Join Amy Woolf & Amy Krane (and our dogs) as we begin an engaging conversation which will span multiple episodes about bringing color into your decor. We never stray too far from wall color which rears its head in almost every facet of the conversation. Should your wall and decor color tie into the architectural style of your home? Should you repeat an interior color on the exterior? How about how different should each room be? We cover all of this and more! Tune in.
Ep 18: Decorating With Color
Krane: Welcome to Let’s Talk Color.
Woolf: I’m Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.
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.
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.
Krane: In each episode we’ll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.
Krane: I wanna start by saying, Yay, us, Amy, because we've just rounded the corner of year two, starting year three of Let's Talk Paint Color.
Krane: So today we're going to expand on our original mission, or should I say it was always our mission, but we never hit on this topic before. Today we're going to talk about color and decorating. Color is so intrinsic to the success of your interior, it's a huge contributing factor to what it feels like and looks like to be inside of your home. And color is not just about paint for our walls, of course, it's about every finished hard surface and soft surface in our home. Let's start with a big question, and maybe it's not a question for some people, but... What comes first? Paint or furniture? Amy, what are your thoughts on that?
Woolf: We're never looking at a room or any single color in isolation. It's never just about one color. It's always about how all the colors work together. I often liken it to an economic equation with multiple variables. One thing shifts and it shifts everything around it. So that whole question that you asked me about what comes first, decorating or the paint color, takes me back to one of my very first big decorating jobs, which was my own house that I bought in Sarasota. We moved into that house with a folding table, and some books and a couple of rugs. We had been living on a sail boat. We basically had nothing... We were starting from just about zero, and one of my friends who really thought of himself as quite the decorator, very imperiously told me I should absolutely pick a paint color first and do everything from there. You must build the foundation of the room with the paint color. I don't know about you, Amy, but that is basically 100% backwards in my opinion. I think that's like, it's crazy. It's just crazy. Did I listen to him? Probably, because I just didn't have a lot of furniture. So what else was I gonna do? I was gonna roll the walls but ultimately the final paint color that I ended up choosing stayed in that room even after I sold the house for 15 years.
Krane: Yeah, I totally agree. A lot of times people get in touch and they say, "I've just bought this house. We're gonna move in a month. It only makes sense to paint the walls before I get in. We're not bringing too much furniture or we're bringing some... Or we're starting from scratch." They say they absolutely must pick the walls first. And when you must... You do it. But I'd like to think we're talking about optimal here, best practice, and I agree with you.
Woolf: It's so tempting. It's so tempting to paint when the house is empty...
Woolf: But you have to have context.... There's no context then. You know? You have no context. I think if clients are willing, if anybody is willing to repaint once the room has evolved, which might take a year or more. If you're decorating slowly, it could take three, four, five years for that room to fully evolve. If you're using a designer all of your furniture will eventually come in, given lead times, it's gonna be at least a year before everything lands is my experience. You can pursue a mood, a vibe and a feeling with color on the walls, and then build the furniture into that..... I think that can work, but it's certainly suboptimal.
Krane: Yeah, I agree. The bottom line is, and we always say, fabrics, rugs, curtains, everything comes in a limited palette, a limited number of colors, and there are so many thousands of paint colors. So why would you ever pick paint first... unless you had to pick the paint color and then you try to jerry rig the design and jam those other colors in from behind , as it were. Trying to make your furnishings fit with the paint color...
Woolf: I mean, I get it.
Krane: If you're going super duper neutral, like a white... Yeah, just about anything will go with it. It might not go perfectly with it. And then it comes down to what kind of white it is and what color family does that white came from? But it's just much better to take a look at what your rug is, your accent chairs, your sofa etc., and then pick the one paint color that's gonna pull it all together and relate well to them all.
Woolf: My rule of thumb can sort of be visualized as concentric circles. So imagine a little circle in the middle and then a slightly bigger circle around it than a big circle around that. In the middle circle, those are those items for which you have the fewest choices, and I'm always recommending the clients start with the item of which they're the fewest choices. So a great example of that would be my local furniture store, you walk in, they sell rugs, but they maybe have 30 rugs to choose them. So that's a pretty narrow selection. Maybe there's gonna be two or three rugs that you actually like... That's not a lot. So we moved from 30 rugs to the fabric wall, and there are hundreds of fabrics on the wall, so you go to that layer next, and then you move out to paint where there's 3000. So we go from a couple dozen to a couple hundred to a couple thousand. Start with the thing of which they're the fewest options.
Krane: I agree. When I'm called into a house to do color for all of the rooms, both floors, (or as many floors there are) or all the public spaces, I often start with the kitchen for the same reason because there are the most constraints there. Especially if the kitchen is sort of open to the other rooms. So you're constrained by your cabinet color if you're not changing it, your floor, your back splash, if you have one, your countertops, there's a lot of constraints there. So pick a wall color that works with all of that and then come out of the kitchen and go to the hallway, the space that's gonna bridge between all of the rooms. Although I digress, because we're talking about a paint color here, and that wasn't our intention today.
You know, I was a guest on a podcast a few months ago called "Cidiot". It's a very popular podcast here in the Hudson Valley. The host and his husband had bought a quite old home from the late 1700s or early 1800's. The house wasn't historically important, but it was historical because it was old. I don't remember what style it was. I actually never saw whether it was colonial or Greek revival or what. But he said to me, "what kind of colors do I pick for an interior in a house like that?" And I said, "You know, there isn't a set answer because number one, your decision is whether you want the colors on the inside (in terms of walls and decor) to tie into the architectural style of the house or not. You can... It's really nice, but you don't have to because if you go another route, if your furnishings, for instance, aren't period and aren't even traditional, if they're eclectic, let's say they're mixing some modern or Mid-Modern with antiques and some contemporary, that's totally fine to put in a house from the 17 or 1800s." So then you have to decide what's the coloration of all of these items, and what do you want the walls to be.
One route to go is to go for a juxtaposition of a modern color palette in an older home, and I think that's really exciting. It's not for everyone, but if you're gonna have a mix of furnishings like that and then go for...white walls for instance, I think that's fantastic. Again, in a really old house like that, I personally would not go with cold, stark blue white walls no matter the decor. I wouldn't choose an empty, soulless white. I think the tension created by the juxtaposition of the modernity of the white with all of the colors and styles of furniture is accomplished with a more accessible white than a cold, starkly modern one. So I would go with a white with a little bit of tone in there, but again, this goes back to the question of what's the style architectural of your home, do you want your furnishings to tie right in with it or be in contrast with it... And then what kind of colors do you want for your walls and your furnishings? They are going to further that goal. So I think..... You have to start with a vision. What's your vision?
Woolf: I would agree. I think in Europe, they do it so well. The architecture in Europe is vastly more ancient than what we have here. Obviously there's modern houses being built in Europe, but when you think about the cities and the historic architecture, and thinking about whether you want to do that mash-up of modern and traditional, which I think can be done really well, or whether you want kind of what I call a congruence between interior and exterior. I think it's probably easier to aim for congruence. It's probably easier to get it right that way, to have your exterior architecture, color scheme, vibe, the whole thing, sort of feel more in alignment with what's indoors. But I agree with you, it's certainly more interesting, more challenging, to see that kind of... It's like Power clashing. Only in style, you know?
Krane: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it doesn't have to be a clash because it isn't like, they don't go together. It's more like they're not of the same ilk... I don't know if this happens to you, but quite a number of people who are either hiring me to do an exterior and an interior, or perhaps just an interior, will ask, "is it important and correct to literally bring some inside color out or some outside color in? And my point of view is, you don't have to... I personally don't ever want to be constrained that much. I feel like if it happens... It's nice. This week, I did an on-site consultation for a 1790s eyebrow colonial in Germantown, NY, and the interior of the house had a lot of white, though it wasn't all white. Their staircase was a Benjamin Moore very lovely color, a deep, deep green, sort of a green black, called Deep River. Just the staircase. As we were talking about colors for the exterior, one of the directions we were going was a dark-ish and though I didn't direct us towards that color for the whole house I thought "what a great color for the door." And I wasn't even thinking about the fact that Deep River was in her house. I don't even think I knew. And I said, "How about this for door color? It goes so great with this exterior siding color?" And she got all excited. She said, " Oh my God, it's in my house. That would be great inside and outside!" And I thought, it's so interesting that really turns some people on. I get it, but I just don't think it's important... How about you?
Woolf: Yeah, I don't think it's important. Certainly not specific colors. Right now, I'm working on a new construction of a carriage house that's being built behind an Italianate Victorian, and we've decided that the carriage house will not look like a barn and it will not be red. It will not match the house. It will be a complementary color with the house. They will each stand on their own. It's a little bit of his and hers. He's getting his color on the house and she's getting her color on the carriage house. Which is kind of cute. But we're doing a very muted gray blue on the carriage house with sort of a beige grey, very knocked back trim color. Fairly low contrast. Then on the interior, which will be an art studio and a guest space, we're doing a variation on that theme up there. Which is gonna be a more vibrant blue and a very toned white for the trim.
It wasn't really intentional, but in some ways, there's a sense of comfort in that, and I think with any of these... any of these decisions, whether we're buying sofas or painting walls or picking your exterior colors, we always go back to that stimulus continuum that you and I both learned at IACC. That is how much stimulation does any given person living in a space want or need what makes them feel good? You know what makes one person feel energized, makes another person feel jangled and over-stimulated. So for people who are looking for a calming experience, I do think that indoor outdoor congruence- I think carrying colors into the house, lowers the amount of visual data, and more visual data means more stimulation. So in a way, I think it can really serve the individual. I don't think it's a design rule so much as really figuring out what that individual person needs in terms of variety and change and how much contrast do they want... The contrast can mean anything...
Krane: Yeah, you know, because you go from the outside to the inside and you never see one from the other, I kind of feel like this is more of a conceptual alignment more than it's an actual physical experiential alignment. I mean, you know the outside is blue and then you walk in and, Oh, your inside is blue too... Well, I know the outside is blue. They're both blue. Yay! That must be calming. I don't really think that's how we work. I think... you see the exterior from the street and as you approach the house but when you close that door behind you, you're in the inside world. And so I don't know. It feels more... As I said, it feels more conceptual than experiential to me. That tying together of the colors....
Woolf: Yeah, I think... and this is a theory that I do feel strongly about, inside a house, I do think we carry the experience of a particular room with us as we move through the house, even if we can't see that other room.
Woolf: We still feel that color. If your kitchen and living room don't have a visual connection, and that living room is a particular color, I still think the kitchen wants to somehow still be in conversation with that color... I think we could maybe consider carrying that one step further to the exterior... You know that house I was talking about in Sarasota? It was L-shaped, and so I could see the exterior from my bedroom window, so the house was an L and it was wrapping around a patio with the swimming pool. Classic Florida ranch house. It was a great house though, I loved it. But I could see from my bedroom slider diagonally across the patio to the exterior walls, and I hated the color of the house, it was sort of pinky beige. So at one point, I painted the inside of the L A mushroom color that basically... You could not tell the difference from the outside. I wasn't ready to paint the entire exterior, but I needed to get the beige off the interior around the pool and I made it mushroom. So what I saw from inside was mushroom, and what you saw from the street was kind of band-aid
Krane: That's a great solution. It's so funny, you telling that story, because at this house from the 1790s, besides the house there was a separate shed with an attached sort of conservatory. And then the garage was on the other side of the house. Not attached. And she had a really, really lush garden, and right now, all of the property was white. So the front, three sides of that garage were white like the house but the back side, which faced the garden was painted sort of a taupe color, like the color of earth. She did not want bits of glaring white coming through all the plants growing in front of it and she thought it would be really jarring from inside the garden. So she basically made it go away, and while I don't normally like the idea of one wall being different it made perfect sense. And you couldn't see it from the road. So it's a similar story in a way to your story about your ranch in Sarasota. So we're pretty clear, we don't start with paint color on the inside. Within a room, you've got maybe curtains, you've got one or two chairs, you've got a sofa, a rug. Let's say it's the living space. What do you think some guiding principles are for choosing colors for the decor? And then what do you think as we go from room to room?
Woolf: I mean, I think you gotta fall in love with something. That's always my advice in the kitchen as well. Fall in love with something. You know, for me, it's always tile or a tile is where I start to fall in love. First, I guess I would say fall in love with something, a lot of people say, start with the rug, and I think the rug can be a focal point. And I think a rug can be a supporting player. So I think you can easily fall in love with a rug. My current living room was driven by a fabric I found in London. It was made by a Scandinavian designer who's name I really can't pronounce. He has a little shop in London, and I obsessed over this fabric for at least a year and then finally bought some... And I built the entire living room around this one piece of fabric. It's just two pillows. But it drove... the whole room. I started with the pillows, went to the sofa, found the rug. Honestly, the rug is just... It's nothing major. I came from Overstock. It's not a big deal. Good supporting player. I had some Hans Wegner chairs already, and a lucid coffee table, which is super neutral. They kinda go with anything. And then the last thing was the pale pink walls, you know. My adventure with the pale pink walls which took me two tries to get right. So, yeah, fall in love. That's my advice. Yeah, and maybe it's a painting, you know. It could be a piece of art, it could be a fabric, it could be... I don't know.
Krane: It can even be a sofa that you fall in love with. I kind of see it as the major player in the living room. So short of having a piece of art that you love or a rug that you inherited that has to be the focal point of the room, it's sort of the major investment piece. I often do start with the sofa, and the thing about that is that they generally come in neutral colors. Usually here's very limited landscape of colors available. So unless you're able to invest in com -picking your own fabric and having it upholstered in a fabric that you choose, starting with the sofa in a neutral color it comes in means that you have to keep an eye towards adding visual interest in the rest of the soft furnishings in that room. Maybe you start with beige or grey or taupe or blue gray, or mossy green.
Woolf: Can it be red?
Krane: If you start neutral if you want some shots of color in there to balance the room. That's gonna come from the rug or an accent chair or a curtain with a pattern and lots of color. So it really depends, as you said, on what the thing is... What the thing is that you love, that you're choosing to start with... BTW, I've got no problem with starting with a red sofa! I'm not a red person, so for me, red is just a little accent color. But yeah, I've seen tons of Pinterest porn of rooms with teal sofas, violet sofas, gold sofas and hot pink sofas. I think that's all gorgeous. I've got no problem whatsoever having a bold color on the major piece of furniture in your room, but then you have to think about how many colors like that you want there. If you do have that red sofa, are you going to coordinate it with a more neutral rug or you're gonna find a rug that's got bits of the red in it? Are you gonna go a little bit out there and have the rug be something totally different, like blue and green. And then pick up the blue in greens and your curtains... There's so many ways to go, and your tolerance for combining colors that blend beautifully or clash a little, or contrast... That's so personal. There isn't a right or wrong.
Woolf: There isn't... Yeah. That goes back to that stimulation continuum. How vibrant, how much contrast, how bold, how saturated you want to go? You might love bold colors, but not so much that you want a whole bunch of different bold colors. You could do bold colors from one side of the color wheel. The colors are bold, but there's a certain calmness because there's not a ton of contrast because you're hanging on one tight side of the color wheel.
Krane: Hey one side note here - side bar. I've been reading occasionally, all of these online magazines that there are now, Hunker home, LivingEtc, Apartment Therapy, Remodelista, on and on..... There's a new term "they've" come up with for a sort of old concept. Have you been reading about color drenching?
Woolf: No, nor have I heard of Hunker home.
Krane: Oh, how funny! I'm Hunker Home's new color expert, by the way.
Woolf: Wow. No, that's exciting.
Krane: They're sending me all of their previously published and future to-be published color-related articles for me to double check the color talk is right. Well, in some instances, they mean it to say your wall matches your trim, which has been my color mantra ever since you've known me. But now I'm starting to see it being used for not only that, but also furnishings, upholstery, rugs all are the same hue. Which is what I always thought of as tone on tone.
Woolf: The whole room?
Krane: Yeah, yeah, horrible. Horrible in terms of how we learned to apply color in the built world. Absolutely not enough variety whatsoever. You've got tone on tone, meaning maybe all the same hue and value or maybe darker blue and medium blue mixed. I personally... It's against everything I believe in.
Woolf: Okay, here's what I have to say about that. I think it makes a great Instagram grid, right? But it's certainly not the way anybody should have to live. Yeah, but listen, I'm gonna say the same thing about an all white room, I'm opposed to white drenching.I'm opposed to beige drenching.....
Krane: Yeah, it's not about blue per se. Its about total immersion in any one color. Daft! So colors from room to room..... We've talked about this in terms of wall color, but let's broaden it out and talk about all the colors in a public room.
Woolf: Room to room... There's the F word, the F-word flow.
Krane: I think there's a real range there. Personal proclivities vary whether to tie them closely together or not and how much. (Some is good!) I generally tell people... "Don't be afraid. Step a teeny bit outside of your comfort zone." Some people just really, really gravitate towards a tightly, tightly controlled palette, and they really might want to repeat a lot of colors from room to room. Make the house one thing. And that's okay if that's you. But I encourage people to stretch their thinking. . It's just not exciting. Maybe that person doesn't need excitement, other people might like more variety in which case, it's nice sometimes when rooms are really quite open to each other to maybe do some bit of repetition 'cause that helps so much with cohesiveness and flow. So if a room is predominantly let's say neutrals and greens, and you happen to have a couple of pillows that are green and blue, put that blue in the next room and create your flow that way by just picking up bits and pieces from one room, even if they're tiny accent colors, and use them in an adjoining room. But there are people who just ... It's like a new diorama from room to room. Each room is just a stand-up, stand-alone color palette.
Woolf: I have a name for that.
Krane: What's your name?
Woolf: Is not very nice. I call it Disney World decorating. Okay, we're in future world right, and then we're in Western world, then we're in....
Krane: it's a small world !! ... It's like a hotel.
Woolf: I think we can leave that to the hotels... Yeah, yeah.
Krane: I think it's quite discordant. I'm not gonna name names. There are some well-known designers who's taste, I generally really like, but this one aspect of how they design a home, I don't care for... It's almost like a kid in the candy shop. Oh, I have to have a Sour Patch Kid. Oh, I need a Swedish fish. Oh, I have to have black licorice too... You love them all. You want one of these, one of these, one of these, and you might get a stomach ache when you eat it all... Right?
Woolf: Yeah, I don't know, I really think homes should be a refuge and comforting, and somehow moving room to room and from one universe to another like that, from one theme to another, just feels like over-stimulation to me. It feels like too big of a gear shift. I'm not keen on it, I'm really not. You know, here's what I'd rather see. I'd rather see all those different periods and styles mixed all up into one room, eclectic. So instead of mixing it up from room to room, I say put it all in the same room, mix it up and let the color do the work.
Krane: I agree with you but I actually wasn't talking about different styles of furniture from room to room, I was talking about colors. Like here's a teal kitchen, and then here's a green and white living room, and then here's a mud-room that has a red and tan checkerboard floor, and then here's a bathroom that's black and white wall paper. I'm talking about the color of the furnishings and the walls, not style, because in terms of style, for me, eclectic all the way, I personally love to mix it up... I really do. Yeah. Yeah, eclectic overall, eclectic furnishing in your house so that each room is a mixture of antique, maybe an Asian piece, a modern sofa, a mid-century modern chair, a plexiglass coffee table.... Yeah, but you have to do it with skill... It's the hardest thing to teach another person how to do. I almost don't know how to teach another person how to do it, that the eclectic thing... It's a skill.
Woolf: Well, I think color is the answer.
Krane: It helps, it helps.
Woolf: It definitely helps. Yeah, yeah. No, I agree, you gotta have pretty good design chops. Yeah, but honestly, what you were describing with the teal and the red and the black and white....I had a sort of wave of nausea when you were saying that. I'm gonna be honest, It just didn't feel good to me, but that's me. That's me. And for other people, that much color and that variation is what makes them feel alive. It's what makes them feel happy. Yeah. And they would be maybe bored to tears in my soft celadon green bedroom, right?
Krane: They want to live in the the candy store, right? Yeah, right. So, until next time when perhaps we'll be speaking more about bringing color into your furnishings and your a decor.... Thank you so much for listening. We hope you've learned a little bit more about using color in the built world.
Woolf: See you next time.
Krane: Yeah, and stick with us for year three.