Using Color Using Color

As you know, we usually discuss the use of a particular shade in our Magic of Color column. This time, however, we're going to talk about using color at all, in the hopes this will help you screw up your courage and let color blossom on your walls.

And it does take courage to plunge out of the white and off-white rut. You can't really go wrong with one of the many shades of white, and if you're planning to sell your home but need to give a room a fresh coat of paint first, we always recommend choosing an off-white.

But if you're staying put for awhile, go for the gold - or the red, blue, or green!

The first important point to bear in mind is that generally speaking, colors will be more over-powering once they're on the wall than they are on the paint chips you get at the paint store. The reason for this is obvious, perhaps: an 8 x 10 wall gives you a lot more apple green than a tiny one inch square will.

Also, once the paint goes on the wall, it will emanate from the wall into the room. You can prove this to yourself by painting a small hallway a bright color, then bringing in a plain piece of white paper. The paper will actually appear to be very lightly colored, because the wall color so saturates the small space.

When considering what color to choose, first take into account any permanent features of the room, such as a brick fireplace, or a tiled floor. Think also about what colors dominate outside the window; in an urban apartment you may see a lot of red brick out the window, whereas in the countryside the colors may change throughout the year.

If you don't need to consider permanent colors such as those, think next about the pieces in the room you really love and want to emphasize. This doesn't necessarily mean that you'll paint the walls the same color; you may instead choose a contrasting but complementary color to show off a special chair or a favorite painting.

One of the joys of using color is that you can make a room appear different than it is through color. You probably know that painting a small room in light colors will make it appear larger, but did you know that a narrow room will look wider if you paint the shorter walls dark and the longer walls light? And to give more intimacy to a room that's large, use colors such as reds, golds, and browns.

After you have an idea of the color family you're interested in, take a trip to the paint store. There, choose no more than five paint samples - often each one has more than one color on it. This will give you five groups of color, and limiting the choices in this way will keep you from getting overwhelmed.

Once you get home, tape the samples to the wall, and live with them there for a few days. Move them around so that they catch the light in a different way, or so you can see them against the sofa or the rug.

After narrowing down your choices, buy a small amount of no more than four finalists. Benjamin Moore sells very small jars of sample paint for about four dollars, so that you can try each one out; for other brands, you'll probably have to buy a pint.

When applying the samples, put a sample of each on more than one wall, so you can see how the light affects the color. The color may appear darker or lighter on a wall or a part of a wall, depending on how the light hits it.

As you did with the paint chips, let yourself live with this color for a little while. See how it strikes you when you come home in the evening, when you first see it in the morning. If you like changing the artwork on the walls, try each of your paintings with the paint sample.

Once you make your choice, paint over the sample with a primer, so it will blend in with the rest of the wall.

And then go to it, either hiring a professional painter or doing it yourself. When you're done, your home will have a new lease on life - and you'll immediately start reaping the benefits of living in living color.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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