Color Chit Chat with Elaine!

Sunday, November 29, 2009 | Category: Color, Contests, Decorating, Designers, Paint

Nancy, the winner of our Design Rules book giveaway, had asked this wonderful design question-

-Does one paint a dark room a light color or enhance the no light factor with paint?

And Elaine Griffin, the uber talented interior designer (and author of Design Rules), so kindly answered it!  And we, of course, had to share her very informative answer to this commonly asked decorating question.


Exxxxxcellent question!!!  As a designer, questions about paint colors are the number one topic I get asked!! (I did a whole “cheat sheet” chapter on color in Design Rules.)  And I understand– color can be intimidating, even if you’re a DIY veteran!

Here are some Insider Secrets about color to help demystify the whole enchilada:

–Does one paint a dark room a light color or enhance the no light factor with darker paint?

The answer is both!!! Here are three factors to take into consideration when choosing your wall color (beyond the most important one, of course, which is what colors please YOU the most in general!!!)

1) What time of day will you be using the room the most (day? night?)

2) How much natural light does the room get (southern exposure= loads of afternoon light; northern exposure= not so much, etc.)

and finally 3) How long will you spend in the room when you’re using it (powder room= 5 minutes; dining room= 2 hours, so let drama rule; den or family room= endless hours on end, for ions to come, so don’t LOSE YOUR MIND with bold, intense colors unless they Truly, Truly, speak to you (as they do to me!!!).

Dark colors can look breathtakingly stunning in the bright light of a south-facing room.  They also look great in any room at night, well-lit by soft puddles of lamplight (don’t forget a lamp in every corner, sugar, for your rooms to GLOW!!).  They can look a little forlorn in dim light, but then again, it just takes lamps to create instant glow (but do decide if that’s the mood you want in your north-facing room at 11:00 am, doll).

Rooms with little natural light can get an artificial glow (alas, you’ll still need to get your lamp game on 24/7 though) via wall color that mimics the sun: yellows, oranges, reds.

Tiny rooms that are Just Plain Tiny can become adorable jewel boxes when painted deep or bold colors.  Avoid painting mid-sized (i.e., just the other side of small) rooms the boldest sunny colors (bright red/yellow/orange) because the walls WILL seem to advance and the space will seem clausterphobic (Paler versions of these hues are fine).

At the end of the day, though, I always tell clients that it’s important to please yourself, first, no matter what trends, light or room size dictates.  If chocolate makes your heart sing (wheeeeeee!!!), then go for it!!! (And adjust your light accordingly.  TRADE SECRET: Darker colors “eat up”/absorb more light than paler ones so upgrade your wattage accordingly in darker rooms (unless you, like my husband, are a vampire who flourishes in dimly-lit spaces).)

–Will it look the same on the wall as it does on the paint chip???

YES! (Unless you have antique paint chips.) Although, you’ll be seeing a lot more of it, so nothing beats painting a Giant 3x 3 Swatch of Your Chosen Paint Color in the room it’ll be going in, and observing how it looks in the actual light of the space (at 10,000 different times of the day and/or night).  Here’s a secret: Even design pros make mistakes with color.  So don’t ever be disappointed should you happen to, too!  It can always be corrected with a couple of new coats of paint!

–How to tell what colors go together?

Pas de probleme, sweetie!!!  Nature’s palettes offer flawless color combinations everywhere we look.  If a color combination exists in a landscape, a flower or a fruit, it will work perfectly in your home.  Think colors of the beach (turquoise, beige, ivory, sunny yellow) of the fall forest (oranges, ochres, browns, greens), the sunrise or sunset, etc, and you’ll never go wrong.  Layer colors in a room the same way you do an outfit– think dominant color (suits/pants/jacket) + complementary colors (blouse, shoes) + citrus or sherbert accents (they’re the universal, go-anywhere hues, perfect for throw pillows)= accessories/jewelry.

Take care and good luck!



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3 Comments to 'Color Chit Chat with Elaine!'

Julie Dexter-GoldLeafCustomWalls 29 Nov 09 at 5:47 pm

Thank you, Elaine, for your educated response. As a Wall Finisher, I so appreciate the use of color & texture on walls!

down pillow 29 Nov 09 at 6:26 pm

Great answer for a great question 🙂

Whitney 01 Dec 09 at 12:38 am

Thank you Elaine! I recently began to paint my bedroom (which is a pretty large space) a deep purple. I got it on one wall and realized the color was much too dark and then tried a deep red, which is also too dark! I’ve been feeling pretty discouraged, but this made me feel better and not so totally clueless for trying new things

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