Publication Date: Friday, August 19, 2005
The power of color
The power of color
(August 19, 2005) Picking the right hue for your wall is the simplest, hardest decision you'll make
By Mari Sapina-Kerkhove
As designers and remodelers will testify, a wall color can make or break your homely well-being.
Nicholas Pham, award-winning designer at Mountain View's Spectrum Fine Homes design firm, says color and light are the most powerful elements in any project and the first things everyone responds to when walking into a room.
"All hues have a different emotional context," Pham says, comparing the dramatic effects that can be achieved with different color themes in architecturally similar spaces.
While the interior setup of a day spa and a lounge may be quite similar, for example, the use of light and airy hues in one opposed to more deep, subdued tones in another can give the two spaces an entirely different feel, he says.
Countless studies related to color -- on anything from its impact on space perception to its influence on human behavior and mood -- suggest that choosing the right color for your home is essential. But with the average person knowing little about such topics, and paint retailers competing with ever-expanding color palettes, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by an impending painting project.
"Of all the decisions that have to be made, the one thing clients labor over the most is what paint to put on their walls," Pham says.
That's why the first step to a successful painting project is taking off the pressure. Given the fact that wall color is the most easily remedied design element -- it's much easier, for example, to change wall color than to change the flooring or the sofa fabric -- there's no need to be afraid of trying new things or making mistakes, Pham says.
And as for studies and trends, he suggests taking those with a grain of salt. While Pham acknowledges that deep and earthy tones are currently very much in vogue, he's not a big believer in design fads when working on a client's home. Instead, Pham suggests sticking to personal taste and preference while keeping an open mind.
"Good design should look great in 10 years," he says. "A careful selection of a color palette should be as rewarding six years from now as it is a week from now."
Bold is gold
Sometimes that means omitting well-established rules, such as the one stating that small rooms should never be painted in dark colors. The most interesting projects are often those that break away from guidelines, Pham says. He cites as an example a small bathroom he once had painted in deep eggplant.
"There's something about being in a smaller space enveloped by saturated color" that people find very soothing, he explains.
Forrest Linebarger, designer and chief executive officer of Mountain View's recently established Vox Design Group, agrees on the importance of color -- in fact, he says, it's easily one of the most powerful elements in any design project.
"Color is so important in establishing a mood," he says.
And because paint "mistakes" are so easy to fix, Linebarger says, overcoming one's beige boundaries may seem hard at first, but it's well worth it.
"Be passionate about color if you don't want to be boring," he advises.
Bill Waggoner, a Los Altos client of Linebarger's who recently had every room of his home repainted during a remodeling project, says he's happy he followed the design team's gentle nudging toward bolder colors.
"It's really easy to fall back into the neutrals," he says, "but they encouraged us to take a little bit of a chance with colors."
The results for the Waggoner home were earthy-toned yet bold hues -- a yellow living room, greens, browns and the kids' rooms accented in deep red and purple.
"We're thrilled with the choices," Waggoner says. "I found out I like color, it adds character."
If you don't have the encouragement of a design team to fall back on, an informational trip to the local paint store is usually a good start when selecting a color scheme on your own.
Kirk Georgopul, manager at the Sherwin-Williams paint store on El Camino Real, says he generally tells his customers to select paint colors by the existing fabrics and rugs in the room to be painted. Once customers have an idea of the color schemes they might prefer, Georgopul sends them home with a handful of color chips to narrow down their choice -- but not to finalize it.
"Your eyes can really play a trick on you when you go by that little chip," Georgopul says.
Once customers have chosen the hues they like best, Georgopul gives them quarts of respective paints to apply to their walls at home. This step is especially important, he says, because it allows homeowners to observe a hue when it's completely dry.
"A lot of times when people pick out a color they don't really realize how dark [it] will look on their wall," he says.
Pham uses a similar technique with his clients -- he paints several 20-by-30-inch boards with a chosen color and places them on all walls throughout the room, where clients can observe their effects for several days.
Because color looks different at each time of the day, it's important for people to consider when the room will be used most frequently, he says. It's equally important to observe the color on all walls, he adds, because they often reflect off each other -- while a color may look good applied on just one wall, it may appear too intense on all walls of the room.
That's why in some cases applying a complimentary color on a wall can have a more enhancing effect than painting all walls in the same color, Pham says. The same is true for ceiling color, which is often neglected.
"Very few homeowners think about [ceiling color]," he says. They should, though, because "it gives a layer of dimension to the space and adds an element of visual interest that's unexpected."
Such tricks of the trade come easier with the professional expertise of a designer, but do-it-yourselfers can save themselves many headaches by being well-informed before approaching a paint project.
That's why it's not only important to ask many questions at the paint store, but also to give customer assistants a detailed account of what one is planning to do, Georgopul says.
And even if you approach your project doing everything "right," don't be surprised if at some stage in the painting process you're struck by a panic attack, Pham says. After all, he says, a new wall color is like getting a new haircut -- you leave the salon in shock, but after a few days of interacting with it you realize it's great and exactly the kind of change you were looking for.
Waggoner says that was definitely the case for him and his family.
"We got out of our comfort zone and we are thrilled with the results," he says. "I'll never use bland colors again."
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