Terra-cotta holds all the colors of the earth. The Mediterranean clay hardens to rusts, mustards, maizes, greens, blues, grays, faded peaches, tobaccos and lavenders. The Mexican clay dries to the colors of chili peppers, pumpkins, tangerines and flame. As floor tile, terra-cotta changes the character of a room, lending it warmth, a rustic quality and the flavor of a rich culture with roots in the Aztec empire or the ancient farms of Tuscany. Coordinate the wall paint with terra-cotta to enhance your rustic, Southwestern, Spanish Colonial or Mediterranean decor.
A vibrant room -- such as a sun room or a dining room -- comes alive with walls as strong as the color of the tiles on the floor. Sponge or color-wash clear medium blue paint over white or very light walls to add faux texture and counter the visual power of the floor. Blue and orange are complements -- direct opposites -- on the color wheel. The two colors harmonize in their perfect opposition; color complements are dynamic but balanced. Any blue, from a shimmer of bluish ice to ocean blue to deep turquoise, will hold its own and appear more intense against a terra-cotta floor. A room designed around vibrant folk art, or with rustic Tuscan or Spanish Colonial architecture, furnishings and accessories, is an appealing mini-museum with red-orange clay floors and blue walls.
Nature drops some beautiful clues about which colors work well together. Gleaming copper eventually forms a patina of mottled greens and blues as a result of oxidation. Green and terra-cotta make a soothing combination, but off-greens give you the most interesting color choices. Olive, yellow-green, acid green -- any green with yellow in it -- picks up the yellow in orange and coexists congenially in close proximity. Terra-cotta tiles on a kitchen floor look even richer with a washed acid green on the walls. Hang a rack of copper pots near the dark enamel or brushed stainless stove to accentuate the color scheme. A terra-cotta tiled bathroom with green-tinted lime-washed walls evokes a classic villa from another age. Green mellows terra-cotta, but the pairing is never dull.
The terra-cotta tile floor that came with the house was too fabulous to replace, but your taste is decidedly modern and minimalist. Luckily, an enduring contemporary color trend looks striking against terra-cotta floors. Gray pulls the room into whatever period decor you favor and accommodates the sleek lines of Italian leather furniture and iconic abstract art with ease. Charcoal walls are very now with old terra-cotta tile, or terra-cotta upholstery and a stretch of terra-cotta carpet over wood or polished concrete floors. A loft with industrial cement walls in light, variegated concrete-grays is saved from severity by warm terra-cotta. An entry hall with terra-cotta tile floors and the palest wisp of gray smoke paint on the walls is a gallery for your steel sculptures, your Rauschenberg combine or an exhibition poster.
Terra-cotta can be challenging -- test every paint choice exhaustively on a large patch of wall in every light to find a shade that remains lively and engaging in bright sun, a gloomy overcast day and artificial night illumination. A monochromatic approach requires a deft touch. For very pale apricot wall paint, stick to a matte chalk-like finish to avoid the dueling shine of protected tile floors and glossy walls. Walls in a deeper shade of the orange clay should pick up a tone in the tile to harmonize. Wall and floor color-matching will visibly shrink the space -- fine for a cozy retreat in Santa Fe with a blazing fire in the kiva, or a baronial hall that would seem too institutional with white or a light shade of paint. Paint manufacturers, such as Behr, have developed palettes to work with terra-cotta, from creams and golden yellows, to peacock blues and chocolates, to rich tropical pinks. Begin with their pretested colors to simplify your wall paint choice.