Category Archives: Color

Ann’s Dilemma

Filed under Color, Design Principles, Individualized Advice, Other Dilemmas

Remember Ann from Friday?  She was kind enough to respond after I posted the answer to her paint color question with pictures of her home.  Here is my response:

Ann, your new kitchen is GORGEOUS.  The Sahara Mélange glass tiles paired with the Sierra Madre Silestone countertops and the natural tones of the wood cabinets are very good, very livable choices.  You should be very proud of your decisions.  I do agree with your plan to extend the wood tiles to the kitchen as well.  The current white squares are not in balance with the open feeling to the space. 

The reason you are having trouble finding a color from the-ahem-multiple swatches of colors you have used is because all of these colors are too saturated.  They are competing with the wonderful elements you have, rather than enhancing them.  Choose a color that allows the combination of the tiles and the counter to be the center of attention in the room.  The Behr Winter Wheat (the longest and largest swatch at the top to the right of the table) is probably the closest to what you should aim for, but even it is too harsh. 

Tyler Taupe may work, and I can see by your inquiring about it that you, too, are realizing the need for a calmer, softer color.  I like the idea of working with a color with a green tone, which will serve as a nice compliment to the red accent wall opposite the kitchen and will contrast with the brownish tone in the new addition.  Your thought to paint the entire entry area an orangish color is also a good one. This would give you the punch of color you are looking for. 

Since you mentioned the Affinity colors from Benjamin Moore, let’s keep it simple and choose a few from this palette.  My first choice would be the grayed green, Elemental.  Of course remember that I am looking at snap shots on my monitor, but sitting here at my desk in Virginia, this looks like what you need –not too much green and not too much color, but still deep and rich and luxurious.  The color seems to coordinate well with the Sahara Mélange tiles. 

A bold choice for the entry would be Buttered Yam, but honestly, Etruscan, a much more mellow brownish orange, may serve to better balance the Elemental and still allow the red accent to be the focal point. 

Finally, I would not add a chair rail to the entry area, or anywhere in the pictures you sent.  There are already a lot of breaks in the wall spaces. Your home appears to be more contemporary.  Thick base boards would be a better use of trim and would harmonize better with the style of your home, but these are not necessary. The vaulted ceilings?  Leave ‘em white. 

Good luck and remember to update us as you make progress!

A Letter From Ann

Filed under Color, Individualized Advice, Other Dilemmas

“Hi there Denise!

I’ve been googling for Benjamin Moore Aura paint sample pictures and came across your blog. Thank goodness, I soooo love your blog, it’s heaven sent :o )

I’m in the middle of choosing paint colors for my kitchen, dining nook, living room and foyer (they all come together as one big room so imagine my dilemma of what paint color to choose!). I probably have to send you pics so you know what I’m talking about because I need some serious help. I’m really clueless and I’m just hoping you’d be able at least find and reply to my email somehow.

I sooo love midtone & deep colors (greens, yellows, oranges) and I knew I wanted to pair whichever I decide on with some brown. My favorite green right now is Behr’s Winter Wheat (PMD-60 — I will just have to color match it with that of Ben Moore’s). I just can’t seem to get the right brown color. I have jars and jars of sample paints and they’re all wasted :o (

Anyways, I want to ask you what kind of brown color did you have on one of your blog’s wallpaper pictures (with an orange sofa and an adorable little dog sitting on it).

I am definitely sending you another email with pictures of my kitchen/dining nook/foyer/living room sometime this week and hopefully you could help me decide which paint to choose (I hope it’s ok).

Appreciate your time and your help. Keep up the good work on your blog!

Thanks and take care,
Ann Goya”

I received this email last week and I am pretty proud of the fact that I am actually responding to it.  I have quite a few reader emails lingering in my inbox and I would like to make a public apology for ignoring them. Please, Ann, send me some pictures.  I promise to address them here.  This year, even. (That’s only eight weeks…)

Ann’s question is pretty easy.  Even though I don’t have a Design Recap for this job, I do remember the color.  This project was many years ago, before I was officially Decorate Your Space.  My client was a parent at my daughters’ school, who had heard from a friend of a friend that I could help her with her new house.  And that my favorite color was orange.  She had red hair, too.  We were a perfect match.

The wall color is Tyler Taupe HC-43 from Benjamin Moore.  It’s strange that I can remember so many of the colors from this house at the top of my head.  There had been so many less back then.  Now I can’t remember the name of a color I picked yesterday.

Let me warn you, Ann, about those little paint samples. I believe they have led to a lot more confusion than clarity.  It is very hard to imagine the final result of a color choice when it is painted in isolation on a wall already painted another color, even if that color is the palest cream.  Get 15 more little boxes of color surrounding it, and it becomes impossible.  To truly see how a color will look, the whole wall should be painted. If that seems too intimidating, the online tools most paint manufacturers have on their websites are a much better way to preview results.  Some even let you download your own photos. 

For paint samples gone horribly wrong, click here.

Contemplating Horizontal Stripes

Filed under Arlington Rooftop, Color, Current Projects, Design Principles, Trend Spotting

I have two areas of monstrous blank walls I have to deal with.  The sheetrock installation gave me a revelation.  Wide but variegated, horizontal stripes would be striking in my color palettes, some in my beloved metallic paint.  I went to the web for some inspiration:

via Todd Riches Interiors

via PadCandy
also via PadCandy
via Apartment Therapy
via The Lennoxx
via Your Decorating Hotline
via Harlequin
via Mary McDonald

…On to work it out in Photoshop.

Melissa’s Dilemma

Filed under Color, Design Principles, Individualized Advice, Other Dilemmas

This email has been sitting in my inbox for a while now.  Melissa sent me her dilemma  for me to answer here on my blog.  I asked her for a few more pictures and some additional information, but perhaps a cyber monster ate it up because I haven’t heard back.  I’m going to address this email anyway and use it as an illustration for what a decorating “typical” Decorate Your Space consultation looks like. (If there WERE such a thing as typical.)

 Here’s the email:


I have a decorating issue. I’ve attached a photo. I am leasing this house, but I hate the color pallet. There is emerald green tile in front of the fireplace and in front of the door. What color paint should I use if I want to down play the green, and what kind and color of furniture would go as well. I currently have big red furniture, but I am afraid it will look like Christmas all year round, so I am willing to buy something new.

Thanks a bunch.



 Thank you for reading Design Strategies.  I love it when someone tells me about their decorating dilemma and gives me the chance to solve it. 

If you had hired me to come into your home for a consultation, I would ask you a whole lot of questions.  (I do hope you read this, and answer!) 

1)   What changes are you actually allowed to make?

I am assuming from your email that the owner of the home you are leasing is ok with you painting.  You will be doing her a big favor by bringing this room out of the 80s, but sometimes owners intend to move back into their homes one day and they don’t want anything changed. This is especially true where I live and work, as we have a high number of military families who will one day return to the area.  

The wallpaper border really dates the house.  The first thing I would suggest is to remove it. Now we need to decide what color to repaint the walls.  The high contrast between the tones above and below the chair rail also screams “twenty years ago!”

2)   How old is the current big red furniture?  Does it fit well in the space?  Are you looking for an excuse to buy new?  Is red a color you would choose again? 

If you love your furniture, let’s make it work.  From the picture, the room looks large and will give you plenty of configuring options.

3)   How many people are living with you?  What will the room be used for?  How many of those people will actually be using this room? (I told you there would be a lot of questions!)

4)   What is your style?  Are there other pieces that you own that you want to highlight?  What are your favorite colors?  What colors do you hate?

A lot of these questions I never need to ask.  I can get plenty of information from the client by having them show me around their space and talking to me about the things they own and how they acquired them.  I try to always ask about what the client absolutely does not want as well, as that can be as revealing as it opposite question. 

Since I have none of the answers to the questions, I am just going to wing it.  I am going to give you a palette that suits a variety of tastes, can blend with most shades of red, and will downplay the green in the tile.  I hope your “hate” is not….Neutral.

Without further information, and taking into consideration that you are leasing this house, I will suggest a rich but safe neutral scheme.  Aura Paint in Affinity Colors by Benjamin Moore is my personal favorite right now.  The palette is limited, but gorgeous, and good for situations like this.  (Normally I need every single swatch from the three separate manufacturers’ cases that I would bring to your home to find exactly the right color.)

 Try Carob AF- 160 below the chair rail and Pensive AF-140 above.  These colors are pretty, and will prevent you from having to paint the cream trim.

…Oh but I can’t stop before you get your money’s worth. Funky slightly greenish golds instantly update dated tones of green.  A dark brown as a backdrop for reds?  Perfect.

 Try Wenge AF-180 below the chair rail and Anjou Pear AF-425 above.  If you dare.

Playing Dominos on a Monday

Filed under Arlington Rooftop, Color, Current Projects, Design Principles, Flooring

Today was pretty productive already, and it is only 1 pm.  My weekend was no different.  My weekend was insane.  I facebooked this morning that I needed a weekend from my weekend, and it was no exaggeration.  Between this bar project, four other clients in the midst of projects, and producing another musical, I only sat still for about 10 minutes and slept little more.

I met with my restaurant clients to go over the drawings for the table arrangements.  We made some decisions, and I tightened up some measurements. 

We went to see Bud, who is crafting the bar, to finalize wood stains.  True to form, this decision created a domino effect.   I felt that the first selections of stains were too orange since the bar is being fabricated out of maple, which naturally has a reddish undertone.  We decided instead on Old World stain, which is a wonderful rich brown, and not too deep to hide the grain.  But as a result, this selection required that the floor stain now be changed to a slightly deeper tone, because the contrast between the floor and the bar stain was just too great. 

Though it is never simple, I am really happy with the choices.  This maple stain brings out the metallic highlights in the glass tile that will cover four enormous columns.  And the new floor stain complements the wood-look tile planks perfectly. 

The Gray Area

Filed under Color, Design Principles

Linda pointed to her ceiling. “What color is that?” she asked.  Not realizing this was a trick question, I immediately replied, “Slate blue.” Of course I shouldn’t hesitate.  We had just met only minutes ago.  What kind of decorator hesitates to answer such a simple question?

Turns out, a GOOD one.  Linda’s ceiling is, in fact, green.  She proved it to me by taking me into another room and showing me the same paint on her dining room wall. 

Her home already had green wall to wall plush carpeting and a sage ceiling when she moved in six years ago.  She began to decorate it with her own touches, so she painted the walls of the Family Room a deep gold to try to bring her palette into the space.  But something happened.  Before her very eyes the ceiling morphed to blue.

I know this phenomenon exists.  Even though I self-identify as an artist, I am infatuated with science.  I know the “science” of color.  This is the first time, however,  I had seen such a dramatic example.  The ceiling is partially shadowed, and is viewed from below.  Our brains, not our eyes, transform the color. From Discover:


“Neuroscientists have long believed that evolution hardwired the brain to amplify slight differences in shading, making it easier to perceive subtle details like a green snake in a green tree. Thus objects on dark backgrounds appear lighter than they are, and those on bright backgrounds appear darker. But science advances by replacing approximate truths with more precise ones, and new research suggests that this scientific “truth” is, at best, incomplete. The two experiments that follow help show why the thinking on this subject is changing…

…What are the colors of the squares indicated by the arrows in the two figures at right? For most observers, the one on the top looks blue and the one on the bottom looks yellow. But the two squares are actually an identical shade of gray. One possible explanation for this illusion is simultaneous contrast, a process by which your brain makes foreground objects take on the opposite hue of their backgrounds in order to improve your discrimination of subtle color differences. According to this theory, the top square appears blue because the figure is on a mostly yellowish background, while the bottom square looks yellow because it’s set against a predominately bluish background.”

More here.

Way Beyond Beige

Filed under Bathrooms, Color, Design Principles, Rooms, Trend Spotting

There must be a lot of pink bathrooms still hanging around.  A 10 second Flickr search hit almost 3,000 and that was specifically typing only “pink toilet”. 

Pink, blue and green porcelain was enormously popular in the 50s and 60s.  It’s pretty shocking how many still remain and are in mint (lol) condition.   

Brightly coloring the place you poop seems like the oddest trend.  I wonder how it gained such popularity. It is so amazing that America bought this trend with such exuberance. Especially in light of today, where homeowners are paralyzed with fear even considering any home addition that isn’t beige.   This is not hyperbole, folks.  My clients LITERALLY clutch their hearts when I suggest carpet that is not tan, or tile that isn’t vanilla.

Pink toilets are frightening.  I understand that.  But so are plain, boring houses devoid of personality.  There are millions of other options out there.  Try one. No need to fear, because unlike the durable and well constructed toilet of the 50s, today’s products need to be replaced in 10 years anyway.

Well whatayaknow.  In researching this post I found a whole website dedicated to pink bathrooms!

Choosing Furniture

Filed under Color, Design Principles, Living Rooms, Rooms

To continue yesterdays post, the second thing to bring home from the furniture store-besides measurements–  is the fabric samples.  It is vitally important to view fabrics in the place where they will eventually live.  Just as it is difficult to judge size in the massiveness of the shop, it is also difficult to accurately assess the color. 

The light in your home is different from the florescent glare of a showroom.  Color is influenced by what surrounds it.  Samples should be viewed near the flooring, paint and other objects in the room.  I have seen furniture that appeared blue in the showroom look green in the home. 

Step back and view the sample.   Has your impression of the color changed?  This can happen with tight, small patterns.   For instance, a fabric with a background of yellow and a pattern of small red checks can appear orange from a distance. 

In the photo above, the neutral swatch on the bottom right appears beige.  It’s actually a weave of green and coral.

Suzy’s Dilemma

Filed under Color, Design Principles, Individualized Advice, Kitchens, Rooms

I received a series of emails from Suzy in Maryland yesterday. I will copy the first here:

Denise –

I came across your website looking for ideas for my kitchen/family room.

We are in the process of redoing the kitchen.  The layout of the area is very open and includes the kitchen, a nook for the table, the family room (with a reddish brick fireplace – brick to the ceiling) and a hallway area that connects the kitchen to the ½ bath and foyer.  This hallway area isn’t really a hallway, it is more an extension of the kitchen. The family room is one step down.  The family room has a vaulted ceiling on the fireplace side.

The whole area is southern exposure with lots of windows and tons of light.  The family also has 2 skylights.

The space before had very little color.  White walls with a stenciled design around the top.  Cream sofas with small colored pin stripes. Cream tile floor in the kitchen, light oak cabinets…you get the picture.  BLAH.

My goal was to add lots of color.

The new kitchen cabinets are a medium-maple shade.  The counters are “verde butterfly” granite – a grey/green/blue with black, gold, cream and specs of deep red.  The deep red you really only can see when the light hits it right.  The floor will be a 13 x 13 porcelain tile – colors vary from deep grey to light grey and various shades of beige (i.e. LOTS of variation in the tiles).  The backsplash will be fully tiled with a natural stone tile that is creamy colored.

Now I am trying to decide what to paint the walls.  I have already added a lot of color just with the cabinets, granite and floor.  So perhaps I no longer need to worry about putting lots of color on the walls.  I don’t know whether to paint each distinct area its own color – (1) nook (2) kitchen/hall (3) family room, or if 3 colors is too many, given all the color in the new kitchen.

The colors I am drawn to are earthy reds, greens, tans/browns and golds.  Although the granite has a lot of grey/blue in it, I really do not want grey or blue on the walls.

I would like a bold color in the nook – 3 sides of the nook are all windows (the 4th side being open to the kitchen)…I was thinking of something in the deep red family.  But then I am lost as to what to put in the family room (which has LOTS of wall space) and the “hallway”.

Any advice or ideas?  I can send pictures of the space if that helps.


Suzy in Maryland

Ok, deep breath. This is not as hard as it seems. First off, I want to congratulate you on your Kitchen remodel. You have made some wonderful choices. I am especially delighted in the backsplash. Using a darker tile as a border and then rotating the creamier remainder will be unusual and interesting. And your choice for a variegated tile floor will be very dynamic. 

Your biggest challenge is finding a way to blend the older but still pristine wallpaper with your more current choices. Since the Dining Room wallpaper is so visible from many angles in the Kitchen, it would be a mistake to just ignore it. The good news is the teal tone below the chair rail, though dated, coordinates well with the new granite. The bad news is….the very 90′s burgundy in the stripes make using red virtually impossible. Today’s reds are very “earthen”. In other words, they have a lot of orange in them. Plus, you already have a lot of tones of red: in the brick fireplace, in the cabinets and, of course, in the wall paper.

 My solution would be to paint the Eat-in Nook, which butts to the exigent wallpaper, Waterbury Green. (HC-136 from Benjamin Moore). This tone is bluer than the sage green choices you already tried, but it will act as a perfect connector to from the old to the new. Plus, it is really beautiful. I believe it will draw some color out of the granite and will harmonize perfectly with the orange undertone in the cabinet and the teal in the wallpaper.

The Kitchen proper, and the hallway containing the Mudroom and Half Bath should be a soft but strong gold. Try Henderson Buff (Benjamin Moore HC-15). A soft gold that is not too yellow or bright will set a perfect note that allows the cabinets to sing. The cabinets should steal the show here, not the wall color. (Ok, enough with the theatre metaphors.) You should also sample Summerdale Gold (Benjamin Moore HC-17) since there is a lot of light entering the room. Repaint all the trim and doors and ceilings white. My favorite is Cloud White OC-130.

Now for the finale. Oh no, I said I was done with the metaphors…I want you to paint the Family Room a deep rich brown. Don’t be scared! This will be stunning. You have all the elements to make it work— A tall vault in the ceiling, skylights, and a pair of glass doors. Use Middlebury Brown (HC-68, also Ben Moore). This brown has enough red it in to make it lively, and will bridge the three colors of tile and the accent stain in the ridges on the cabinets with the reds in the brick on the fireplace. If facing the fireplace, paint the wall to the right brown all the way to where it ends on the short wall to the left of the refrigerator. All sides of this short wall will be gold. You can decide which of the three colors you would like on the half wall on the back of the second island.

Bold reds aren’t forever gone. They can be added back in on furnishings and in accessories. I would love to see a huge piece of art on the long Family Room wall with brighter, bolder tones of all the colors we used.

Thanks for writing, Suzy! Remember to send pictures of the “After”!

One Room Two Options

Filed under Accessorizing, Color, Current Projects, Design Principles, Living Rooms, Rooms

Cinde and I have worked together for many years.  She originally hired me immediately upon our meeting  at a Chamber of Commerce function. Only a few days prior, she had closed on a beach house still under construction and  she had some pressing decisions to make regarding the cabinets and counters.  So our meeting was fortuitous.  Since then, we have done many projects together. 

Her family room is the latest.  We chose the paint colors at least a year ago.  A deep sage covers three walls, and the far, fireplace wall is a russet. 

I gave her these two options.   


Option 1: Sofa  Chair  Rug  Drapery Panel   Media Stand  Coffee Table  Console  Pillow  Vases

Option 2:  Sectional  Chair  Rug  Ottoman  Side Table  Media Center  Pillow  Pillows  Vases