Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of letters from readers who say they are tired of seeing white walls and are longing for more colour. In white’s defense, it is the most versatile backdrop and so easy to live with. I call white the big neutralizer, because everything goes with it. White walls will unify a mishmash of colours into a cohesive look. Colour, on the other hand, can create big impact and instantly evoke a mood. I’m not talking about watered down shades or a single accent wall, I mean rooms that are full of colour where the combinations somewhat clash but still work together, such as kelly green and fuchsia, mustard and seafoam green, or khaki and crimson. So this blog is dedicated to colourful rooms — which really aren’t that easy to find. Most of us aren’t quite so adventurous.
I’ve always admired Muriel Brandolini’s daring use of colour. The hallway in her Southampton weekend home is simple but bold with its painted pink and orange striped walls and bright ceiling. The analogous colours soften the severity of the crisp stripes so that they're soothing, not jarring. It’s simultaneously graphic and exotic — turning an uneventful hallway into the main attraction.
Designer and author Tricia Guild is the master of unexpected colour combos. This photo is from her book On Colour: Decoration, Furnishing, Display (1992 Abe Books). When paired with sunny yellow walls, the duck-egg blue trim highlights architectural details like the coved windows, chair rail and deep baseboards. Combined with the checkered floor, this room is upbeat and ultra-dynamic.
Here’s a monochromatic approach to colour by Martha Stewart (no one is better at finding soothing colour combinations than the people at her company). Shades of mint green are used to accentuate wall panelling — even the demilune is painted the same shade of green. The white painted floor keeps the space feeling fresh and new. But it’s the contrasting blue glass hurricane and glass vase collection that really make this room special.
Another monochromatic treatment I love is this peacock blue dining room by Suzanne Kasler. Especially interesting is the high-gloss trim in the same blue shade. Simply shifting the sheen adds so much dimension and drama to the room. In such a classically symmetrical room, the blue is so unexpected, but remains a perfect complement to the warm wood double doors. My favourite part is how the doors perfectly frame that standout chair in the middle of the table.
It’s surprising to find a modern room with deep saturated colour. But in this living room by U.K. designer Abigail Ahern, the almost black-blue walls allow the hot pink coffee table to stand out and create a cosy, modern experience.
Here’s a pretty and unexpected pairing, again from Martha Stewart. Light tangerine walls with a steel-blue ceiling and bottom panel are sophisticated paired with white trim and a Gustavian style armoire. The contrasting white really holds the clashing colours together, but it’s Philippe Starck’s orange Kartell La Marie Chairs that make the look edgy, not fussy.
This hallway is from Amy Butler’s book Found Style (2003 Chronicle Books). It reminds me of some of the spaces I photographed last year on a trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The pretty pistachio walls freshen up this old world entryway, and I love how the wide black baseboards ground the colour and connect it to the tumbled stone floorwork.
I always paint one room in my house seafoam green. It’s a colour that is both pretty and chic, with an almost historical feel. To make this colour come alive, I pair it with hits of gold, like on the demilune table in this hallway, for a bit of sparkle. Here, the patterned brown and white runner, chocolate brown floors and, of course, that awesome bulldog give the colour confidence.
Although this is by no means a news-breaking combo, I had to include this photo from Martha Stewart because it’s gorgeous. Seafoam green or the softest pale blue paired with clean white trim (and floor) is one of the most serene colour combinations and perfect for a bedroom. You will sleep like a baby with these hues!
1. Elle Decor, photography by Henry Bourne
2. From Tricia Guild’s On Colour: Decoration, Furnishing, Display (1992 Abe Books), photography by Richard Bryant
3. Martha Stewart
4. From Coco + Kelley Favourites photo gallery on Houseandhome.com, room design by Suzanne Kasler
5. Private Residence, Leigh on Sea, Abigail Ahern, photography by Graham Atkins-Hughes
6. Martha Stewart
7. The City Sage, February 10, 2009
8. High-Heeled Foot In The Door, June 8, 2010
9. Martha Stewart