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.

Keeping it Cool, Clear and Clean

As a girl growing up on Long Island, I always loved the summertime.  It was a time of open windows and breezes, hot sun and cool waves, expansive days that stretched out into long dusks, and freedom to explore, play and dream.

What we called a “heat wave” was a hot humid spell that lasted for a week or so. Here in the Washington DC area, we call that summer, and it can be a bit more of a challenge to always love it.

I’m neat by nature, but I find that especially during the summer, I need things to be spare and clean to counteract the claustrophobic quality of the humidity here.  Less stuff lying around equals a calmer, more serene feeling; clutter and mess feels oppressive and heavy.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”   – William Morris

Here are a few simple tricks to lighten up the look of your home for summer and create the illusion of coolness.


 “Don’t put it down, put it away” is the first tenet of clutter-free living. Put it away right away and you will save time in the end. You’ll be forging a habit each time you do it, even if it feels cumbersome at first.

Recycle the newspaper daily into your recycle bin or into a basket that you take out to the bin once a week. Have a dedicated spot for magazines that you want to read, and only keep a handful at a time. If it’s more than a few months old, recycle it.

Paper is a relentless clutter challenge. Sort all paper coming into the house into three categories:

Throw away immediately: junk mail, flyers, catalogues.

Action items: bills, kids’ permission forms, items you want to order, etc.

File: insurance papers, medical records, etc. 

Have one dedicated place for paper so it doesn’t take over the house. Sort it there, and act on it once a week.

Scan the floor for piles. If what’s on the floor isn’t furniture or an intentional decor item such as a plant or basket, it doesn’t belong on the floor. Tackle one pile or item at a time until you’ve put them all where they belong. This can be done daily for ten minutes; it’s surprising how much effect a few minutes, done regularly, will have.

Some of these Better Homes and Gardens organizing tips are good ways to stay on top of things before they get out of control. Maybe one of these techniques will speak to you.

If you’re really stuck and clutter is a relentless problem for you, my friend Yvette Gluck at Lighten Up! Professional Organizing is a great help.         I had her come work with me on my home office, which also doubles as a sewing room and a guest room, and I was very happy with how much more in control I felt when we were done. Everything is zoned, in a logical place, and easily accessible for the disparate tasks I use the room for. Success!

Here’s to feeling unencumbered by stuff! – as well as cool, calm and collected.  Happy summer to all.

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!

Ikat, that ubiquitous fabric

While I’m on the subject of ethnic influences in current design trends, I thought I’d post about the ikat fabrics that have been so prevalent for the last year or so. You see them on chairs and other upholstered furniture, like these:

Blue Ikat Chair from Urban Outfitters

Jewel Ikat Slipper Chair from Urban Outfitters

and in home decor fabrics:

Blue Ikat Fabric from Waverly Home Decorating Fabrics

and even accessories and clothing:

Bowls from Anthropologie

Dress from

So what is ikat, anyway?

Remember tie-dyeing? When you went to Michael’s to buy a white tee shirt and then bunched it up into little lumps held with rubber bands? Then you dipped the shirt into solutions of dye in various hues, and when it dried and the rubber bands came off, you had those star-like hippie-style patterns on the shirt.

Well, ikat fabrics are made by dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. A wax-like substance is applied to bunches of threads in desired patterns, and the threads are dyed. The wax covered parts of the threads resist the dye, resulting in patterned threads which are then used to weave the fabric.
There are complexities to it such as whether the dyed threads are the ones held tightly lengthwise on the loom (the warp fibers) or the ones used to weave in and out of the warp fibers, creating the cloth (the weft fibers)  – or both the warp and the weft fibers, creating a more intricate and complex pattern, but basically that’s it.

The word “ikat” itself comes from the Indonesian language and means either “cord, thread, knot” or “to tie, to bind” depending on the context in which it’s used.
Although the word is Indonesian, the fabrics come from all over the world: Thailand, Cambodia, Central and South America, India, Japan, Turkey, revealing that the technique developed in multiple cultures worldwide, and each have their particular ethnic patterns.

What’s characteristic about all of them is the blurry-edged look to the designs that results from the individually dyed threads that are used in the weaving process.

Think of using one of these pieces as an easy, fun way to inject a fresh accent piece into your decor as you open the windows, put away the winter coats and freshen up for spring!

Ikat Embroidered Pillow Cover from Pottery Barn