One thing that’s become clear throughout this pandemic? We could all do with a little—or a lot—more color in our lives. You might play it safe with mostly neutrals, throwing in just a few brighter accents. Or maybe you’re ready to go all out with bold, beautiful, saturated color. It’s a totally personal choice, and these tips from local interior designers can help you make the right one.
Easton-based interior designer Jamie Merida embraced an all-American red, white, and blue palette when designing this Chesapeake Bay home with his lead designer, Denise Perkins. The same colors happened to be perfect for the home’s shoreside setting and worked with its overall nautical vibe.
“Our clients both worked on Capitol Hill and were involved in politics, so the patriotic palette was a playful nod to that, as well as an ideal scheme for a waterfront Eastern Shore home,” he says.
The dining room features a neutral sand-tone base, with its trellis-patterned wallpaper and organic woven rug, but the standout feature is a breakfront painted in vivid red. That hue is also picked up in the dining chairs’ seat cushions and in a pair of accent pillows atop two armchairs.
“The custom red-painted breakfront is definitely the focal point in the dining room,” says Merida. “It draws your eye in and makes a strong statement.”
The color travels through to the waterfront great room by way of a bold checkered red-and-white area rug.
“Just as the red breakfront anchors the dining room, the checkered carpet anchors this space,” says Merida.
In the great room, blue also comes into play by way of swivel-mounted armchairs and accent pillows. A blue island base continues the palette into the adjacent kitchen.
Pro tip: “To achieve an overall crisp, clean look, we used white paint on the architectural trim and white piping on choice furnishings, including the blue armchairs,” says Merida. “It kicks everything up a notch by providing high contrast.”
Using polished, not brushed, chrome on the kitchen light pendants has a similar effect and further complements the home’s nautical vibe and waterfront setting.
Bold and Bright
Outdoor spaces have become essential during the pandemic, and this fun porch, with its playful turquoise, fuchsia, and yellow palette, is well used by the young family who lives in this Arlington home.
“These clients love color,” says Arlington-based interior designer Ame Gold. “Their whole house is filled with vibrant art and colorful furnishings. There is color everywhere.”
Gold chose to balance all of that with white walls both inside and out. Furnished with indoor/outdoor furniture and Sunbrella fabrics, the porch’s mission was to be, in Gold’s words, “a happy, cheerful space for the family to chill.”
The porch is directly off the dining room, which combines blues, fuchsias, and yellows in its furnishings, so Gold chose to bring these colors outside. Yellow, the most subtle, popped up in the form of a side table and small accents.
“My clients love fuchsia, and it is the main color carried through the house in upholstery,” says Gold. “The blue is predominant in the kitchen and is also used in the dining room. Both these spaces open up to the porch; with these sight lines, it was important to create a nice color flow.”
Pro tip: In addition to solid blocks of color, Gold layered in some fun patterns in throw pillows and in the curvy Victorian-style upholstered armchairs, which break up the modern, linear sectional.
“If you use a bright color with a pattern, versus a neutral one with a pattern, the effect is completely different,” she says. “I feel the colors and patterns here make the space joyful and vibrant—like a place where you’d want to sit and sip some lemonade!”
Interior designer Martha Vicas has long believed in the power of strong, unapologetic shades. “Bold colors are energizing, and they make people happy,” says Vicas, who is seeing more requests for rich, saturated color these days. At the moment, she’s especially loving green. Nothing could be bolder—or greener—than this jewel box of a butler’s pantry/bar, which is wrapped in a botanical Hermès wallpaper on all of its walls and even the ceiling. “My clients are young, and they wanted me to push them, so this was the wallpaper selection that we made to define the space,” says Vicas, who is based in Washington, DC.
The lush, mostly green wall covering went on to serve as the inspiration for various verdant shades that were pulled out into other elements of the space, including the architectural trim (finished in a glossy hunter green) and the malachite-inspired bricked backsplash with tonal variation. Vicas collaborated with builder Simon Ley throughout the process.
“With color, you always need a starting point,” says Vicas. “It can be a carpet, a piece of art … For this space, it was the wallpaper. We pulled the predominant color out and used it as an accent color elsewhere, like in the tile and trim, while letting the wallpaper steal the show.”
Pro tip: To balance the striking wallpaper and other bold elements, Vicas kept the lower cabinets and upper shelves clean-lined and neutral.
“Neutrals provide relief for the eye so we can enjoy color,” she says.
“If you have colorful walls, your furniture needs to be neutral, and vice versa. In this bar, the walnut cabinetry is the neutral. If we had painted the cabinetry green, it would have been overkill.”
A Light Touch
Bright hues do not scare Jenna Steckler. “Most people want color in their home but are afraid to use it,” says the Potomac-based interior designer, “so they default to the trendy neutral of the moment.”
Steckler convinced her “normally quite color-shy” client into incorporating color into this living room, which sits at the entry to the Darnestown, Maryland, home. “My client wanted to have fun with this space and incorporate color without departing from the aesthetic of the rest of the house.”
With a warm, light, neutral palette as a base pulled from the feature wall’s grasscloth pattern, Steckler visually connected this space to other rooms, which use a variety of blues, by way of accents: She selected a richer turquoise hue for lamp bases and a softer powder blue for throw pillows and window treatments. Piping and trim incorporate the color in other ways.
“Green became a logical choice as another color component,” says Steckler. “It already has blue in it and wouldn’t be too jarring with a lot of color contrast. Greens and blues always team beautifully together.”
A moss-green velvet ottoman provides extra seating as needed, and the hue also pops up in accent pillows on the sofa. Meanwhile, a bottle-green ceramic stool provides another touch of color. “I was very restrained with color use in this space,” says Steckler, “but the splashes of blues and greens interspersed throughout really shine.”
Pro tip: Steckler likes to use a color wheel. “It’s a great tool,” she says. “I tend to use colors that are close together on the color wheel, like blue and green,” she adds of metaphorically using grass and sky to complement the botanical mural.
“With the current pandemic, I think people want shades that suggest warmth and optimism.” says Vienna-based interior designer Andrea Maaseide. “I think grays—at least cool grays—are on their way out.”
Case in point is a bedroom she designed in a home in Vienna for a client’s daughter, who at 13 is transitioning out of her little-girl room. The main colors are a variety of warm neutral hues, from vanilla and ivory to a range of soft browns evocative of cappuccinos and lattes.
“Color has a tremendous effect on mood, but it varies from individual to individual,” says Maaseide. “Saturated color can be energizing, while soft colors and neutrals can make a space feel calming and soothing.”
The warm, neutral palette here feels right, enlivened just so by touches of dusty pink and teal blues.
“The pinks and blues are on the cooler side of the spectrum,” says the designer. “I think having the proper balance of warm and cool tones, however subtle, is very important.”
To make the neutral space interesting, Maaseide worked with a variety of materials, from the custom stained headboard with integrated lighting and storage to the antique-mirror finish on the nightstands’ front paneling.
“This room was meant for sleeping and lounging,” she says. “I did the softer pinks and blues in the bed’s accent pillows and the bolder blue velvet pillow on the armchair, where my client’s daughter hangs out.”
Pro tip: “Lots of texture is key! I used smooth fabrics, soft leathers, nubby fabrics,” says Maaseide, who did a faux-grasscloth feature wall—a great backdrop for photographs and art—and incorporated a variety of textiles.
In The Tropics
Haymarket-based interior designer Paola Martinez of Olamar Interiors is a firm believer in what she calls “color psychology” and how color choice sets the emotional mood in a space.
“You have to be careful with your color selections,” says Martinez. “You have to understand how the client wants to feel while utilizing certain spaces, and then provide color options that support that mood and feeling.”
This laundry room—with its deep-green cabinetry, navy and green grasscloth walls, and porcelain floor tiles, incorporating ochre gold, dusty pink, and taupe gray tones—demonstrates exactly what the McLean homeowner in a multigenerational family home wanted to achieve.
“The wife’s mother, who is from the Philippines, has made herself in charge of the household laundry. Her daughter wanted to create a space that reminded her mom of home, so she asked us to give the space a modern tropical vibe that was fun, happy, soothing, and comfortable,” says Martinez.
Hence the room’s palette was born, based around blues and greens, which Martinez references as calming colors, along with very light touches of ochre and pink that evoke joy and fun.
“I see deep greens as a new substitute for the navy blues that have been so popular,” she says of her cabinet color choice. “The custom cabinetry and woven textures helped create the tropical feel, along with the more obvious palm wallpaper pattern.”
Pro tip: Bright color isn’t necessarily loud. “Because the client wanted the space to feel soothing, we kept the palette quieter and based on the deep green,” says Martinez. “If she’d wanted a room that was louder and more energetic, we would have added brighter warm tones—fuchsia is my current favorite hue—as these would have still worked with the tropical theme, but definitely would have changed the mood of the space.”
“This is the first room you see when you enter this home,” says Arlington-based interior designer Liz Mearns of this jewel-toned dining room in an Old Town Alexandria condo located in an 1802 building. “We wanted to create a fabulous entertainment space that set the tone for the rest of the house, as well as create functional storage.”
One of the ways Mearns made a statement was by saturating the dining room in color via a rich blue grasscloth and by finishing the newly installed custom cabinetry (bar and storage) in a glossy finish in the same color tone. To complete the look and add contrast, the dining chairs were upholstered in magenta.
“Our inspiration was a luxury London hotel from the same era; the couple, who travel extensively, wanted to feel they were entering a lobby in Mayfair,” she says. “The jewel tones were perfect for that.”
The adjacent open living room is much more neutral, which only adds to the visual impact of the dining room.
“Dining rooms are always rooms I like to consider for color,” says Mearns. “One reason is they are most often used at night, when natural light is limited. Color can create drama, glamour, and intimacy.”
Here, despite 13-foot ceilings, the space feels intimate and cozy. Mearns also believes dining rooms are places people gather to celebrate, so setting them apart with their own special identity makes perfect sense.
Pro tip: Of the tone-on-tone aspect, Mearns says, “I often work with one color; here, we chose the same blue for the wallpaper and cabinetry. Even the magenta in the chairs has a lot of blue in it—if I choose a color, I typically stay within shades of that color rather than creating a vibrant rainbow.”
“This room was born during a first-floor renovation,” says Potomac-based interior designer Dara Beitler of the Rockville, Maryland, living room she drenched in blue from floor to ceiling. “Color was definitely in the cards. My clients gave me the go-ahead with the hopes of creating a swanky space for chilling and entertaining with a boutique-hotel-lobby vibe.”
Beitler used the same saturated color for wall, ceiling, and trim, but varied the finishes for design interest and subtle contrast. The color travels through to the adjacent dining room via a pair of squared-off columns, which were once dated but are now refreshed with a mirrored chevron glass-tile finish.
“Since color evokes emotion, I delve deep into color theory during my first meeting with every client. I want to know what colors lift them up and what colors shut them down,” she says. “I play attention to their body language. Saturated color is wonderful, but it’s a game that has to be played correctly.”
The patterned floor-to-ceiling drapery on Lucite rods and the pieced hide rug bring the palette together while adding a neutrality to the glamorous space.
“I love utilizing neutrals in accent pieces, tile, flooring, and accessories when using bold, saturated color on the walls,” says Beitler. “But color is everything. There is always a place for neutrals, yet color evokes emotion, personality, and, above all, breathes life into a space.”
Pro tip: To make such strong color work here, Beitler worked in different shades of silvers, blues, and grays. A pair of cobalt-blue velvet sofas are tempered by ice-blue pillows with an animal print on them, and the accent armchairs are silvery gray.
This story originally ran in our March issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.