Decorating with Color: Expert Tips

Our designers and experts dish out their tips for decorating with color, from green to red.

Annika Peick


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green-and-white upholstered headboard
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Green: Location Matters

    In places where there isn't a lot of light don't go with grayed-down colors. Choose ones that have a little more white. "Moody" gray-greens hold up better in sunnier locales.

    -- Kishani Perera, Los Angeles designer

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Green: Big Picture

    Celery green is a natural for all-over color. But pick one with some yellow in it so it doesn't come off as juvenile mint green. And don't ignore the ceiling -- cover it in either white or a 50/50 mix of white with the wall color.

    -- Kishani Perera, Los Angeles designer

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Green: Making the Grade

    One rule of thumb: always test paint samples. It's especially a good idea when you want a muted green - what seems like khaki on the chip could be vibrant olive on the wall. But to prevent earthy greens from looking drab, keep potential accent colors in mind. Try pairing lighter shades of green with creams or butter yellows to wake them up a bit.

    --Ruthie Sommers, Los Angeles designer

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Green: Go Bright

    When using a bright citron, blue-green, coral, and raspberry colors as accents makes the yellow-green hue all the more striking. Pair citron with latte-like browns on the walls and introduce a muted citron via furniture fabric and accents.

    -- Philippa Radon, color expert

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Blue: A New Neutral

    Searching for a new base color? Try turning to blue and use it the same way some people might use brown or black. For example, paint a room blue, then mix blue upholstered pieces with white or gray pieces and add touches of yellow, green and orange.

    -- Sasha Emerson, Los Angeles interior designer

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Blue: Picking Favorites

    When choosing a blue, consider how often you're in the room. For example, don't choose a very bold blue for a living room -- you might tire of the color. Save it for a den or a playroom and pick a more serene tone for central living spaces.

    -- Sasha Emerson, Los Angeles interior designer

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Blue: Wood Tones Partner

    Thankfully, the color blue goes with almost any wood trim. The paler the blue, the more versatile, but for a foolproof option, any blue with walnut wood is gorgeous.

    -- Sasha Emerson, Los Angeles designer

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Blue: Icy Cool

    Frosty blues are elegant with soft creams and shiny accents such as glass. Take the chill off icy colors by teaming them with warm browns, reds, or oranges.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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Blue: Warm Front

    Natural wood tones, sandy beiges, and limewash finishes balance barely-there blue rooms. And don't forget about paint finishes. Chalky flat finishes are warm, while shiny blues will give a bit of a chill.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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Blue: All Warmed Up

    Warm blues are not a myth. To find one -- and avoid a room that gives you the chills -- look for a blue with lots of yellow undertones.

    -- Elaine Griffin, New York City-based designer

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Blue: Color Contrast

    When an all-cool blue room needs livening up, be bold and try a dash of vibrant lemon yellow, zinging fuchsia, or fiery red.

    -- Stephanie Hoppen, author of Choosing Blue: Color You Can Live With

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Blue: Perfect Pairing

    You can't go wrong with pairing blue-green and white -- it lets the color be the star. Other sure bets for pairing with blue are coral, red, hot pink, sandy tans, and yellow-greens.

    -- Kelly Berg, San Francisco designer

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Purple: Purple Power

    Stray towards purples featuring more of a blue hue than that of mauve or pink. Purple with a touch of blue can be energizing.

    -- Sara Story, New York City interior designer

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Purple: Just Plummy

    Rooms bathed in natural light balance saturated plum walls. In rooms with little light, use the hue as an accent.

    -- Elaine Griffin, New York City-based interior designer

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Purple: Sweet Lavender

    Once on the walls, paint colors intensify, and lavender is a strong paint color. A rule of thumb: Choose the top (and the lightest) color on the paint card when selecting lavender for the walls.

    -- Jeffrey Bilhuber, New York City designer

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Neutrals: Know Your Mark

    If a lighter cream tone is what you're after, watch out for green or gold undertones. Hold the colors you're considering against a true-white paint chip to look for a rich cream with a brown base.

    -- Mary McGee, Los Angeles designer

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Neutrals: Give It a Boost

    Avoid beige boredom by using a variety of finishes and textures in a room. A dark leather coffee table, a bright citrusy chair, patterned drapes, and a great rug give a latte-color space more richness.

    -- Mary McGee, Los Angeles designer

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Neutrals: Out of the box

    If you're looking at neutrals on a paint chip, go one step more colorful from what you're thinking to ease you out of the "safe" neutrals. Just keep in mind that most colors look darker on walls.

    -- Kelly Keiser, San Francisco designer

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Neutrals: By the Glass

    Anything you find in a wineglass -- from champagne to rose to merlot -- works well with neutrals.

    -- Kelly Keiser, San Francisco designer

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Neutrals: From Blah to Beautiful

    Rethink beige. It runs the gamut from grayish mushroom to greenish khaki to rich cafe au lait. If you're most comfortable in the beige area, use variations like those to change things up.

    -- Kelly Keiser, San Francisco designer

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Gray: Go to the Source

    Identify the source of your gray obsession. Was it a trip to Oregon? A cashmere sweater? Once you identify it, compare the item (or a photo) to paint chips. Try to match both the color you like and the mood you're going for.

    -- Jonathan Rachman, San Francisco designer

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Gray: A Rush of Warmth

    Combine the right materials to keep gray from being too cold. In a gray room, add patinated furniture, natural rugs, lots of linen, and warm accent colors.

    -- Jonathan Rachman, San Francisco designer

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Yellow: Color Shift

    Put a twist on accent walls by using different strengths of one paint color. Ask the paint store to make a 50/50 mix of your chosen yellow and white. Paint the full-strength color on the wall opposite the room's entry so it draws you in. Then use the lighter mix on the rest of the walls.

    -- Marlaina Teich, New York City designer

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Yellow: Hues of Change

    Resist matching wall colors perfectly to a favorite fabric or rug. It makes your room feel flat and one-dimensional. Try going two shades lighter or darker.

    -- Sara Gilbane, New York City designer

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Yellow: Lighten Up

    Yellow walls work best in a room with a lot of natural light. Dark rooms can make yellow look dingy and drab.

    -- Sara Gilbane, New York City designer

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Pink: Purely Pink

    Pale pink looks best in a room with abundant natural light. That way the color can glow and step forward and away from the neutrals.

    -- Lori Deeds Carlton, Palm Beach, Florida, designer for Kemble Interiors

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Pink: Cool Down

    To put a chill on bright citrus hues, add a splash of turquoise. Or for a sophisticated look, pair a rich grapefruit color with dark chocolate. Pair it with soft yellow for a young, cheery look.

    --Kelly Berg, San Francisco need to have area color consultant

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Reds & Oranges: Unexpected Elegance

    If you're thinking of painting a room red, consider a peach or melon color instead. Both are saturated colors but they're more elegant, unexpected, and sophisticated.

    -- Katie Ridder, New York City designer

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Reds & Oranges: Pretty in Peach

    Gravitate toward hues that are hard to put a name on -- peach-pinks or orangey corals. These hybrid colors are always more interesting and give the color more depth and softness.

    --Katie Ridder, New York City designer

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Reds & Oranges: High Intensity

    Pair terra-cotta with equally vivid colors for impact: gorgeous golds, a purple so deep it's almost brown, olive and sage greens, and fiery oranges.

    -- Allison Smith, designer

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Reds & Oranges: Dramatically Dark

    Use a deep color such as chestnut or rusty red for dramatic effect in a powder room or small den. When you have a really small room where there's no way you're going to make it look big, make it more of what it is -- small and dark -- but make it dramatic.

    -- Cecilie Starin, San Francisco designer

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