The color of a space can help define its structure.
The color of a space can help define its structure. (photo: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

When we like the colors in a room, we feel good in it. There is a healing, calming aspect.

— Barbara Kaplan, interior designer

Most houses---whether they are brand new and awaiting their first owner or an older model trying to look its best for prospective buyers---are composed of walls that are typically covered in white in an attempt to create a clean-lined, blank canvas. But color can be just as important to the overall look and comfort of your living space and all of the shapes and angles that compose it. Although the thought of wandering through the color swatch selections at your local home-improvement store may seem like a daunting task, pairing color and design doesn't have to be a complicated chore.

Getting Started

Despite the traditional rules that suggest rich colors for dining areas and flesh or pastel tones for bathrooms, tossing most of those rules out the window is often the first thing that Marin County, California-based architectural color and design consultant Moira O'Sullivan does when working with a new client.

"When it comes to people's tastes, I try to find out what colors they gravitate toward, and which ones they feel good in," she said.

O'Sullivan suggests that, when starting the process of selecting colors you take cues from the architectural style of your home. For example, if your house is colonial style, whites, browns and similar neutral colors are a good place to start. For a Spanish or Mediterranean design, sunny, warm shades of orange and yellow, as well as beachy sea-blue tones, are appropriate.

Just as too little color can be a bad thing, however, so can too much---especially on the exterior. A color that is too bright for the exterior of a home, O'Sullivan notes, is a common mistake that is not recognized until the final coat is drying. To avoid that, she advises toning down your originally desired color just a bit. "People need to 'gray down' the exterior," she said. "When they see the color in the store on a little piece of paper, they think it's lovely. Then they get it on a large scale and they go outside and it's like, 'Whoa!'"

Defining Your Personality With Color

While a toned-down exterior color is a smart idea, feel free to be bolder indoors. Choose a color that speaks of your personality.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based contemporary interior design consultant Barbara Kaplan developed the "Bajaro Method," which focuses on individual self-expression and what colors and design bring out the best in each person.

Most of Kaplan's clients fall into one of the four palettes inspired by the four seasons. Winter is comprised of deep, heavy shades like black or gray; spring consists of pastels; warm and bright colors make up summer; and rusty earth tones define fall. Within those palettes are different tones to which people are subconsciously drawn.

"Most people don't realize that they're affected by color all the time," Kaplan said. "When we like the colors in a room, we feel good in it. There is a healing, calming aspect."

Careful consideration of a room's purpose also plays a role in color choice, O'Sullivan said. For example, select a color for the dining room that looks best in the evening light of a chandelier, because that's when you'll use it most. One of O'Sullivan's clients chose bright, bold colors for her bedroom so she would get a burst of energy when she awoke each morning.

Using accent colors can help define a space. If you have a dramatic fireplace, use an accent color on that wall to make it stand out. Interestingly angled walls, such as those seen in many modern homes, may also be worthy of a color punch.

Control Your Color Destiny

Many of us are still haunted by childhood memories of how our mother dressed us and the colors she deemed best for us, which were based on her preferences, Kaplan said.

"We are influenced by what people tell us, but it's not always the best color for us," she said. "The biggest mistake is not listening to yourself. Stick to what you want and what you prefer."

And sometimes, what homeowners prefer is anything but usual. Kaplan recently worked on a home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. The personality and preferences of the 20-year-old, sleek, contemporary house's owners are reflected on the interior walls, which are painted copper, purple, red and silver. The only white walls are on the exterior. "When people walk in, they are shocked, but then they don't want to leave, because it feels so good," said Kaplan. "The colors reflect the owners, and they feel comfortable."

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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