Drama in Red Drama in Red

Q: My client just purchased a 28th floor one bedroom condo in a Chicago high-rise, with great views, and has sought my services to help "glamour-ize" it. She's just starting out as a CPA, so budget remains a big issue.

Her goal is to introduce a lot of drama in the main living space, an 18 x 18 foot combined living room/dining room square, and she is passionate about having red walls. The ceilings are only 8 foot, and the room boasts very nice plush wall-to-wall carpeting in silvery, gray, and pewter tones, which is in excellent condition and in keeping with her desire to accent this red room with black and silver.

She understands that the room is small, and the ceilings low, but she wants drama, especially for night-time entertaining. She says she wants a true red and not a purple.

I'm afraid that just painting a dark red on the walls in so small a room may become oppressive, and I'm not sure that the sheen of an eggshell-finish quality paint is enough to keep this room from becoming a disaster!

A: Oh, those pesky design clients and their crazy schemes! The idea of someone actually seeking out drama is so out of reach to me that just thinking about it makes me anxious. Doesn't life itself offer plenty of drama, just in terms of worrying whether you'll make it safely out of the house in the morning?

Never mind. What you have here is a client who knows what she wants, and for that you can be thankful.

However, any time a client wants "drama" you have to look out, and perhaps ask further questions, such as what, precisely, does drama mean to her? It could be, especially as this is her first apartment, that what she means is just that she wants a well-designed room, something that doesn't look as if she just threw a couple of milk cartons together and called it a bookshelf.

But it sounds as if she's at least certain of the one thing: the color scheme.

And as you've wisely pointed out to her, when it comes to red, you have to be careful, but I think you could make it work here.

In considering what kind of red she wants, Chinese red comes to mind. This is a true, bright, solid red, nothing purple about it. And with Chinese red comes all manner of Chinese-influenced decor, which also matches her desire to have something dramatic and to incorporate black as well.

You could paint just one wall Chinese red, and have drapes in the same color with black decoration, making them look like Chinese robes. A black lacquer coffee table, and a sofa in an elegant, modernist style, in black fabric with red cushions would certainly hit the dramatic mark. I'm sure you could even find throw pillows with Chinese characters for double happiness on them, if she really likes the Chinese theme and wants to run with it.

Of course, you could use the Chinese theme as a subtle undertone, just hinting at it, with one wall in Chinese red, and red and black drapes, and a black sofa but adding a different kind of coffee table.

The modernist look seems to blend particularly well with the Chinese look: Think the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion Chair, or the Ted Moerner Theater Sofa. Even if you only suggest the Chinese theme, it will hold together with the black and red color scheme, and, as you point out, the gray carpeting fits in perfectly.

Modernist sofas, chairs and tables also have the advantage of being relatively low to the ground, which will offset the low ceiling.

One note: Make sure that whatever you choose for window treatments, they don't obscure that open view. Instead of drapes, you might consider simple cloth blinds, either Roman Shades or even mini-blinds; and of course, these come in a variety of colors.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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