So you’ve renovated your house like a skilled surgeon, fixing structural flaws and preserving each room’s distinct architectural character. Did you know that crown molding can visually raise the ceiling or lower it, depending on how it contrasts with the walls?
Or that deft use of color can turn one room into a lively gathering place and another into a relaxing space for curling up with a book?
“Always remember that while there are thousands of paint chips at the store, there are only seven colors in the paint spectrum,” says Krims, referring to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (what Color Theory 101 students are often taught to remember by the mnemonic device, “Roy G. Biv”). Though today’s flat paints have increased stain resistance, conventional wisdom has long held that a satin (also called eggshell) finish is best for walls because it is scrubbable and doesn’t draw attention to imperfections. Semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes, it was thought, were best left to the trim, where they could accent the curves of a molding profile or the panels of a door.
Similarly, you can paint the walls flat and the ceiling semi-gloss to achieve a matte and sheen contrast. Debbie Zimmer, for one, declares that “red will increase your appetite—and your blood pressure; blues and greens are naturelike and calming; purple is loved by children but not necessarily by adults; yellow is inviting; and orange can be welcoming but also a little irritating, depending on the tint, tone, or shade.” These are favored by designers looking to showcase artwork or furnishings and are often used on ceilings to create a neutral field overhead. Most other whites are either warm—with yellow, rust, pink, or brownish undertones—or cool, with green, blue, or gray undertones. Behr’s Mary Rice says: “Use warmer whites in rooms without a lot of natural light, or to make larger spaces seem cozier.” Continuity is important on the ground floor, but color can help “zone” a big open space, separating the dining area from the TV room, for instance.
She recommends leaning toward colors softened by a bit of gray; these are often found in historical palettes. Bright colors can be injected in small doses as accents—in furnishings, floor coverings, even flowers. Generally, crisp whites can make a space feel bigger and more open, while warm colors create a sense of intimacy. “Lighter hues can open up a small space, while darker colors give the perception that the surfaces are closer than they are,” says Debbie Zimmer. Of course, some small spaces don’t need to feel big: If you’re aiming to create a welcoming or cozy atmosphere in a foyer, study, or library, for example, hunter green or rust may serve you better than pale peach or celery. Reddish browns provide a visual connection from the dining room to the front door (Sherman-Williams 2801 Rookwood Dark Red) through a series of cased and uncased openings, which allow a glimpse of the entry’s sunny walls.
Molding, mantels, built-in bookcases, arched doorways, wainscot, windows, and doors all offer an opportunity to add another layer of interest to colored walls. For subtle emphasis, Sheri Thompson, director of color marketing and design for Sherwin-Williams, suggests painting molding or doorways just one step lighter or darker than the primary wall.
“A copper or bronze finish is very translucent and it gives a nice shimmer that enhances the architectural feature,” says Thompson. One way to give adjoining rooms in ground-floor living areas a harmonious look is to paint them in colors with the same undertones, like the yellow-based red, khaki, and pumpkin used here. “Doors tend to stay open, so you’ll have the trim color from an adjoining room in any given space on a regular basis,” observes painter Susan English. Keeping trim color consistent in adjoining rooms that have open entryways generally offers a sense of cohesiveness, providing an unbroken line that is pleasing to the eye.
In an open plan, consider painting all the trim white, even where wall colors vary. Starting in the Federal period and continuing today, white and off-white have been the traditional choice for molding, windows, and doors.
Where rooms are relatively featureless, painting an “accent wall” in a vivid hue where the others are white or neutral can add a dramatic, contemporary edge.
Painting walls in complementary colors, like the deep red and gray-green at left, and furnishing with neutral hues of similar intensity creates a harmonious look.
Red walls make this large dining room more intimate, while highlighting the white wainscoting and trim. Red overhead also lowers the ceiling visually, making the space feel cozier and more convivial—a plus in a room designed for conversation.
To give low ceilings the illusion of height, paint them white and any crown molding the same color as the wall; this will keep from interrupting your gaze upward. In a small room, such as a bathroom, the ceiling can even be painted the same color as the walls to make it look bigger.
In his own 19th-century brownstone, Ken Charbonneau painted the dining room ceiling Pompeiian Red.
But you’re sitting the whole time you’re in a dining room, and you want to create a warm, cozy, intimate feeling, so why not?” Of course, his ceilings are 11 feet high. Just keep in mind something Kathleen Jewell, a color consultant in Orange Park Acres, California, has learned: “Warm shades lose their yellow tones on a surface where no sun ever falls, turning bluer and grayer,” aka dingy. If it’s too strong, consider asking your paint store to formulate it at “half-strength” to lighten it or to tone it down by adding more gray.
Let the rug be the focal point and the walls a lighter color,” says Sherwin-Williams’s Sheri Thompson. To really see how a color will look on your walls, paint a large piece of foam-core board with it, then move it around the room for a few days.
While yellow looks cheerful in this sun-filled space, a similar warm color used in a room that gets no natural light can quickly start to look dingy.
The size of the room, the amount of natural or artificial light, and competing elements—ranging from flooring to furnishings—can all affect the way a particular color is perceived.
“Taking the extra time to do the swatch test is worth it to find a color you’ll love living with for years,” says Benjamin Moore’s Doty Horn. Michael Baillie, paint sales associate at The Home Depot, says, “Priming ensures there will be no interference from the previous wall color.”