Bright candy wrappers, zany-patterned infant toys, soothing hospital decor -- the colors used to design each of these things are carefully chosen in an attempt to elicit a particular emotional response -- desire, stimulation or restfulness. Similarly, homeowners hem and haw over color swatches and samples in the hope that feelings they want to experience when entering a room are readily available for purchase by the yard or the gallon.
It's not quite that simple, says color specialist and designer Gillian Rose of Manhattan-based Color Our World who has summered in East Hampton. "People have very different experiences and requirements for color," she says. An array of factors, such as fashion trends, cultural influences, personal experiences and simple preference play a role in how people perceive and react to colors. Rose is an environmental color consultant certified by the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers, a professional association offering training and accreditation in the functional application of color to man-made environments.
When embarking on a new home-design project, you shouldn't start with color at all, Rose says. "The most critical thing is to not go in with an agenda of what colors you think there should be." Instead, start by thinking about who will be using the space and for what purpose, she says. This will determine the complexity of your palette.
Next, get specific about the feeling you're trying to create. "You can't just say 'happy' or 'calm,'" says Rose. "Be more in depth." She recommends choosing descriptive words that suit the room's function -- for instance, if your profession requires creativity, your home office or studio should make you feel "imaginative," she says.
Only then is it time to begin looking at samples. "Start looking at colors that make you feel the way you're identifying that you want to be feeling," says Rose -- you may be surprised by what colors actually work for you. Be sure to look at all your color samples together so you can see the big picture: Use your ceiling, trim and accent colors to create balance and the amount of contrast that's most comfortable for you. (What's your design personality? Take the quiz below.)
Here's a sampling of how Long Island designers use color for a variety of moods and personalities.
Rose recommends shades of blue to get you in a creative mood. "It can be ethereal colors, like very pale robin's egg blue, sky blue. Those kinds of colors don't stop the imagination -- you keep going." The sky's the limit in this dreamy space by Lisa Hershman of Play Chic Interiors in Sands Point. "I wanted a room that would really set your imagination free," says Hershman, who designed the space for the Cedar Knolls designer show house in 2013. "I found this wallpaper that was all blues and greens with little keys in it, and it reminded me of 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'The Secret Garden,'" she says. A porch swing suspended from the ceiling completes the fanciful effect.
To create a safe haven, try warm, golden hues anchored by something dark, says Rose. In this Southampton sitting room, which doubles as a guest room, soft, sunrise-colored seating creates a cozy cocoon, while the dark floor, custom-stained in a deep chocolate by Southampton Floors, gives a reassuring sense of permanence. "There is so much light in the room, the soft creamy color just glows in the midday light," says Southampton and Manhattan designer Carole Reed. The Greek key fabric, by Bethpage-based Kravet Fabrics, was made into custom covers for Ballard Design daybeds that fit in the space and had a "Gustavian" quality -- an 18th century Swedish furniture style with French roots -- "as does the rest of the home," Reed says.
Yellow has a cheering effect, and green is associated with nature, according to "Color and Light in Man-Made Environments," a book written by IACC president Frank H. Mahnke and Rudolf H. Mahnke. In this Muttontown conservatory/breakfast room, sunny yellow picnic-table gingham and grassy green tableware evoke that slightly giddy sense of freedom you get on the first warm day of spring. Huntington Bay designer Kim Hendrickson-Radovich of Kim E. Courtney Interiors & Design, tops off the fresh burst of lemon and lime colors with crisp white moldings and a whimsical, multicolored bird print on the walls for a look she describes as "fun and fresh."
Watery colors, clean lines and minimalist design create a Zen-like mood in this Setauket bathroom. "The ceiling is a pearlescent, misty blue-green, which matches the bubble tile in the niches flanking the sink," says Huntington-based designer Rosanne Lombardo. "We did a really neutral tile on the wall." For the shelves, Lombardo chose low-ferrous glass -- ordinary 7/8-inch glass shelves have a greener edge, but the lower iron content of this glass lightens up the tint to a relaxing, translucent green-blue. "It adds to that spa feeling," Lombardo says. The cool palette is warmed up by the color of the cabinetry. "The wood is that cinnamon tone -- very Asian-inspired," Lombardo says.
For a fun and youthful look, create an irreverent dialogue among your colors, says Rose. "These are going to be colors that bounce off one another." Circus tent stripes in cotton- candy pink and white, flirty feathered chandeliers, trendy pillows in hot hues and girlish window treatments in softer shades are true to the two-sided, sweet and sassy spirit of a tween girl in this Nesconset bedroom, which designer Becky Brooks Goodman created for her daughter. "My daughter is very artsy and doesn't like to do anything traditional. So we took traditional girlie colors and made it kind of funky," says Goodman.
Comfy seating is grouped into a conversation areas accented with different colors, making this Oyster Bay living room conducive to family time or entertaining a larger crowd. "When you bring more people into the mix, there are more uses for that room, and you could have a broader color palette that you'd be looking at," says Rose. "You want more stimulation."
Huntington designer Eileen Kathryn Boyd used a warm, welcoming tone on the walls and rich red accents for a stimulating conversation space. Vibrant patterns on the upholstery and rug add visual complexity.
What's your dream color scheme? Take this quiz, created with the help of certified color consultant Gillian Rose.
1. On your dream vacation, the best view from your hotel window would be:
A. A lively street scene such as Mardi Gras parade
B. A harbor with boats going in and out
C. A still lake or other serene scene
2. In the room you're designing, your perfect evening would be:
A. Dance party
B. Dinner party
C. Reading by the fire
3. You know how you want to feel in this space. Say it with flowers:
A. Bright red poppies
B. Yellow sunflowers
C. Blue forget-me-nots
WHAT IT MEANS
A. You're an extrovert. You'll feel most at home in a stimulating environment, with bolder colors and plenty of contrast.
B. Moderation is the key. You'll be most comfortable with colors that are not too bold and not too washed out.
C. You're an introvert. You don't need visual stimulation -- your internal dialogue is quite stimulating enough. You'll appreciate toned-down hues and softer transitions.
A. This is a space for engaging different personalities and a variety of activities. You'll want a complex palette.
B. A welcoming palette in warm colors will invite your loved ones to let their hair down. Add a pop of cooler hue to balance the space.
C. Choose colors that soothe for your inner sanctum.
A. You want to feel dynamic. You will want either a high contrast color scheme or many patterns. For example, navy and white with some shades of coral.
B. You want this room to feel cheery and welcoming. You might want a buttery yellow with a hint of pale blue as your palette.
C. This is a spot for daydreaming. You may prefer a more ethereal palette of pale aqua, soft blue and a bit of pale cantaloupe.