Lighten Up! Lighten Up!

Q: I have a family room that has wood floors in a herringbone pattern, a wood beam ceiling, and a brown brick fireplace. I have a dark blue leather sofa and love seat. I'm trying to decide on a wall color. I think a fawn, or sand/beige would be too much brown in that room, but don't want to be overwhelmed with blue. Can you help me with some direction on choices?

A: Too much darkness in a room makes me anxious. Then again, too much light makes me anxious, too, which is just one reason I'm called the Anxious Decorator.

In this case, as I imagine your living room, I picture dark, dark, dark. In fact, the whole description makes me feel I'm being squashed between that wood ceiling and wood floor, with nothing to save me but the brown brick fireplace. Egads.

What comes to mind here is a little story from my family. My grandfather was a lumber baron - well, "lumber baron" may be too strong a term. But let's say he made his life working in wood. Several decades after his death, my mother advised me that it really was okay to paint something made of wood. She told me how, when she was just setting up house, she wanted to paint a wood table, and was afraid that her father would have a fit if he knew.

As it turned out, he didn't. In fact, he reassured her that painting wood really is okay; in fact, it's often preferable, especially if the wood isn't of knock-out quality.

Today, many of us labor under the mistaken notion that natural wood is by its nature preferable to painted wood, no matter what. But this is simply not true. As with any decorating advice, it depends entirely on the room and on your style.

Here, I would advise you to at least consider painting the ceiling, and possibly the brick of the fireplace. Brick, painted white, can in fact often be a lovely choice, helping to create a more cottage-like mood. Likewise, boxing the wood beams of the ceiling and painting the whole ceiling white will give the illusion of a higher ceiling, and will add brightness.

And just in case you're thinking that surely I'm not going to suggest painting the sanctified wood floor, well, I'm going to do just that: consider painting that wood floor a pale color. Once you agree to leap into the unknown (and somewhat unorthodox) territory of painting a wood floor, you can see the possibilities for decoration are endless: you could paint a border around the edge, you could paint a checkerboard pattern, or you could stencil a ribbon of color across the center.

Now, to your question: wall color. You've got a blue sofa and loveseat. If you keep the wood floor and ceiling and the brown brick fireplace, I'd have to agree that indeed, brown walls of any shade are only going to darken the room further.

However, blue is a very tricky color for walls, and may also create too much blue in the room.

Depending on the style of the room, I'd opt for a cream, white with just a hint of beige mixed in, for the walls, and then a darker brown or cobalt trim. If there's molding, either crown or wall molding, you could paint it a brown or beige that's darker than the walls themselves, and in this way pick up the brown of the ceiling, floor and fireplace without overwhelming the room with darkness.

But if I were you, I'd seriously consider painting the ceiling that same cream - and maybe the fireplace and floor, too.


Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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