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Choosing Colors:
Decorating With Color

There seems to be a lot of confusion about color choices being made. No matter how great the architecture is, no matter how nice your furnishings are, if the colors don't work, all is not as good as it could be. With a myriad of colors one can choose for a room, it takes careful planning and color selection to achieve the desired results.

But where do you begin? Choosing colors for your room need not be difficult if you follow some simple "rules" on how to choose colors that will please you. If you're painting a room, you can easily change your color choices, but if you're investing in wall coverings, then you need to be even more careful so you don't waste your money.

  • First, decide whether you want a blended look or high contrast. To enjoy a room over time, you should know whether you are energized by high contrasting colors, in a more dramatic setting, or whether you prefer a softer, more relaxed feeling.
  • Knowing which type of design is best for you is critical at an early stage.
  • If you like high contrast, you'll want to choose colors that are opposites in "value". Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color or the amount of white or black in a color. For instance, if a color has a lot of white, it is said to be a "tint" and if it has a lot of black, it is said to be a "shade". If you like contrast, choose a tint of one color and a dark shade of another color.
  • If you do not care for high contrast, pick two colors that blend together and tighten up the contrasting values.
  • Minimize the contrast of value from one color to another. In other words, choose colors that are near the same value: two tints of differing hues, or two shades of differing hues.
  • My minimizing the contrast of the "values", you will create a more blended feeling in the room. This will establish a more relaxing room.
  • Look at the fabric on the furniture in the room for a clue. Does the fabric have huge value contrasts? You will know instantly if it does, because the fabric will be very strong and attract a lot of attention to itself. If the fabric is strong, the room should be able to handle strong, contrasting colors on the walls.
  • However, if your fabric is "soft", with minimal contrast from one color (hue) to another, then it might not feel right to put highly contrasting colors on the walls. The greater the contrast in values on the walls, the more dominant the background becomes in the room. If the background overpowers what's in the room (furniture and accessories), it might easily feel oppressive.
  • One way to get high contrast in a room that has crown molding is to paint the walls dark and let the crown molding remain white.
  • For a low contrast room, paint the walls a light color and paint the crown molding a slightly darker shade of the same color. You'll get some contrast between the wall and the trim, but it will have a blended, softer look.
  • Know what you want to draw attention to. If you want the attention to go to the crown molding, make them a strong contrasting color from the walls. But if you want the attention to go to the furnishings or the artwork, then soften the moldings and make them blend with the ceiling or walls. You'll still get the finishing touch effect, but they won't jump out and grab the attention away from other elements in the room.
  • Look to the fabrics in the room for color selection. For the safest choices, choose from the background colors of the fabric for your walls, floors, ceiling.
  • Choose from the stronger colors in the fabric for your trim, remembering what I already talked about with regard to value and contrast.

Choosing paint colors can be tricky because it's hard to know from a paper sample whether a color is right or not. So buy small quantities of all the colors you are considering. Paint a small patch on the walls in the room first and look at the patches at different times of the day. Paint colors will change depending on the light of the day and depending on which colors are next to them. When you think you've narrowed your choices down, paint a larger portion of one wall and see if you still like the color before committing to the purchase of several cans of that paint color.


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Barbara Jennings is author of 10 decorating books: Decor Secrets Revealed, Rearrange It, Home Staging for Profit, Home Staging for Yourself, Arrange Your Stuff, Advanced Redesign, Pro Art Consulting, Where There's a Wall - There's a Way, The Art of Hanging Art, Great Parties! Great Homes!

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