Lovely Lilac Lovely Lilac

Q: I would love to paint my walls lilac, and already have a great table set for my bedroom. What color carpet would work well, considering that these tables are cast iron, with very dark tinted glass tops? Also, what type of, and what color dresser and desk will work best? It seems to me that black would work best, but will that look cheap?

A: First of all, congratulations on having the guts to paint your walls lilac. All too often we read about using wall color, we see other people's walls painted in color, but when we're at the paint store we start trembling and end up leaving with another five gallons of white or, if we're really feeling adventurous, eggshell.

But you are right to be concerned, especially with lilac. Lilac looks great on those eponymous bunches of tiny flowers, but it's hard to pair it with other colors. Lilac bridges blue and red on the color wheel, so it's a very in-between color, and yet that doesn't mean it goes with plenty of other colors; in fact, this means it may be more limited than, say, a pure blue or a pure red.

And it's true what the fashion experts say - black does go with everything, so you're right in pairing black and lilac. In fact, this combination can be quite dramatic, and will give you a striking look to the bedroom.

It's always useful when thinking about color combinations to turn to the greatest artist of them all, Mother Nature. What pairs well with lilac in the natural world? Green, particularly the dark green of the lilac leaves, and of course the white of the white lilac, and a lilac that's a few shades lighter or darker than the one you've selected for the walls - of course, the walls should probably be a paler lilac.

I do like the idea of the black furniture, and you could have an art deco dresser and desk to complement them; lilac seems to be an old-fashioned color, and you may want to go for an old-fashioned look in the furniture to match that. However, your concern about black and lilac looking cheap is a good one, and too much black might make the room too heavy, depending on how small it is. If it's quite a large space, you can probably get away with pale lilac walls, the table set, and a black desk and chair and black dresser. But another idea would be to buy unpainted furniture, and paint it a lilac in a few shades darker than the walls, with black trim.

While you want the room to be coherent, you don't want to over-do any color scheme. The color scheme must be relieved somehow, and one way to do this is by bringing in a white. With all that black and lilac, you may want to bring in a cream rather than a stark white; how about painting the desk and dresser cream, with lilac trim? And you could have the trim of the walls painted the same cream, and hang creamy white curtains in the window. This would soften the whole room so you don't end up with a look that's too harsh.

As for the carpeting question, this is a good place to bring in the dark green of the leaves of the lilac tree. This will provide a nice grassy feeling underfoot, and you can easily pick this color up in throw pillows or other accents.

Lilac is above all a refreshing and soothing color, and it sounds like your room is really going to sing.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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