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Your Upper Valley Home: More or Less Color?

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Anita Hamalainen

The phrase "It's more of an art than a science" was probably coined after someone mistakenly painted a living room Day-Glo green instead of a soft sage. ("It burns! It burns! Guess I should've test-painted.") Choosing room paint colors is so fraught with pitfalls, it feels like one must have an advanced degree in color theory. Hopefully I can offer a little help with when and where to paint color in your home.

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In my opinion there are two types of homes: open floor plan homes and the home with more distinct rooms. (There's a little known third type, "barn", which I think is where I'm raising my children.) If the UV homeowner with an open floor plan wants to add some color to the walls, where does the paint start and stop if all the walls morph from space to space? The wrong place is an arbitrary line drawn between two zones, for example, between the dining area and the kitchen area. Paint color needs to break at an inside or outside corner. Here is an example of what NOT to do.

A homeowner reached out for help to the Houzz design community with this image.

If you live with an open floor plan, a carefully chosen accent wall can add interest to your space. An accent wall is usually a wall that you want to highlight for some reason. It includes, for example, a fireplace or a built-in bookcase. But, just to confuse you, an accent wall could also be an otherwise boring wall you'd like to make more interesting. Sometimes an accent wall is the first wall you see as you enter a room, as opposed to the wall you belatedly realize was the accent wall as you vacate the room. (Oh my, that green was sure something.  ...they should've test-painted.)

For the home with an open floor plan, it's safest to choose a general neutral for most of the space, judiciously highlighting an important wall with a contrasting color or material.

humina humina humina...

(photo courtesy of

For a traditional home with distinct rooms (e.g., dining room, living room, ballroom, conservatory, etc), you can implement the same accent wall approach mentioned above, but you also have more leeway to paint an entire room a color. And with great power comes great responsibility; the danger with the traditional home is actually overdoing the colors. If every room has a unique color, your eye and brain will have to process a kaleidoscope of visual information... a green room, a red room, a blue room, textures, materials, objects. Ahhhh, sensory overload!

Even Louis XIV got carried away with color with his enfilade of rooms.

A safer approach is to apply special colors to just a couple of rooms and use a general neutral throughout the rest of the house. Since each house is different, you should carefully choose which room is worthy of Farrow & Ball's paint color entitled "Dead Salmon." That's actually a real paint color.

Kitchens are already visually very busy spaces, so I generally discourage adding another sensory element for the brain to handle. Dining rooms, however, are special rooms in which we mark milestones and celebrate holidays, so it's a great space to highlight. Ironically, another good room in which to deploy color is the bathroom. As a smaller space, they can showcase a deep color without knocking you over the head with it.  Kids' rooms are another smart option for color. A wall with color can hide the scuffs and grime of childhood better than a white wall.

You're probably thinking, we live in the Upper Valley with a 9 month winter season, we need COLOR! I'm right there with you. So, for all the rooms with a nice, unassuming, dare I say bland wall color, you can go bananas with the accessories.  There are so many other items in a room besides the walls for introducing spice: furniture, curtains, candles, artwork, throws, lamps, rude embroidered pillows, your Precious Moments figurine collection. (This is a judgment-free zone.)

Why are they staring at me?

(photo courtesy of Grannie C on Pinterest)

The long and the short of it is, I love color and I know I'm not alone. We just need to judiciously apply it to the walls of our home. The good news, though, is paint is affordable and with some re-painting, a Dayglo Don't can quickly turn into a Soft Sage Do.

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