Home & Garden

Considering the essence of color

WOODY MARSHALL/THE TELEGRAPHMary Jane Napier’s interest in Asian design is evident in her Macon home’s decor. A few years ago, two rooms in her home were painted Chinese red, a warm color that enlivens the spaces in the daylight and subdues the mood at night.
WOODY MARSHALL/THE TELEGRAPHMary Jane Napier’s interest in Asian design is evident in her Macon home’s decor. A few years ago, two rooms in her home were painted Chinese red, a warm color that enlivens the spaces in the daylight and subdues the mood at night. wmarshall@macon.com

If using a color bolder than beige in your house is a scary thought, you are not alone. Witness the angst of customers in local paint stores, paint deck in sweaty hands, fretting over a hundred “what ifs.”

Color is intimidating to too many people. The commitment is scary for several reasons: fear that the house won’t sell with too many colors (and, that would be in how many years?), or, that an odd color may wear out its welcome.

Compared to other permanent finishes in a house, paint is the least expensive way to create a backdrop for furnishings and lifestyle and to experiment with a color scheme.

If building a new house, the contractor will need a finish schedule for every room. If the house has been in the planning stages for years, keeping notes -- including paint colors -- for each room, is invaluable. Furniture, orientation to light and the use of the spaces will govern the paint options.

Rooms can be divided into two categories: public spaces and private rooms. Ordinarily public spaces -- living rooms, dining rooms, foyers and dens -- are used most often, and colors need to be comfortable and enduring. Bedrooms and bathrooms can be decorated to suit the tastes of the occupants.

There are volumes written about the psychology of color and its effects on mood. For every “rule” regarding color, there is an equally good reason to ignore the rule.


Remember “Color Me Beautiful,” the book by Joanne Richmond about how to buy clothes in colors that enhanced your appearance? Richmond’s approach to selecting a wardrobe made a lot of sense in spite of her detractors.

One benefit of that book was enlightenment about color that surrounds us. In our practice, there were clients who felt the same affinity for the color swatches they could wear, transposed to the walls of their homes. For many of those same clients, it was a first venture into using any paint other than beige for their personal surroundings.

It was a refreshing and unexpected development in the interior design field. Richmond called aqua or turquoise the “universal color” -- one that looks good on anyone. That revelation coincided with a rise in popularity of blue-greens on walls. Now, it is now considered a neutral color, one of nature’s hues that will complement all colors in the palette.


In her townhouse, Mary Jane Napier’s interest in Asian design is evident, a minimalist’s approach to furniture and accessories with clean lines and geometric shapes. For years, Napier followed her career all over the country, playing it safe with neutral colors in each of the houses she owned.

A few years ago, Napier decided to introduce color that would be a good foil for a Chinese iron table in the dining room and an ivory linen sofa and burnished upholstery on chairs in the living room. Taking her cue from a pair of Oriental export vases, the two rooms were painted Chinese red, a warm color that enlivens the spaces in the daylight and subdues the mood at night.

With a bronze finished chandelier mounted on a decorative escutcheon, faux finished in the same metal patina, Napier liked the idea of painting the ceiling in soft gold, adding to the warm wash of reflected light in the evening. Artwork she had owned for years gained new importance -- and a lot of compliments -- in the renewed spaces.

Her decision to make a bold change didn’t stop with the living room and dining room. Using earthen tones, she repainted the entire house, engaging the late Gregg Brooks as paint contractor, and Susan Raza, local decorative painter, to add copper faux finishes in the kitchen.


Ceilings are the most neglected surfaces in houses, usually painted flat white. The ceiling has been called the “fifth wall,” a space that can be covered in subdued color or can add a little drama to a room. If you have gone to the expense of adding elaborate crown moldings to a room, imagine the impact of a colored ceiling, separated, by intricate molding, from the wall.

In a local home, reminiscent of a French villa, the dining room walls are upholstered in trapunto panels of subtly patterned, jade silk fabric, framed by gold leafed moldings. The crown is 12-inches deep, painted ivory, as are the base moldings and doors.

A white ceiling would have been disappointing in this sumptuous room with a 12-foot ceiling. It was painted matte cerise, a deep raspberry color that, with the imposing mirror and crystal chandelier, replicates a room appropriate for a chateau.

Not every house has soaring ceilings or custom-designed crown molding, but that doesn’t mean the ceilings cannot be tinted the colors of walls or painted contrast colors. Many houses built from the last quarter of the 20th century to the present have tray ceilings that take advantage of the plenum or attic above the normal ceiling to raise the height of a room. With four “walls” of the tray plus the horizontal ceiling surface, the possibilities are endless for adding interest to the design of the room with paint, faux finishes or scenery.


The management of The Cottages at Wesleyan encourages the residents to decorate their apartments as they wish. Mary Wilder’s apartment is often shown to prospective tenants who can see how much can be done to customize the space to their tastes.

Wilder surrounds herself with color, which she says is stimulating, and has changed her bedrooms’ colors a few times since moving to the cottages almost 10 years ago. The spacious two-bedroom apartment has an open design in the living and dining spaces.

To define the living area, Wilder used a vibrant sunflower gold on the walls; the foyer is painted poppy red, a color repeated on the dado of the dining area. She has repeated the red in the dining room window treatments, a lively combination with yellow and blue that is anything but serene, but colors on which she thrives.

Accent walls, painted in a contrasting color, must make sense in the grand color scheme. You may define the space, as Wilder did, or add life to a wall that would otherwise be boring.

One example is the cavernous stairwell that, with added color on a landing, could be transformed to a family art gallery.

Another is the barrier free design of so many houses with no clear separation of the spaces -- where those spaces turn corners, nuances of one color can be used to visually separate the rooms. The lighter shades can be used where natural light is at a minimum, the darker tones in well lighted areas.

If you really long for color, just try it!

Katherine Walden is an interior designer and freelance writer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or kwaldenint@aol.com.