Spring is Sprung

When the seasons change, we feel the energy shift. Spring brings with it a surge of energy, life and growth. We see it in the buds literally bursting open on the trees.


Bring that life inside! An infusion of color and pattern will liven up your home and make it match that awakening feeling that’s happening outdoors.               

It’s no surprise that Easter decorations are the colors of springtime.


But even if you’re not celebrating Easter, there are lots of ways to get some new color going in your decor. Flowers:


or flower pillows:



How about a new lamp?



Switch out a piece of artwork for something more seasonal:

Cherry Blossoms



Or add a colorful accessory:

colorful accessories



Out with the wintery decor items; in with a breath of fresh air! Bring in the blues, the greens, the yellows, the oranges, pinks and purples. Let spring reign inside and out!


Client Living Room Redesign

A recent redesign of a client’s living room:



This is a lovely condo in Reston Town Center, spacious and bright. My client hated the living room. She and her husband were happy to spend their time in the family room, but she was frustrated that the living room was not functional, and wanted a space that could entertain a group more easily than the smaller family room.



We conferred about the arrangement that would work best and the items she would purchase, and she decided to go with a new color palette entirely. Didn’t she do a great job? I advised a slightly larger rug to anchor the seating area more completely, and it really makes a difference. Switching the sofa to the long wall and putting a smaller love seat into the window nook worked better for the proportions of the room. It also allowed the large Asian piece above the sofa to assume its place as the focal point of the room. The pair of lamps introduces some symmetry and adds needed nighttime light. The armchair and another across the room (pictured below) can be pulled into the conversation area to provide seating for a group. My client reports that she uses the room all the time now! Always gratifying to hear.


Love Your (Color) Neighbors

“All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”     Marc Chagall

Recently I wrote about analogous color schemes in home design. This would be the “friends of their neighbors” scenario- remember, analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. Here’s the color wheel again, to see what we’re talking about here.

Color Wheel

Today we’re going to look at the “lovers of their opposites” situation, otherwise known as a complementary color scheme. Pairs of colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are said to be complements: yellow/violet, blue-green/red-orange, red/green, etc. Complements provide a lot of contrast, and using them is one of the easiest ways to add drama and verve to a room.

complementary colors, decorating, decor, design

 The blue pillow on the orange settee in this hallway provides that spark of contrast that makes the whole scene “pop,” as designers like to say. Note the more muted blue and orange motif in the wallpaper and also in the rug. The use of the same colors carried throughout the area creates a unified feel to the entire entry hall.

The brighter and purer (i.e., without any added white, gray or black) the colors, the more intense the contrast and the drama. The use of unadulterated pure complementary colors can be jarring, resulting in a childlike or cartoonish feel. Shades (color plus black) or tints (color plus white) of the pure colors make for a more subdued and sophisticated, yet still dramatic, scheme. The red and green child’s bedroom below illustrates this well: in their pure forms, red and green scream “Christmas,” whereas in this case the pastel green tones the whole thing down.

So in the room below, the opposites are violet and yellow, both muted. Red is used as an accent color.


The bedroom below is a variation on orange and blue; the blue is more of a teal and the orange is more brown, but the feeling of complements is still there. Your eye goes right to those blue pillows, as they provide such a contrast to the cream and brown of the rest of the room.


How about these? Below, some examples of complements that are quite vivid.









 These rooms are vibrant and exciting – maybe too much so? Do you like this much color and drama in a room?

If you’d like help deciding on what colors are right for your home, contact me, I would love to help.

Harmony with Color

Color is a show-stealer.
It’s the topic I get the most questions about: how to use color, what color will work here, how much of a color is too much, will this color go with this other color?

So I thought I’d write a series about color schemes. Let’s start with the basics, which you may remember from school:

Colors next to each other on the color wheel are called analogous colors. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors.

Here’s an example of a room done in analogous colors: yellow / green / blue.

House Beautiful


Using analogous colors is an easy way to ensure harmony. They “go” together because they’re neighbors. Yes, there are other factors, such as the purity of the color, whether it’s a shade, a tint, is a light or dark value – all topics for a future post. In this room the neighboring colors of blue, green and yellow are all muted – i.e., none of them are pure colors, making for a calmer look.

Here’s another room done in an analogous color scheme: red / orange / yellow, with a very different feel, because the colors are very vibrant.

House Beautiful

They are purer, without any gray mixed into them. Maria Killam, the Canadian color expert, calls these “clean” colors versus “dirty” ones. The ones in the previous room, the green/blue/yellow, were dirtier because they’re muted with gray or black. These cleaner ones are purer and thus brighter, more vibrant, more energetic. A bolder look, but still an analogous scheme.

A third example of an analogous color scheme: orange / yellow / green.



 Somewhat more muted, but a lively mix that is harmonious at the same time, owing to the analogous colors.

Any two or three colors that are adjacent on the color wheel, used together, will create a look that is harmonious and unified. You can mix it up by using brighter or more muted colors, or lighter or darker colors.

Next time: Complementary Color Schemes.

Choosing Color for Your Walls

It can seem overwhelming to decide what color should be on your walls. Lots of people paint their walls white or off-white because they’re afraid of making a mistake with color. Which is understandable, because even though one is always hearing that paint is a cheap way to make a difference in your decor, I always think – huh?? Paint has gotten expensive lately, and painting a room requires either a big effort and a lot of upheaval if you do it yourself, or spending real money to hire someone else to do it. So how do you gain the confidence to be bolder with color?

Here are some tips, gleaned from Maria Killam of Color Me Happy.

Most neutral colors (beiges, grays, grayed-down greens and blues) have an undertone. This comes from the paint formula itself. It depends upon the proportions of red, yellow, blue in the formula. More of one or the other will give the color an overall cast, or undertone. Same with grays – the undertones can be blue, green, or violet. A green might be more brown, or more gray, yellowish or bluish. The way to see the undertones is to compare a few colors that upon first appearance look very similar. Look at a bunch of beiges together, and you’ll start to see the undertones. Do this with whatever color you’re considering.

Pink – Beige Walls and Ceiling (Pinterest)

Yellow-Beige Stone Wall (Pinterest)

If you already feel that something in your room is “off” color-wise, it could be that two of your large elements are at odds regarding their undertones. For example, your sofa might be a yellow-beige and your carpet a pink-beige; they will not complement each other but will actually each make the other less attractive. Simple switching one out so that the undertones are the same will work wonders for enhancing the overall look.

Green-Beige on Walls with Green Sofa

Knowing that, then start thinking about what will work in your room. The color on the walls will be a big factor in tying the room together. Use the big pieces in the room as a guide. For example,  choose the carpet color and repeat it on the walls. This will unify the room. If the rug or the sofa is a deep shade, i.e. red, blue, dark green, etc., choose a neutral with an undertone of the same. That would be a pink-beige, a blue-gray, or a green-beige ior green-gray in the three examples above. Where you get into trouble with color is choosing a neutral with an undertone that is different from the colors you’ve got going on already. A beige paint with a pink undertone will not look right with yellow-beige furniture.

Whatever color you choose, have a small pot ($7 at Benjamin Moore stores) made and paint it onto a poster board. Hold the poster board against a white background – i.e. a larger unpainted poster board – so that the existing wall color does not distort the one you’re auditioning.  With the white background behind it, hold the new color up against your furniture, drapes, carpet, etc. to make sure it makes a pleasing combination with all of them.

The orange sofa brings out the orange tint in the stone wall, above. (House Beautiful)

If you plan to replace something sooner or later,  like a carpet you hate or an old sofa, then choose your color based on the elements in the room that you know will be staying, even if the combination with the undesirable element is not great. You will know that the overall cohesiveness of the space will improve a lot when you do get around to making the change you are planning on. Just remember to take a sample of your paint to the furniture store or carpet store. Don’t depend on your memory to tell you that the colors will go well together. You really have to see them together to ensure that the undertones don’t clash.

Call me for help if it’s still too daunting to commit to all that paint!

Mini gardens in outdoor pots

I thought I would plant the big pots on my deck this past weekend, but it turned out to be 50 degrees and raining, so that didn’t happen.
But in order to have pots that look like this later in the summer:

it’s time to put in the little plants soon.

With about 4 hours of sun daily, I’ve found that shade loving plants are the most successful for me.  Over the years I have tried lots of things that didn’t really work and have accepted that full-sun lovers just are not in the cards for this spot.
The exception in the picture above is the sweet potato vine which took over the deck by the end of the season last year – four hours of sun seemed to make it quite happy.

What you see above that really thrives in a mixed sun/shade environment is:
Coleus – all the taller foliage in back. It gets purple spiky flowers late in the summer, which I pinch off to keep the foliage from getting leggy and thin. It comes in lots of colors and leaf shapes so you can out different ones.
Begonia variety – the star shaped leaf in the middle left. This was a tiny $3 specimen from Home Depot which I planted in June; the picture above was taken in late September. There are many wonderful varieties of begonia, the least interesting of which are the little waxed begonias, IMO. I like the more unusual ones. Angel wings are also nice.
Below the begonia is impatiens, a trusty shade lover which comes in many shades of white, pinks, peaches, oranges and reds. And below that, a vine with with tiny round green leaves, is creeping thyme, also bought from Home Depot. It did so well that I brought it in over the winter, so it will have a head start this year.
The big elephant-eared pink and green leaves are a variety of caladium – yup, Home Depot. The bulbs can be saved year to year so you don’t always have to purchase new ones.  The small purple flowers on the right are a streptocarpus plant that my mom gave me and it just loved it on the deck last year. It doubled in size and I brought it in to overwinter it; it wouldn’t survive outside and I couldn’t just let it die. It’s been flowering inside all winter in a sunny window.


The bigger the pot, the fuller it will look at maturity, and the longer it will go between waterings. The pots I use vary between 14″ (top diameter) and 22″. I got some of them on Freecycle, and some on Craigslist, as well as purchasing a few. But they’re expensive, and I’ve definitely scrounged around for free and cheap ones. Group them together for a lush look.

Make sure the pot has a hole for drainage. If it doesn’t, make one with a hammer and a chisel or something that will poke a hole through the bottom.

Start with rocks or gravel in the bottom to add an extra layer of drainage. A couple of inches will do.

I used bagged soil – you guessed it – from Home Depot. Not topsoil; that’s for garden beds and is too heavy. The biggest bags of potting soil I can get do the trick. Bags that say “professional” on them are usually a high quality mix.

Leave space between your little plants – they will get lots bigger! I usually leave a radius of 4-5 inches around each plant. That way the pot fills in well, but the plants have room to grow.

The rule of thumb for watering is that when the soil feels dry about an inch down under the surface, it’s time to water. Stick your finger in to feel the soil.  When you water, water thoroughly so the plants get a good drink, then wait until the soil dries out again. Caveat: in the high summer when it’s really hot day after day and it doesn’t rain often, you’ll need to water more often, possibly every couple of days. As the plants get more mature, the root systems are bigger and their water needs increase.

I have no compunction about taking out plants that don’t do well and replacing them with something else. Don’t be afraid to edit what you’ve done. Playing around with it is the way to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you like. It will give you confidence. Have fun!