Greg Alexander

Color: The Window to the Soul

Howard Magazine, October 2008

We’ve all done it. You go to a friend’s house for dinner and as you walk into the dining room you think, Hmm, I’m not sure I would have painted the walls THAT color. Or, perhaps you’re at a neighbor’s house warming party and while you may like the celery hue the master bedroom is painted, you wonder if you’d like it in your bedroom.

Color is very personal and what may work in one person’s home may not work in another. This is why picking paint colors out of a home decorating magazine can be tricky, as you have to take into account the architectural style of the home, the size comparison of the room pictured to your own, the amount of sunlight a room gets, the furnishings … the list goes on and on. And since color is so personal, many times choosing the right paint color may all boil down to one thing – your personality. You can tell a lot about a person by what colors they choose, and the emotional feelings experienced via paint color can be quite powerful. While some people may be drawn to warm colors, others lean toward cool colors and some like a mixture of both. But why?


If you think back to elementary school, you’ll recall how the color wheel was separated into warm and cool colors. Warm colors consist of red, orange and yellow – all colors associated with heat – and are used primarily in the public spaces of the home – the kitchen, dining room and living room.

Red is an especially powerful color and evokes feelings of intimacy (think Valentine’s Day); however, it is used commonly in dining rooms as it stimulates appetite. “Red tends to do really interesting things with your psyche and can increase blood pressure and your heart rate. You see red used a lot in restaurants and fast-food establishments like McDonald’s as it can increase your appetite,” says Debbie Zimmer, decorative paint and color trends expert with The Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute, who adds that due to its dynamic nature, you won’t see red utilized in a bedroom as it can impede sleep.

Jackie Bayer, ASID, CID, an interior designer in Ellicott City, says those who like to entertain often are drawn to red. “Those with high-energy who like to be around people like to use red in public spaces,” says Bayer, who has 10-plus years of experience in interior design. Besides using red in the kitchen and dining room, Pamela Colombel, allied member, ASID, an interior designer in Columbia with 14 years experience in the field, says red works well as an accent wall in living rooms. A client of hers, Perri Simonson of Columbia, used red in this manor when she and her husband decorated their home. “We have an open floor plan, which can be difficult, but I didn’t want to use all neutrals. When we moved in, I visited my neighbor’s house and was blown away that they used such bold colors, so I was inspired to use bold, vibrant colors that match my personality.” To strike a balance, Simonson says Colombel used a light khaki color on the main walls of the living room paired with Sherwin-Williams’ “Fine Wine” red paint in the alcove areas.

Orange is a welcoming color and urges guests to come into a space, says Zimmer, and is hence used in foyers and living rooms. “People gravitate to orange and it’s great for northern facing rooms as it brings warmth to the space.” “Orange is a very hot color right now,” adds Bayer, who particularly touts Benjamin Moore’s “Autumn Cover.” “Tangerine can be used to dress up or dress down a space, and most orange hues work well with any home style. Be careful of the true orange hues, though, and go instead with the more brownish ones,” she recommends.

Yellow is also an attention-grabbing color, says Zimmer, and homeowners like to use it in hallways and foyers as it evokes sunlight. “People who like yellow tend to have sunny dispositions, are outgoing and have warm personalities,” she says, “but you have to be careful with yellow. If you use it in large spaces, it can become larger than life, and if you choose the wrong hue, it will look like a school bus came through your house.”


On the other side of the spectrum are the cool colors – blues, greens and purples. “Blue is the most calming color in the spectrum and is very useful in the bedroom. People who are drawn to blue are typically levelheaded and even-keeled, as well as those who are into the environment. Blue is especially popular with men, and there are endless hues to choose from,” adds Zimmer.

“Blue is an easy color to decorate with as it goes well with about any color. It’s very relaxing and calming, and everyone is looking for a relaxing environment in the home,” says Colombel, who used Benjamin Moore’s “Newburyport Blue” as one of several colors in Simonson’s loft/media room. “I find that people who are very busy at work and want a tranquil retreat to come home to are drawn to cool colors like blue,” says Bayer, who particularly likes powder sky blue hues and Benjamin Moore’s “Turquoise Powder.”

Blue paired with green can be tricky, though, says Suzanne Vaughn, allied member, ASID, of Anderson Vaughn Interiors in Clarksville. “I had a client once where the wife wanted a blue dining room and the husband wanted a green living room. The two colors are beautiful individually but paired together, it can look horrible. One solution would be to add some gray to a color, which will bring down the vibrancy,” says Vaughn, who also says painting the trim the same color in adjacent rooms with different paint colors will create a unified look.

Speaking of green, the varying hues of this color can set a relaxed tone in any space, especially a bedroom. “People who like green are calm, restful people. They crave peace and serenity, and this is why you see green utilized a lot in spas,” says Zimmer, who notes that green rarely works well in a bathroom, as it can cast a greenish hue on your face – not particularly flattering first thing in the morning. Bayer says that many people instead go with soft colors in a master bathroom, but for a powder room, she urges homeowners to go bold.

Nature lovers are drawn to green, says Colombel, who particularly likes Sherwin-Williams’ “Tupelo Tree,” part of the manufacturer’s “Departure Colors” series, ethnic-influenced hues that feel familiar. Also in this series is Plum Brown, another favorite of Colombel’s.

Purple can be a tricky color, says Zimmer, and although it’s a color used in royalty and many religious icons, adults tend to shy away from purple. “Purple is a trendy color and fades in an out of fashion; however, kids love it. Why else do you think Barney was purple?” she laughs. Colombel agrees. “If it’s too light, it looks like a little girl’s room, and if it’s dark, it can look like Ravens purple, which is fine for a sports room but not a living room. I like Sherwin-Williams’ ‘Majestic Purple,’ which has a hint of black.


You can’t go wrong with classic neutrals, especially when they are used as a background and paired with vibrant colors to make the room pop, says Bayer. “One of the hot colors the past two seasons that I see continuing in popularity is chocolate brown. It’s a dark color, so you need a lighter tone to contrast it like ‘Davenport Tan’ by Benjamin Moore, a very versatile color.”

“Lots of neutral tones are popular right now,” says Colombel, who likes Sherwin-Williams’ “Borscht” color, a brown hue with a hint of beet. One of her clients, Kathy Williams, who moved into a new home in the 55-plus community of Ellicott Meadows, chose several neutrals to help give a home a relaxed look. “This is a contemporary home, which was a big change in style from the Colonial home I moved from, and the tall ceilings were a challenge,” says Williams. She says Colombel used Sherwin-Williams’ ‘Moody Blue,’ as well as the manufacturer’s “Latte,” a soft brown that was paired with a dark brown in the adjacent room for a touch of drama. “I wanted easy-to-live-with colors,” says Williams, who notes that molding was utilized to bring down the high ceilings visually. Williams also loves the “Adobe Beige” color by Benjamin Moore in the master bedroom.

Zimmer adds that black is being used as an accent wall in many homes. “It can be very dramatic, glamorous and sophisticated. People who are drawn to black are what I call the ‘first adopters,’ those techie people who had the first iPod and the first big screen television and who have been using bold colors for many years and now want something fresh. This look is also paired with caused-related hues – pink for breast cancer, red for AIDS and green for the environment.”

Whatever color palette you choose, the experts all agree on one thing: paint is the cheapest and easiest decorating touch you can do for your home. Be bold. Be daring. If you don’t like it, you can always just paint over it.

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