From the Interior Designer:
On Being Fearless with Color


In my practice, I am known for using lots of color in my projects in order to create a mood and and reflect my client’s personalities.

I have always thought of paint as the design equivalent of dating and architecture the equivalent of being married. You can try out and easily change paint but with a structure you are in it for the long haul. Like divorce, altering architectural elements and systems (walls, windows, materials, electric, plumbing) is difficult and expensive, while putting up more samples or repainting a room - like ending a temporary relationship - is affordable.

There are no fixed rules with paint color. Successful interior palettes can be coherent or eclectic, shocking or soothing, warm or cool, expected or astonishing, trendy or unpopular.

There is no reason to be intimidated by color. With paints samples one is able to explore with little risk. Colors can dramatically change the experience of an interior: replacing white paint with lemon yellow turns a home office into a playful child’s room; using a cool color will bring focus to a beautiful view while a warm one draws attention to the interior and distracts from, say, the view of your neighbors asphalt roof. As long as the color is studied in its context, there is freedom to test the limits of your imagination, or follow a trend, or copy a room from a magazine. Whether the color is trendy now or was in 1900, a successful palette will give focus and expression to a space.

Soft interior palette by Alexandra Angle

The “Color of the Year”, as designated by Pantone, may quickly appear in fashion and furnishings but it seems to lag with paint. Though the major paint companies create signature palettes of new colors, when you have an “Ultra Violet” year (the choice for 2018), it will take time for it to trickle down. Perhaps more important than the arbiters of color in creating a paint trend are the interiors that appear in magazines, on pinterest and instagram. These spaces are usually designed by well-known interior designers that have taken a year or two to create them and then have them photographed and published. The result is that by the time you paint a “trendy" color on your walls or cabinets the color may already be passé.

64th St Apartment, NY, by Alexandra Angle
Fire Island retreat, NY, by Alexandra Angle

I designed an East Coast beach house with one of my favorite, coherent, and admittedly unoriginal palettes. Typical of a house by the sea, the colors were primarily sea-glass blues and greens, soft sunny yellows and warm whites with the addition of bright pine green and chartreuse. The colors mimicked the land and sea that surround the house and the effect of the scheme was to draw attention to the dramatic views and make the transition from the interior to the exterior fluid. Being in the house was a soothing experience.

Cape Breton Seaside House, by Alexandra Angle

On the other end of the spectrum, I am just finishing up the interiors of a Gilded Age 9,000 square foot mansion in Brooklyn with a checkered history. The clients are creative and outgoing and have an ever-expanding art collection. When they purchased the house the walls were all white, as might be expected. I wanted the house to better reflect my clients’ youthful personalities and got to work on the palette. Ultimately we ended up with a range of unexpected colors that tell the story of the house’s current inhabitants and it’s legendary past.

Dining room with pop color elements, Brooklyn, NY, by Alexandra Angle

There are some basic things to help decide what will work in your space:

It may drive a contractor crazy but samples are a must. Do not be timid or parsimonious when choosing them. Samples should be large (I do 3’ by 3’), against a neutral white, and with plenty of space between them. Once you have narrowed the color down to one or two, paint them in various parts of the room and view them at different times of day.

Color is Mutable
Color is relative to its context so consider all the other things affecting it — the interior architecture, the color of the floor, the type and location of light, the furnishings, exterior views, and usage. Recognize that you may have expectations and history with certain colors. Try not to let that hold you back from experimenting -- yellow is not always optimistic, pink is not always feminine, and brown is not always brawny.

Color Theory
Paint wheels are usually divided into two, with one half warm colors and the other half cool. According to theory, warm colors advance while cool colors recede. If you want to make a room feel cozier use a warm color to draw in the walls, if you want a space to appear larger, use a cool color; warm rooms are generally more exciting and cool rooms more peaceful; warm wall colors make a sparsely furnished room more intimate while cool colors create a gallery-like experience where the focus is on art and furnishings.

A house by Muriel Brandolini, one of my favorite designers for color. Photo by Bjorn Wallander for Architectural Digest.

There are no fixed rules with paint color. Successful interior palettes can be coherent or eclectic, shocking or soothing, warm or cool, expected or astonishing, trendy or unpopular. Some people are more comfortable in a room with a perfectly coordinated pallet while others prefer one that is cacophonous. Interior designer India Mahdavi, (whose work is featured in the lead image and who is dubbed by The New Yorker “the virtuoso of color”) likes to ‘”mix colors and let them insult each other, have an argument, as though they were guests at a dinner party."

So go ahead and take a risk. Research and experiment. Eventually you will find the right partner but, until then, have no fear. You can always pack your bag and move on.