Home and Garden

By Carol McGarvey, Better Homes and Gardens Books
Saturday June 22, 2002

COLOR: a personal choice 


Wonderful color in your home creates an experience, both for you living there and for guests visiting. How do you know what will work best? Innately, you’ll be able to feel when it’s right. You’ll know. 

However, before you grab a ladder and brush, there are questions that might help you make good decisions about color choices: How do I connect rooms with color? 

If you can separate rooms by closing doors, tying them together is less important. But if you can see one from another, creating a harmonious feel is important. This doesn’t mean all rooms have to be the same color, but it does mean the flow works best if there’s a unifying thread that runs from room to room. Often the unifying element is the woodwork, including baseboards, door and window frames, and molding near the ceiling. If it’s white, for example, that will unify the rooms, even if walls are different hues. 

An easy way to achieve continuity is to limit your palette to two or three colors that can be repeated in fabrics, accessories and furnishings in each room. How can I change the sense of space? 

Even though you know that warm colors advance and cool colors recede, it’s a matter of value — lightness or darkness — and intensity (how pure the color is) as much as the temperature factor. Remember, too, that color affects your mood, which might affect your perception of space and your comfort level in it. For example, in a bedroom, if you choose a dark color for walls for a cocoon-like effect, a light-color carpet keeps the room from becoming overbearing. If you choose a color that makes you feel good, you’re likely going to enjoy being in the space regardless of its size. What color should I paint the ceilings? 

For decades, white has been the color of choice for ceilings. It’s safe, to be sure, but sometimes, other colors work as well. Keep in mind, too, that there are many cool and warm whites to choose from. Generally, ceilings that are lighter than the walls feel higher; ones darker, lower. Also, ceiling paints usually are flat, but a satin one to reflect sheen might be appropriate, especially if you’re using a darker color. In main living areas, keep the ceiling simple, so that you don’t tire of it. Should the trim always be white? 

As a rule, paint all the trim the same color for a unified effect. That is, of course, unless you wish to accentuate certain elements, such as an antique mantel or fireplace surround. If your walls wear a soft or bold color, then white trim will set them off well. For a touch of drama, though, painting the wood trim darker than the walls focuses attention on the door and window frames and other architectural touches. If they are worth the notice, that’s a good decision. In some settings, though, such as Victorian or arts-and-crafts styles, stained wood is a natural choice. How will colors make me feel? 

Red has been shown to raise blood pressure and heart rate. Because it heightens the senses of taste and smell, it’s a good dining-room choice. If it’s too much for some tastes, use it in small touches in accessories. 

Blue is calming and serene, a good bedroom and bathroom choice. Be careful, though. A pastel blue can come off cool and chilly, so balance it with warm hues in furnishings and fabrics. In rooms where people gather, consider warmer blues, such as turquoise or periwinkle. 

Green, considered the most restful color for the eye, combines easily with blue or yellow. It’s good for nearly any room in the house. 

Yellow translates to happiness and energy. It’s good for kitchens, dining rooms and bathrooms. In small spaces, it feels expansive. 

Orange, like red, stimulates appetites. Tone it down a bit for a better look, such as terra-cotta, salmon, coral or peach. 

Purple translates to luxury, especially in darker values, such as eggplant. Lighter versions, such as lilac and lavender, bring restful qualities to bedrooms. 

Neutrals (black, brown, gray and white) are flexible. Add color to liven the scene, or subtract it to calm things down. Use black in small doses as an accent.s