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Beyond Beige

Break out of the beige rut with this advice from a local color consultant.

[Also see companion article, Color Your World, for Tips on adding color] 

Text and photos by Cathy Rivers

We’ve all been there. Overwhelmed by the thousands of paint chips or going for the safe resale bet, we hit the color-default button and paint every room beige or white. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But sooner or later, you’ll begin to feel “the blahs” in that room. Low energy. Downright dull. Undistinguished. Uninviting. Uninspiring.

If you’ve always been a chromo­phobe, take heart. A rich opportunity awaits to breathe new life into your home.


This room went from wonted white (right) to tasteful teal, which not only made the room more vibrant, it made the orange artwork pop, too.
This room went from wonted white (right) to tasteful teal, which not only made the room more vibrant, it made the orange artwork pop, too.

Walls make up a home’s largest square footage. More than any other decorative element, wall color dramatically impacts a living space. It’s also the least expensive and most effective way to transform the environment and express your style. Color adds energy, luminosity and flair, creates warmth and ambience, highlights architectural details, enhances artwork, and deflects attention from flaws.

Color is also deeply personal. It’s associated with emotion, and many popular phrases are based on color: true blue, tickled pink, green with envy, seeing red, yellow-bellied, white lie. We’re attracted to colors that make us feel good or remind us of positive experiences. Every color choice we make, from clothing and household goods to cars and iPods, is based on these personal associations. Yet, somehow the colors we enjoy in our garden, on vacations or in paintings don’t quite translate to our home’s interior. How can we bridge this color gap?

Recognizing you’re ready for a change creates momentum and motivation. But before you dash out for paint chips, ask yourself these questions: “How do I want to feel in this space? What mood or style do I want to create—relaxed, cozy, rustic, modern, exotic, etc.? How could color support the function of this room—elegant serenity in the living room, saucy spice in the kitchen, updated sophistication in the study?”

When I ask clients these questions, they most often say they want to feel warm, relaxed, welcomed, nurtured, supported and inspired. Everyone’s home is a sanctuary and safe haven, after all—especially in these turbulent times. Color is naturally a part of that calming equation. People commonly associate “color” with brightly saturated hues. But hue isn’t as important as a color’s intensity—its brightness or dullness—or its value, which is a color’s luminosity, or the amount of light reflected back from it. Homeowners who want to transition from very lightly valued beiges or whites are often afraid of paint that’s “too dark.” But the more deeply valued mid-to-dark tones bring wonderful warmth, richness and depth to a room, particularly when paired with appropriate lighting.

Bedroom "Before"
Bedroom “Before”

If adding color to your home is too big a step for you to take, you still have plenty of beautiful neutrals to choose from: pewter grays, taupes, leathery browns, luscious creams. The  ubiquitous, overdone “basic beige” needs to take a backseat to these newer neutrals. While beige is boring, white—particularly the cool tones—can feel cold and vacant.

The homeowners can sleep easier in their newly painted bedroom with its peaceful, serene blue tones.
The homeowners can sleep easier in their newly painted bedroom with its peaceful, serene blue tones.

Narrow your color choices by finding inspiration in objects you already love in your home—a childhood toy, an antique chest, a favorite rug. When working with existing furnishings and fabrics, it’s much easier to find paint to go with them than to start with wall color and then try to locate matching furnishings. I recently worked with a client whose entire interior color palette was created from a beloved kilim couch pillow. Using it as a focal point helped produce a cohesive, harmonized look. Collecting appealing images of rooms from magazines can also be helpful.

Nature also provides essential color inspiration, especially if you’re attracted to neutral or earthy palettes. In Colorado we’re blessed with a wide spectrum of rich, natural colors found in rocks, grasses, plants and the heavens: golden ochres, mossy greens, tawny golds and sky blues can all be invited indoors through wall colors, fabrics and furnishings.

Chipping Away

When you’re ready to gather paint chips, be selective in your choices. Carry your inspirational items with you for reference, if possible; otherwise, bring photos. Keep in mind that colors generally appear twice as bright on the wall than they did on the paint chip. Pick a couple of colors per area to be painted and buy small paint samples (half pints or less) of each, applying two coats to 2 feet of square foam core or poster board. Don’t skip this step; larger color samples must be viewed in the context of the room’s elements and in daytime, evening and artificial light to make accurate decisions.

Living Room "Before"
Living Room “Before”

Think of your whole interior color palette as a painting, with a variety of hues and tonal values that create depth and interest and “live well together.’’ The same design elements of a successful painting—hue, value, intensity, texture, balance, focal points and harmony—also apply to a dynamic, satisfying and comfortable interior space.

Green paint made this room go from white to wonderful.
Green paint made this room go from white to wonderful.

Don’t be afraid of change. Take a chance, step out of your comfort zone and get ready to fall in love with color!

Cathy Rivers is a color consultant, redesigner and stager who helps people revitalize their homes and work spaces through her Lyons-based company RiversColorworks+Design (color works7.com). 

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