Three years ago, when I moved into the house, I liked the fact that its walls weren't painted white, but rather a murky taupe color I dubbed 'chocolate milk.' (Am I always thinking about food? Apparently.)
That was before I spent any time really looking at the walls, or living with them. As time went by, I started to notice the paint job was sparse in spots, and that in patches the chocolate milk was often not covering up the vanilla wall beneath.
Then I started to realize that having every wall in the house painted the same color was oppressive. I wanted to lighten up the whole tone, longing for colors like buttercream yellow, spring green and even pink.
The problem was that there was so much to be painted. So many big walls, so much high ceiling. It didn't seem possible to break the component parts of the job down into more manageable units, because the open floor plan meant that the kitchen just shifted into the living room. That 'flow' between rooms, one of the things I like about the house, also frustrated me in terms of making the kitchen one color and the living room another color. How would I do that ' paint a stripe down the wall? That seemed to hold the promise of looking at best circus-like, and probably just inept.
I did paint two rooms ' the bathrooms. They were small enough to cope with, but still a lot of work. When I hear things like 'paint, it's an easy way to change the look of a room, and if you don't like the way it looks, you can just buy a new can of paint,' it fills me with despair. As much as I like the idea of painting in the abstract, in practice I end up with scenarios in which dogs are tracking green pawprints all over the house and the toilet paper roll ends up flying into the paint tray.
But whether you paint it yourself or hire someone to do it, you have to answer the same question: What colors do I want, and can I get them to jibe with the colors I already have and want to keep?
Paint companies have become savvier, grouping their colors in combinations that 'make sense' together in some decorative way.
Pittsburgh Paints has two different plans by which you can go about this. Their 'Home Collection' brochures divide the color wheel into several different nature- and seasonally based palettes, like 'Spring Garden,' 'Autumn Breeze,' 'Morning Light' and 'Precious Stones.' Connecting rooms through color is the inspiring tagline on each brochure, and in fact that's exactly what you want to do.
'Precious Stones' features somber earth tones, whereas 'Spring Garden' features 'blossom red and fragile pink,' with 'leafy greens and cheerful yellow.' But even the cheery spring palette doesn't wimp out with just pastels, and features an edgy grenadine and a somber connecting color of gray violet.
Pittsburgh's 'Ultimate Style Collection' comes at color from another angle ' your personality: 'I am Festive,' 'I am Creative' and 'I am Casual,' to name a few color groupings. They're missing key elements like 'I am Uptight' and 'I am a Control Freak' ' everything's sort of groovy in the Ultimate Style Collection. The personality angle is gimmicky, but the collections of colors do make sense together.
Dutch Boy approaches color choice from yet another angle: dominant color. A brochure for 'Yellows' offers different yellows from canary to caramel and matches them with colors that coordinate with them. So while the idea of painting a wall bright yellow or vivid red may seem too bold, seeing how it can be tempered by combining it with a sobering gray, wine and pale green scheme is helpful and morale building.
Online, the big paint companies want you to try 'painting' a wall in a room (kitchen, living, bedroom) with any color you want. As phony as this sounds in the abstract, it is somewhat helpful to do, more so in the way you can try colors out of your comfort zone.
Pratt and Lambert features 'paint the wall' on its Web site, as well as an 'Interior Personality Quiz' that asks a number of questions and then deals you three different color schemes that should go with your lifestyle. For some reason, my responses resulted in blues popping up in my palette, blue being the one color I would never paint anything. Maybe it would be better to consult a human.
Lori Jolin of Lori Jolin Designs works with many homeowners, both with new construction and remodeling jobs, coordinating everything from flooring to paint to fixtures. Currently she's working on a house in Verona, trying to bring the colors of the stone fireplace into the house, 'in rooms that are very open, trying to do something different but still blend all these colors together.'
'People are still afraid' of using colors, says Jolin. 'White is safe. But people have become more daring in the last few years, maybe because of the use of color in Parade of Homes houses recently.'
Paint is still less expensive than other remodeling projects, like carpet or new countertops in the kitchen. 'Paint is something you can do yourself, if you want to, and just changing the color of a powder room can perk up your house,' Jolin notes.
Picking colors often stymies even the savvy. Jolin likes to go to her clients' homes and look at their stuff ' furniture, rugs, paintings, overall lifestyle. 'People don't always realize it, but there are certain colors they gravitate towards. I ask what is staying, and what's going.'
From her observations, Jolin suggests a palette of about five colors. Not all of these will end up as wall colors but will also carry through the house in accessories. The point is, 'you have five colors that your brain is registering as you're walking through the house.'
Now it's time to pick the intensities of colors. 'It's very important to recognize the lighting within your own house. Does a room face north, east, south or west? The same paint color is going to look different in each house, depending on the light that is coming into a room,' Jolin says.
She recommends buying the tryout-tester size of paint (about $5). Paint it on some primed drywall or Masonite board, in a big enough sample (Jolin says at least 24 inches), and lean it on the walls at different times of the day: 'This is where you can say, 'I like this color' or 'Oh my God, it's a lot darker than I thought.''
'Don't paint it right on the walls!' says Jolin, who's encountered clients who've painted 10 different colors on the wall before calling her in for rescue.
Because of the open floor plans in much contemporary construction, owners have to watch out when a large expanse of wall is shared by more than one room.
Do not paint a stripe down the middle of the wall if you want one color in the kitchen, say, and one in the great room. Jolin and others recommend painting the shared wall one color, which may be different from the other walls in that room. 'Right now it's the fashion to have one wall in a room a different color,' Jolin confirms. The shared wall could be a lighter or darker version of the other color ' or a complementary color: 'You have to ask yourself, 'How can I marry those together?'' Stick to three to five wall colors in common areas; if your house is small, maybe fewer than that. The more colors you have, the more it confines the space.
Right now, I'm moving paint chips from room to room, checking different shades at different times of day. I'm leaning toward colors called Almond Cream and Cornmeal, with Peanut Brittle accents. It figures.
Lori Jolin: 221-2920