Home and Lifestyle

Color, Paint and Interior Design

Color is arguably the most influential component of good design. It sets a mood, tells a story, and anchors an entire theme. But if you find knowing how to use color to be completely overwhelming, you're not alone.

"It's tricky for us, too," says Connie Mann, certified kitchen designer with Dream Kitchens Dream Rooms. "We can design and remodel very detailed, complex projects, but when it comes to creating the palettes or blending [with] existing parts of people's homes and integrating, it's not for the faint of heart."

Mann says the most important color trend this year is what she calls a "gray influx" permeating everything from walls to furniture and cabinets. The trend includes using tile that appears wood-grained or slate-like, or using reclaimed wood and other materials reminiscent of driftwood.

"It blends with both very traditional homes right on through to ultra-modern or metropolitan looks as well," she says.

Unlike the "office" gray of the past, this gray is a shade Mann refers to as "greige," a new sort of mix between beige and gray. Clients are even choosing lighter shades of it over traditional white for a neutral base paint throughout the house, she says. From there, they're branching off with fine variations of greens, blues, reds and lavenders, all with gray-toned bases. Bold accent walls add personality, particularly with the use of graphic panels. The clean lines and minimalism of Mid-Century Modern design is enjoying a renaissance as well (perhaps aided by devoted fans of cable TV's Mad Men), which brings punches of bold greens, yellows and oranges into design.

"It definitely takes some effort to pull it all together. We probably spend more time trying to do colors well as we do the actual design work," says Mann. "On the other hand, we all have to remember that it is only paint. It can change."

For award-winning architect Stephen Bruns of Bruns Architecture, earth elements like those influencing the current greige trend have always been key.

"Nature is such an important driver in our projects," says Bruns. "Better function for today's modern living—this is what people come to us asking for. But it is the less quantifiable aspect of creating quality space—space with a strong connection to nature, a warmth, comfort and delight that engages the senses—this is what we are after."

For older homes, especially, Bruns says new design should be rooted in larger ideas of sustainability and efficiency, to enhance what already exists. Re-use of materials and reduction of waste can go hand in hand with new spaces, creating an artful composition that makes everything around it better, both in theory and in practice.

"It isn't enough to just tack on another room or add more space," says Bruns. "What remains is as important as what is changed."

For do-it-yourselfers, Bruns encourages seeking color and design inspiration from nature, magazines, websites and stores, but cautions against going overboard.

"Too often we see that someone found a great wood, or paint, or stone that they loved in the store or in a magazine," he says. "Then, on the next trip, they find a fabric or tile they love. Eventually these materials and textures end up in a room together and all have too much or too similar visual interest. Everything is screaming at you when you enter the space."

Rather, he says, homeowners should carefully assemble a palette; a collection of materials that are balanced and harmonious. He says the fewer materials the better, and having them recur in different rooms and in different ways will lead to more powerful and successful results.

"This level of restraint is a rigorous process," he says, "but worth it."

 Paint made easy

If you still find yourself overwhelmed, or uncertain where to start, there's an app for that. True Value Hardware has launched an extensive do-it-yourself website designed to help guide you through the complicated world of color and design. True Value Paint dot com is packed with tools, articles, videos and tips related to color and design.

"Every time I log on there's something new added to it," says Tom Dorn, owner of Dorn True Value. "It's a really great resource that also helps those who are already pretty savvy, but just want to stay up on current trends."

Dorn offers a color sampling program featuring single quarts, which allows experimentation without commitment to that bold color you're still on the fence about. Many paint chips have an adhesive backing for easy sticking to walls while you stand back and debate their merits, and the online paint calculator helps you quickly puzzle out how many gallons you'll need. Complimentary idea cards to get the creative juices flowing are also available, organized into moods such as Adventurous, Inspired and Harmonious.

2013 wrapped up with two innovative new paint products: Easy Care Platinum is a paint and primer in one, and it's most effective on covering bold wall color. XO-Rust is an aerosol two-in-one paint primer that actually works on cabinets and other shiny surfaces, unlike other all-in-one primers. For 2014, True Value has also voluntarily committed to zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in its paint (VOCs are responsible for that strong "paint drying" smell). In addition to greatly improving the environmental impact, the changeover also affects design for paint enthusiasts.

"The neat thing about these new zero VOC tints is that they're very vibrant in color," says Dorn. "So the new shades of color are going to be a lot more bright and vivid, which people are really going to like."

Paint idea cards and mood groupings are increasingly popular at supply stores, and with good reason: color options have never been more plentiful, and designers have utilized inspiration boards for years. And this year, the designers at Hallman Lindsay decided to take things a little bit further.

"Six of us got together and created our own Hallman Lindsay collection for the new year," says Store Manager Nancy Stillwell, who holds an interior design degree. "They're chosen specifically for Wisconsin, because Wisconsin has its own color trends."

Each color grouping is named for a Wisconsin street. Prospect (Milwaukee) is urban, featuring black licorice, sugar-dust white, the grays of Rand Moon and Subtle Shadow and the yellow of Sign of the Crown. Bristol (Sun Prairie) brings together classics like navy, red, taupe and gold. Bay Shore (Door County) summons a spa-like vibe with dusty blues, greens and purples. Pinckney (Madison) features fun pops of orange, aqua, bamboo green and poppy. Lambert (Minocqua) is a neutral lover's dream, with tans and muslins gently accented with green and brown.

"We tried to reach out to everyone," says Stillwell. "We know that everybody doesn't necessarily like something with a lot of bold color but, then, other people really do."

Most notably, the majority of these groupings are no longer based on plain old white.

"People are going more toward the taupes and darker colors instead of painting a whole house off-white," says Stillwell, adding that Hallman Lindsay also offers in-store consulting, sample quarts and online tools. Her best advice is to not be afraid.

"Paint is such an inexpensive way to change the whole look of a room," says Stillwell. "If you don't like it, you're not out thousands of dollars. For fifty dollars, you can have an entirely new space."

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