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Bedroom Paint Colors

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, hi! We were just catching some shut eye. Ok, no we weren't, but in this episode we’re discussing appropriate colors to paint a bedroom for adults. What's the goal? For all the activities we conduct in a bedroom the number one is to foster sleep so functional color is paramount. We all know how grumpy we can get without the proper rest. So tune in to hear the how-to on choosing bedroom colors.

Amy Krane: Welcome to Let's Talk Color.

Amy Woolf: I'm Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Amy Krane: And I'm Amy Krane founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We're both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.

Amy Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don't because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.

Amy Krane: In each episode we'll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.

Amy Krane: We're back, this is Amy Krane, Architectural Color Consultant and owner of Amy Krane Color. And I'm here with my friend and colleague, Amy Woolf, who's the principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Today we're going to talk about specifying paint color for adult bedrooms. When I meet my clients and we're doing bedrooms or we're doing a whole house, I make a point of telling them that for bedrooms, we can step away from the holy three. The concepts that I stress that are so important when specifying whole house color and that's balance, cohesion and flow. I feel that the main difference, the big difference between bedrooms and the rest of the home is that they're private. So whether your bedrooms are on the same floor as your main living space because it's a ranch or whether they're upstairs or downstairs, you can and often do shut the door of a bedroom. And because of that, I feel that you can really step away with coordinating in terms of kinds of color & specific colors from all of the other colors in the house, with the exception of a bathroom, if it's en-suite.

Then you have to really think about tying these two rooms together and obviously if you can pull the same color into an on-suite bathroom that's great. But sometimes the fixed materials are such - countertops tile, floors, cabinets, etc. that you can't use the same color in which case you still have to work to coordinate it. And when all things fail, you can certainly go for a neutral in that bathroom that still works with the color that you chose for the bedroom. Amy what do you think about bedrooms and how they have to, or don't have to tie into color with the rest of the house?

Amy Woolf: Well, I absolutely agree with you. I think that I always consider bedrooms as sort of their own little separate universe. Particularly if they're on the second floor. But it's interesting, as I first heard you talking about this I thought back to my house in Florida where I lived in this kind of big sprawling ranch house, and you could actually see my bedroom off the first floor entry at a certain angle. Actually, as I'm saying this, I realize I live in that house now. The same is true. We wanted to have our bedroom on the first floor so we took what was intended to be a den and pushed it and made it a little bit bigger and redesigned the closet in the bathroom so we could make a master suite.

So in both of those cases, I guess I broke my own rule. But for me, it has to do with whether it's on the first floor, the second floor, and whether it's adjacent to the major living space or its own universe down the end of a ranch house or on a second floor. And maybe we live like we're in a barn, but I don't close my bedroom door unless somebody's coming to the house... If people are coming to the house I definitely close my bedroom door. So I actually do consider what my bedroom looks like as it flows out of the foyer, but I think that's an exception. I would agree with your rule, and I 100% agree with the en-suite for any bedroom, whether it's a primary bedroom or a guest room or whatever it is, I do think that you have those two rooms coordinate. It just makes a lot of sense. It just feels right. It has a little bit more elegance and that cohesion thing really matters. Yeah, yeah.

Amy Krane: It's funny, when I was thinking about that whole idea of en-suite, I was thinking about this home I've talked about before, in Maine, that we did a whole house color and decor for. We really stressed cool colors in the whole house... I mean, the hallways were Ben Moore Gray Owl, which actually isn't a cool gray. Nor is it a very warm gray. And all of the other public rooms...

Amy Woolf: Is it neutral?

Amy Krane: It is not, it is not. It's got a little bit... I've never looked at its hue angle to see what color family it's from. But it feels kind of yellow, or yellow green, but not strongly. It really depends on the light in the space, whether it's gonna feel neutral or not.

Amy Woolf: And it depends on the time of day...

Amy Krane: Sure. But otherwise, the primary bedrooms, most other bedrooms, the kitchen, were all really cool colors- blue, blue green, blue-green gray... But all of the bathrooms, and there are many of them, [two of them en-suite because there's two primary bedrooms on two different floors] have fixed materials that were super warm. And the cabinetry was cherry. And the counter tops were granite. They were black with warm veining through it. And there was no a way in hell to tie that into the blue greens that so many of these bedrooms were. Nor the bedroom that is gray lavender. So at that point, I just said, "Look, although it's attached to the bedroom it has to stand alone." So I picked warm neutrals for it. I chose really warm neutrals to work with what was there because that's what we had to do. So sometimes that happens, but it's fun to talk about perfect world. So, Amy, are there any paint treatments, paint approaches you employ when choosing a color palette for a bedroom that you might not do in other rooms or do as quickly in other rooms?

Amy Woolf: The first thing I'll say is that I think we talk all the time about paint color being all about psychology and physiology. What is the emotion that it evokes and what is the physical experience of being in a space with any particular color? And I feel like that physiological argument is never stronger anywhere than it is in the bedroom. To me, that is really... my primary goal is to figure out how do we create a calming physiology, or maybe even an energizing physiology. Is it gonna be a sexy bedroom that charges you up or a restful bedroom, which is what I lean into personally? My bedroom seems to always be green, but... I did once have a color consult with a physician and we talked about bedroom color. She wanted her bedroom to be orange. I said, "Wait a minute, bedrooms are supposed to be calming." And what she said was," No, I have trouble getting up in the morning, and I want a color that wakes me up." And so we did a really pale orange like creamsicle. Even whiter than that. But that was the color we leaned into because of her physiological relationship to how she wants to feel in her bedroom.

So yeah, I think thinking about that functional goal in the bedroom is really important. One could argue your eyes are mostly closed in the bedroom so what do you see if you get up before the day light? You're not seeing much color anyway. But you know... it's a constant in your life. It's how you begin your day. It's how you end your day. And I think that functional part matters. Yeah, so what color is your bedroom?

Amy Krane: On three walls and the ceiling is Farrow & Ball All White, which is a really clear, crisp, neutral white and the headboard wall is Chinoiserie wallpaper. So it's a Chinese influenced pattern based on an old hand-painted design made on tea paper. It's peony branches and trees and some birds and flowers and things like that.

Amy Woolf: It's turquoise, right?

Amy Krane: It's a little softer than that. The background color is a green blue. It's kind of like a soft aqua... You brought up a story that made me think... This is so interesting. I have a client in rural Vermont and they have a big contemporary home and the primary bedroom is en-suite. It's a really big room and in addition to their bed, she and her husband have a desk where they do paperwork, a seating area and there are sliding doors out to an upstairs deck that has a hot tub. So clearly, other things go on in that bedroom besides sleeping. However, when I was called in to do a color consultation for the downstairs, she said to me that the paint in the bedroom wasn't in great condition and she wanted to talk about what else we can do there. But she really loved her color so she asked can we better it. And in the end, in her eyes, we could not better the color, so she just re-painted the same. It was a screaming orange. It was a really bright orange... Now, what's interesting here is that she was a realtor and her husband was an ER Doc who worked shift work. So when you work shift work, you go from working in the morning to working at night and your sleep cycle is always off. It's really important to be able to fall asleep, even when you're not really tired. Having said that he was really good at falling asleep. And she really wanted a fun, energizing color that made her feel really happy in that bedroom. So despite my whole spiel about, "Don't you want a restful color? It's really better for most people." Her answer was,"no." So there you go, another orange bedroom out there.

Amy Woolf: I have a friend who had a bedroom that she had painted Moroccan Red. She sold her house in the last couple of years, but before we got together to have this conversation today I went back to the MLS photos. I had not helped her with this color. When she was showing me the house, she showed me this red bedroom, and I remember thinking, theoretically, this should not work. And so, to refresh my memory, I went back and I looked at those photos and what was interesting was that there were...there was white everywhere. The bedding was white, the curtains were white. The ceiling was white. I also kind of feel like, oh, that's a lot of contrast. It's more energetic. But honestly, something about that room really worked. It was really gorgeous. That Moroccan Red is not a vibrant red. It has an earthy tone to it. It's a little calmer. And honestly, it was a gorgeous room. It also got a tremendous amount of sunlight. So the whites really sparkle and it just didn't have that kind of dark moody thing going on. I would imagine at night it was very cozy and very enveloping and kind of fabulous, so... Interesting. Anyway, bottom line is, rules are meant to be broken, right?

Amy Krane: Right, right.

Amy Woolf: Ultimately, it's about what really makes the client feel good.

Amy Krane: I'm thinking about the kind of things that you might do in a bedroom that you might not do so readily elsewhere. I think it's a really great room for an accent wall.

Amy Woolf: In bedrooms, I agree. I will say yes, I will say yes to an accent wall behind a bed.

Amy Krane: Yeah, behind the bed is totally the focal point... The bed wall almost always is the focal point of a bedroom and having a different color behind the bed is really nice. Another thing that's fun if you're into it, is creating patterns on the headboard wall. So color blocking and coming up with a pattern, be it a geometric, maybe a stripe with two different colors. Or maybe using the same color in two different finishes is great. Making part of the pattern matte and part semi-gloss for instance. Coming up with something fun, I think fun is a great descriptor. And the other thing is going dark. There's a whole world of people out there, myself not included, who really need a dark bedroom. These are people with black out curtains or who wear masks at night. I just need it quiet as a pin, but I can sleep with light shining in my eyeballs. But if you need it dark anyway, why not embrace a dark color for your bedroom? It's a place where cozy really, really could work well for you, whether it's a big room or small room, whether it's a naturally light room or not. You know that I just read the most popular bedroom color on Google for the past year. This is shocking. Is Black! And I think back to... yeah, I think back to 10 years ago when I started color consulting and those ensuing years -- 2012 to 2015 or so, when you started to see just the beginning of black being used in interiors. Not necessarily in bedrooms, but perhaps you started to see it on Pinterest and Architectural Digest and it was in the ether. But I wouldn't even suggest it to a client... For me, a black room, you really have to have a set of criteria that are just right to make black really great. And you know, not every room has that... I had a client who had a contemporary house with a lot of wood trim. It was in the woods. It was in Woodstock, and the main color was a gray. It was a cool gray, Bunny Gray by Benjamin Moore. But the husband was color-blind, literally color blind, so he saw tones. Their bedroom was upstairs in a loft area, and the Bunny Gray was brought upstairs because it was an open loft area. They wanted some kind of accent, just for visual interest, but keeping in mind the husband was color blind. We put Toucan Black, another Benjamin Moore color, behind the headboard. It's sort of a soft black, just to give him contrast so there were some visual interest for him to accentuate that wall.

Very shocking to learn that so many people have embraced black for a bedroom now and are interested in it. At least they're researching it.

Amy Woolf: I was gonna guess navy blue or really dark blue. I did have a client recently asked me to help her pick a black for her dining room. She was gonna put it over a white wainscoting, and I kinda dialed her back into a softer charcoal color to give that impression of black. So I think it's interesting to think about how you can you create that vibe without going all the way into black. I'm gonna say rarely, maybe never perhaps, anybody ask me for black.

Somebody talked to me briefly about black but her spouse absolutely 100% vetoed it. That didn't go down. Black exteriors, gawd I love it, but I can't imagine waking up in a black bedroom in the morning. That said... when you first said black, my first thought was, lord, what do you put on the ceiling. But you know, if you did that black and white bedroom thing, sort of analogous to my friend's red bedroom where everything else was white... I don't believe physiologically that sharp contrast of black and white is really good for a human -- human eyeball and brain. That's really what we've been taught in our IACC training. And I stand by that, but it could look beautiful. I just don't know whether it's a great way to live.

So that's another thing we should talk about too. How much time do you spend in your bed looking at your ceiling? We talk about the ceiling being the fifth wall. There's probably no place the ceiling is more important than there. So what do you do if you paint black walls? White ceiling? Do you tone that ceiling down? Do you put a color up there? You've got a lot of options to reduce that contrast... I don't know. What would you do?

Amy Krane: Yeah, you know, I'm in agreement with you. I absolutely would not want black on the ceiling. That's just a cave... I don't care how much you like it, I'd just say no. I think a color is an interesting idea. It would have to be muted. And then there's the issue of what's happening with the trim. Is there crown molding or not? Are you gonna go from black walls to white trim to color on the ceiling or what? So the trim would influence my choice as well. I mean, I would only go in this direction if a client really, really wanted it. I'm in agreement with you that it looks, like so many things, it looks great on Instagram or in a magazine, but I don't find it very livable. So a client would need to really, really want it for me to say OK. Well, I'll always say, okay because it's their house... But for me to say, "Yeah, I get why it's a good thing for YOU." If you really love it and want it somewhere, consider elsewhere. Like in a dining room or a living room. And you'd need to be into contrast and have a big, gorgeous room with big decorative white moldings and a white ceiling. Okay, if that's what you want. It's not ergonomically perfect, but if that's what you want and it will make you happy.

Amy Woolf: That's what powder rooms are for. Put it in the powder room. Yeah. Okay, before we move on I wanna go back to the ceiling issue because there's a thing that I run into a lot here in New England in older homes. But also I have it in my own house, and that is the bedroom has all kinds of angles and peaked ceilings. It has slanting walls and dormers and that kind of stuff going on. When I built my house 13 years ago, we painted one of the bedrooms dark navy blue - Ben Moore Van Deusen Blue. It's the so-called bonus room over the garage and the ceilings are slanted. And if we had painted that ceiling white... I mean, that's the question. What are they? Do they get the wall treatment? Do they get the ceiling treatment? And my sense with that room was clearly the sloped walls were walls and they got the blue. Then, if we had left the ceiling white, I decided it would look like a navy blue skunk and so we decided to completely wrap that room in that blue. The builder was horrified. The builder couldn't believe I was doing this. But then of course, when it was all done, they were like, "Oh yeah, oh, that looks good." But of course, that room also gets a lot of sunlight, it has two south-facing skylights. It's got a double bank of windows facing east. It's really this bright, wonderful sparkling room.

But when we talk about ceilings in bedrooms, I like to find a single color when we have these angles all over the place. An ambiguous bedroom ceiling. I love to find a single color that we can wrap the whole room in. There isn't gonna be black on my shift. But softer colors, lighter colors, soft violet, softer greens. I think it's great to find a single color to wrap the whole room.

Amy Krane: Yeah, so I think that's great too. As opposed to having funky wall angles and ambiguous ceiling boundaries. I find those dormer ceilings are often very difficult to handle. I almost always bring the wall color up onto the angled walls, ceiling. But sometimes when there's a narrow strip of ceiling that's completely parallel to the floor I will put a ceiling color on there. Maybe a white or off-white. If you stop the wall color at these low angled walls that join them you really have a room feels very chopped in half. So I agree, it just kinda seems busy and distracting. I mean, you already have the busyness of the angled walls, the structural busyness, and on top of that you're really accentuating that if you bring the ceiling color down too low. If you hack up the ceiling and wall color that way. So what kind of colors do you generally accept as bedroom kind of colors? Like what would you advise clients, putting aside some direction they gave you? Put aside any upholstery or carpet or something you're trying to work with. What kind of colors do you like to suggest or think of as bedroom colors?

Amy Woolf: For me, it's really about the energy level. And so I would say colors that are lower on the energy scale. What does energy... I mean even a pale yellow can feel very energetic, a pale orange can feel very energetic. On the other hand, a deep, rich green, even though it's a stronger color inherently is less energetic. So I think that's kind of where I'm at. It's looking for colors either with a softness or an inherent restfulness, which we tend to think of as being colors on the cool side of the color wheel. And colors with a little bit of tone to them, you know, or maybe a lot, so... Almost never in neutral. It's interesting, I think bedrooms are one of the few rooms where I feel like... Just like we can get away with accent walls. I feel like a bedroom is also a place where you can get away with a little bit more matchy-matchy in your furniture. It's okay to have bed stands that match. Maybe your dresser coordinates with that. Maybe they're a set. Generally there's just less going on, there are fewer fabrics, there are fewer rooms in the sight line. So in terms of it being a more contained space, I think you can lean into color more, and you don't have to divert to neutrals because you're dealing with so many different colors and patterns and things going on. You know what I mean? There are just fewer surfaces, fewer materials, so... Yeah.

Amy Krane: I don't have a problem with neutrals in bedrooms.

Amy Woolf: Yeah, I don't know. I don't have problem with them, I just don't think... Whatever.

Amy Krane: A lot of times people are requesting it. I get up to the bedroom, it's bedroom time, and they're like, "Hey, can we find a gray that really works?"

Amy Woolf: Oh, interesting.

Amy Krane: Yeah, neutrals are still really big in bedrooms by me. I agree with you in terms of calm greens, blues, lavenders and the neutrals- white, gray, beige. I think softness is the way to go. Generally, muted, light, cool, maybe dark colors too. So the big thing for me is to stay away from saturated high chroma bright colors. Unless you've got one of the handful of people like your doctor who wanted orange and my wife of a doctor who wanted orange. I would never go in that direction...

Amy Woolf: Right, right. Well, to be clear, my orange was very different than your orange. It was really, really pale. I mean, this is so personal. What makes people happy? What makes one person happy is gonna give the other person a seizure. I don't think I could wake up in an orange bedroom and I love orange. I'm a great fan of orange, but... Yeah, I need things to be really pretty tight in the bedroom, so... Serenity, serenity is key for me. You were talking about your bedroom with the wallpaper... The other walls are white. I'm also looking for wallpaper... Yes, I'm doing an accent wall in my house. And for me, what I'm finding really to be critical is that I want to paint the whole room the same color as the ground in the wallpaper. I don't want the contrast. I've got some architectural details that make that unappealing to me, and I also feel for me personally, that I want the continuity on all four walls. So it's been a real process to try to find a wallpaper design that I like that isn't too busy. That isn't too dramatic or loud. That's gonna support the fabrics that I want to use in the room and that also has a ground color that I could see using on all four walls. I've fallen in love with a couple of wallpapers. I've had Farrow and Ball Vert de Terre in my bedroom for the last two houses... For the last almost 20 years. Wow. It's my happy place, clearly. I keep trying to pivot away from it and I kinda can't. So I do believe I have finally found something... The green ground is a little different, a little lighter and a little yellower, which is fine. I'm happy with it, but boy, what a struggle that was.

Amy Krane: Okay, well, thanks for listening to this episode. We hope you've learned something about color for the built world.

Amy Woolf: In the next episode we'll talk a little bit more about bedrooms but we'll be focusing on kid's colors and how to navigate that fun, fun experience. If you want to hear us cover a particular topic just send an email to Let's talk paint color dot com and tell us what you'd like to hear. Thanks for listening.


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