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Designing for Small Spaces, Part II: Choosing Color

If you’ve read my last blog post, “Designing for Small Spaces,” you have cleared the clutter from your small space (or you at least began thinking about it). Are you ready to dream up a color palette?

Photo Credit: Better Homes and Gardens

Even if your space is palatial, you will still find many helpful suggestions in this post.

First, minimize visual clutter in your small space. Monochromatic and limited palettes work well. If you introduce too many colors, the colors may compete for attention and leave you feeling overwhelmed. Also, it’s a myth that you should only use light colors for small rooms. Deep, saturated color in a matte finish can help walls recede and add glam and sophistication—especially in a small powder room.

Style Carrot, Marni Katz

I personally like to wrap myself in dark colors too…you know, to make my hips recede. :)

With a million paint colors to choose from, picking a palette can easily drive one to distraction. When I have a blank canvas, such as a new home construction, I like to have one item that my client loves (like a painting or colorful area rug). I can draw inspiration from the colors in that beloved piece to create my palette. However, most people need to work with existing finishes, which may introduce design challenges. Here are a few helpful hints that will move your design process along:

  • Consider the current finishes. Are there fixed elements that are staying, like a granite countertop or tile? What about the existing area rug or sofa? Colors need to relate to the fixed elements and the furnishings that will remain.

  • Designers typically use a limited number of neutrals again and again. These are tried and true colors that work in numerous spaces and don’t offer too many surprises. For instance, Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter (greige) is beloved by decorators because it’s like a chameleon, which adapts to many settings. But it doesn’t go with everything, so don’t use a color just because it’s the color du jour.

  • Your colors should relate to the rest of your house. If your home is bathed in warm tones, like brick reds and yellows, suddenly introducing an icy blue-gray will look (and feel) jarring.

  • Tiny color chips do not demonstrate what a color will look like in your room! For instance, that lovely butter-yellow on your paint chip may end up looking like egg yolk on your walls. As a teen, I painted my bedroom what I thought was a nice, neutral beige and ended up with a room that looked like I’d smeared peach-brown foundation over the walls. That was not the look I was aiming for, but the undertones did go with the adjoining bathroom. This was the early 90s, people! I had a peach sink and commode—a throwback from the 80s when we built the house. Yikes! Which reminds me, always choose white toilets and tubs—just trust me on this…

  • Furthermore, unless you are Jeffrey Bilhuber, you probably won’t pull off a look like the one below…

Room by Jeffrey Bilhuber

…usually, it’s easiest to choose a neutral wall color and introduce color with your accessories and furnishings.

Once you’ve narrowed down your wall color, I’d strongly suggest that you paint a very large sample of your potential paint color to see what the color looks like during different times of the day, what the color looks like with and without artificial lighting, and what the color looks like against your hard finishes and decor. Painting a large piece of poster board works perfectly well.

Also, paint colors appear different during various seasons. For instance, green leaves on the trees may cast a greenish light into your space. For the most part, you should be ok if you get the undertone right. But for some people, this seasonal change in color can really drive them up a greige-painted wall!

As you may have noticed, the process is a bit more complex than simply picking your favorite color off a paint deck, which is why it can be difficult to get it right the first time. I always wondered where the expression “paint is cheap” came from. Probably painters looking to drum up a little business because unless you’re painting a space yourself, materials and labor can add up quickly.

Mistakes are costly, so using my tips should make the process easier for you. If you’d like additional design guidance, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to collaborate with you and create a beautiful space for your home.

Don’t miss out on Part III of my series, “Designing for Small Spaces.”

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