It's all about hue

Seeing red? Feeling blue? Tickled pink? There’s more to color than meets the eye

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This elegant chocolate brown and white sitting room was featured in the 2010 D.C. Design House in Chevy Chase. “It’s a sophisticated space that a man and a woman can share,” says Bethesda designer Kelley Proxmire.  Proxmire was inspired by the pink roses on the kitchen window treatments when she selected the pink wallpaper, paint and accents for this Bethesda kitchen and adjoining sitting area.  Kristin Peake, who owns Kristin Peake Interiors in Rockville, finds most clients are seeking tranquility. That’s why she recommends sea glass colors of soft blue, green and tan. “[Clients] say they want a place to relax and de-stress,” Peake says. “They want to unplug from life.”

Cohn says a room’s function is also important. Colors that evoke positive feelings in some rooms may produce negative reactions in others. Red, which raises blood pressure and increases breathing and heart rate, is a good choice for a living room or dining room because it draws people together and enlivens conversation.

But many designers consider it too stimulating for a bedroom. Yellow’s sunny vibe can inspire happiness—perfect for kitchens and entryways—but it can tire the eyes because of the amount of light it reflects. Yellow also can bring about feelings of frustration. Studies have shown that babies tend to cry more in rooms with that hue, Cohn says.

At the other end of the spectrum, blue reduces blood pressure and slows breathing and heart rate, inducing calm and relaxation, Cohn says. But the shade is important, according to designers. A pastel blue can make a room feel cold, and dark blue can evoke sadness.

For rooms where people gather, such as family rooms or living rooms, designers recommend warmer shades, such as periwinkle and turquoise.

Carol Freedman, a Bethesda designer known for her bold use of color, says she never rules out a specific hue for a room despite the conventional wisdom. Her own home is awash in purple.

“I used three different Benjamin Moore shades for the purple walls in the public areas—darker in the dining room, lighter in the adjacent kitchen and medium in the living room,” she says.

Deep shades of purple are often associated with power, royalty and luxury, so Freedman used lighter, “grayed-down” hues where she wanted to create a calm and nurturing space.  

“For me, a color’s effect is more about the intensity of the color,” Freedman says.

That intensity can depend on the homeowner’s personality. Cohn and Freedman say extroverts often embrace bold hues and become bored in spaces without color. Clients who opt for a bold scheme have “vibrant personalities and a lot of confidence in some aspect of their lives. Many are CEOs or other business leaders,” Freedman says.

But “if you introduce bold colors into the living spaces of introverts, it can be a recipe for disaster,” Cohn says. And for homeowners used to living with a neutral palette, color can be overwhelming.

Madyson says moving these clients “past neutral” involves starting them with soft hues. “Just like some women can wear a bold print dress and feel comfortable and some can’t, color choice is an expression of personality,” she says. “It’s not good if a room makes you uncomfortable.”

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