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Color Basics Part II by Barbara Jennings

Here are five more tips that, when used properly, can eliminate fear of using color in your home. Color is such a powerful way to add personality or "punch" to a room. An under-use of color will leave absolutely no impression at all. Using the wrong color will leave a negative impression. So it's no wonder there is so much apprehension regarding this subject.

CREATING COLOR FLOW - You want to achieve a good flow of color throughout your home. It's easier than you might think. Choose one of the colors you are using in one room and repeat it in a slightly different way in an adjoining room. As an example, if you're using a blue sofa, use the same blue (a tint or shade of it) on the seat fabric of the dining room chairs. Now you've brought some of the blue from the living room into the dining room and created a color "flow".

As you decorate other rooms in the home, use the blue in larger or smaller degrees in the other rooms. Perhaps the blue can be used in a floral in the family room, in a floor mat in the kitchen, in a bedspread. You get the idea.

EFFECTIVELY USING CONTRAST - Another element to consider is that of "contrast". Highly dramatic rooms, where you want more formality, will combine contrasting colors throughout the room. For example, mixing a deep burgundy with a light gold will create a traditional, very formal room. The contrast in the intensity of the colors is high. Whereas if you want a more soothing, relaxed environment, you'll want to pick low contrasting colors. For example, mixing a soft yellow with a soft green or a tone-on-tone: white on off white, variations of soft blues and greens together.

Black and white, when paired together, give a very formal feeling to a room (think about how you feel when you see someone in a tuxedo). To tone that down, combine white, black and gray together. By the way, black and white are not considered "colors". Black includes all colors; white is the absence of any color whatsoever.

LOOKING FOR EMOTIONAL RESPONSES - Colors can generate emotions within us. For example, red may remind us of fire. Blue conjours up the air and the ocean. Yellow makes us think of the sun. Green and brown remind us of the earth. We tend to have emotions when we associate these elements of nature with colors, as opposed to just having an intellectual response to them.

You can capitalize on these emotional associations and use them to your advantage by thinking in advance of the emotional impact you want for your home and proceeding accordingly. Reds and yellows inspire lively activity. This is why they were so commonly used in fast food restaurants where they wanted you to eat quickly and make room for the next customer. Choose colors that will reflect the activities assigned to the room. For this reason you would not want to use a lively red and yellow combo in your bedroom. It may have you awake all night. Instead choose restful colors such as browns, blues and greens.

USING LOCAL AND SEASONAL COLORS - What are the local colors in your area? Do you have strong seasonal changes? These can be clues to pleasing color schemes for your interiors. The Creator was a master at mixing color; afterall He invented it. So whether you live in the northern states like New England or the southern states like Texas or New Mexico, you'll find interesting color combinations all around you in nature.

I love fall colors, probably because I look best in them personally. We don't get a huge seasonal difference in Southern California, but I have plenty of colors to play with, such as browns, russets, mustard yellows, greens of all shades, yellows, off whites. Fall colors will create a calm, subdued space that is very relaxing.

Spring colors, however, are uplifting and invigorating without being over the top. Choose from yellows, pinks (hot now) and lilacs, whites. These colors will give any room a fresh and clean feeling.

TESTING YOUR CHOICES FIRST - Before you totally commit to a color palette, try living with it for a while in just one room. This is most easily and affordably done with paint colors. Sometimes what you think you want doesn't turn out to be what you can live with long term. So it's always advisable to test before your commit.

When your're shopping, ask for samples to take home and place in the space. Leave them there for a couple of days. Watch how the colors change during the day depending on the changing natural light in the room. Note how the colors look during the time of day when the room will be used the most.

Colors in the late afternoon and evening look quite different from how they look in the morning and at noon. Make sure the colors do for you what you want them to do when the room is most actively being used. Notice where your windows are located and how much natural light comes in throughout the day. Think about where you will most likely place that color. Accessories are bound to be used in different places in the room depending on how the furniture is arranged at the time. If your room has northern exposure, dark colors will appear darker. Consequently you may need to choose a lighter value of colors to make the room "work". In rooms with southern exposures, light colors will appear even lighter. You may need to choose darker shades of your lighter colors as a result.

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Color Basics, Part I
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(2004-05 Copyright Barbara Jennings)

Barbara Jennings
is the West Coast Pioneer in Redesign, author of 7 decorating books, a published artist, corporate art consultant, and furniture arrangement consultant. For training in professional furniture and accessory arrangement, or to start your own redesign or art consulting business, please visit: