Parisian Guest Room Parisian Guest Room

Q: I purchased a new home recently and have a fairly small guest room that I would like to decorate with a French/Parisian theme. I have a black and white toile quilt with a black and white gingham bed skirt. My question is, what can I do with the walls to coordinate with the bedding?

The white in the quilt is really more of an off-white and the white walls make the quilt look dingy. The room needs a splash of color, and I'm not sure where to go from here!

A: Just the thought of all that matching makes this Anxious Decorator's heart beat a little faster. But not to worry; it can be done, and I have a few ideas for you.

First, you are to be commended for being so bold with a guest room, and I think you're onto something great here. You're right, you just need to splash in some color and do something about those walls.

And you raise a quandary that is something every decorator, professional or not, encounters: the age-old problem of matching white and off-white. Whenever you choose off-white (including cream, ecru, eggshell or off-white by any other name) you have to carefully consider whether there is any bright white in the vicinity. Bright white, especially walls, will have just the effect you fear: they'll make what seemed like a lovely ecru look instead like you just forgot to add the bleach to the washer. Conversely, if you have off-white walls and white furniture or accessories, the walls will just look dingy and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

So the first thing to bear in mind when decorating any room is to decide if you're going with white or a derivative of white, and then stick with it. The cream and black toile quilt sounds lovely, and with the gingham you're providing a nice counterpoint of geometric shapes against the flowery toile.

The easiest way out for the walls is to paint the walls off-white, something to match the cream color in the quilt. You could do the trim in a red, something with a little cream mixed in so it isn't too bright.

You can also look for toile wallpaper, and if you can find a pattern that goes well with the quilt, you might try this for just one of the smaller walls, painting the others in cream.

A striped wallpaper might work well in this room too, maybe something with a cream background and black pin-stripes; you don't want stripes that are too heavy, or you'll overwhelm the room.

For the splash of color, red traditionally works quite nicely with black and cream toile. As with the trim of the walls, if you chose to paint, make sure you choose the right shade, as a red that's too bright won't work with the subtler tone of the cream.

You may want to add few red bolsters on the bed, and maybe just one or two other accessories, such as a lampshade or a window shade. A floral print which is predominantly red, or possibly with a black background or a black border, could also work well here.

You didn't mention any artwork on the walls, and that could be a good place to add both a splash of color and a bit of the French mood. How about some framed vintage prints of French advertisements for wine or perfume?

Finally, just put on an Edith Piaf tape, pour a glass of dry Medoc, and your company will be ready to take a trip to Paris every time they visit.

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Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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