money!) trying to make our dining room posh plum and ending up with Prince’s-pantsuit purple, which is perhaps going to thrill your 11-year-old, but might not bring the right feel to your dinner party for the boss and her husband.
How is a nervous neophyte to start? First of all, it is necessary to understand that color has three characteristics: hue, value, and chroma. Hue is the easy one: it is basically what color it is, such as red, blue, chartreuse, “Regal Chariot”, “Sandy Toes”, or whatever terribly clever name with which the paint store has chosen to regale us. Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. High-value colors are the pale ones; dark colors have low values. These are also referred to as high-key or low-key color schemes. There’s no medium-key, as far as I know, but you can of course use colors that are mid-range in value. For the color-shy, my best piece of advice when it comes to value is this: When in doubt, go a shade or two lighter. Even when you are pretty sure, go one shade lighter, because a color that looks darling on a teeny paint swatch in the store is gonna be a whole different critter on your entire wall at home.
The third characteristic of color, and this is what can trip up a new user of color in the home, is chroma. This refers to the intensity of the color. Bright colors are great as accents, but as wall colors, they can be quite overpowering, such as the purple-pantsuit dining room. So, what you want is a color that is willing to be in the background, which is where the walls are, right? Chose less intense, grayer versions of the color you like. If you are not sure what a low-chroma, or grayer, version of the color is, check for clues in the name, like “dusty” or “dusky”, and ask the salesperson for help. Paint people are extremely knowledgeable about color, and of course they are happy to help you.
This is the first in a series of how to use color in your home. Check back for more information…in the mean time, go get some swatches!