Right pop of color makes big impact for small price

When you’ve been writing about home design for as long as I have, certain expressions really begin to wear — like “bring the outdoors in.” Please, living in the tropics with three dogs, I spend a good amount of time taking the outdoors back out, sticks, mud, mosquitoes, frogs. Another worn expression is “then just add a pop of color.”

Next time I hear a designer say, “just add a pop of color,” I’m afraid I’ll say right back, “I’ll give you a pop of color. Where would you like it?”

I’m sorry, but the words “just” and “color” don’t belong in the same sentence. First of all, picking a background wall color is already triple-black-diamond difficult, but selecting a look-at-me accent color,
that perfect-pitch purple pillow, is way harder. And would someone please define ‘pop’? I picture the living room after a game of paintball.

So when a design friend of mine recently introduced me to Minneapolis designer Lucy Penfield and said her specialty was “living in color,” I thought maybe she could help me with my pop predicament. So I called her up. In under three minutes, words like azalea, parrot green, peacock, mango and jalapeño were punctuating our conversation. The woman can talk color, all right.

“Color is experiential,” Penfield said. “It’s about energy and the feelings it brings to your soul. It can lift the spirt, calm the mind, sweep you away or ground you. It can evoke a mood or change one.”

“I want some of that,” I said.

We talked about her new collection of exuberant throw pillows for Missio Home, which is designed to add, you guessed it, pops of color to a room. Then I peppered her with my pressing color questions:

Q: I get so tired of hearing designers tell me to add a pop of color. It sounds so easy, but it’s definitely an art. Can you offer some guidelines?

A: Be brave. Realize that rooms come alive when they have a color surprise. The pop can be small, like a red bowl, or large, like a turquoise accent wall. The idea is to add something unexpected that introduces a
little whimsy. Start with a baby step. If that resonates, go bigger and bolder.

Q: What makes you wince when you walk into a home?

A: An expressionless home that is void of color. The rooms feel so lifeless and sad. Many people have homes like this because they feel safe. My heart drops, and I just want to say, “Honey, you can do it. Try it. It’s just a throw pillow or a vase on the table.”

I also feel sad when I see homes where the owners felt compelled to do their whole house in gray, because that’s what was in style, though it never felt right to them because they didn’t go with the green they loved. I wish more people would use their own rudder to steer them to the colors they love, not
what’s in. People who don’t live with color miss out on all the fun.

Q: What are some ways we can add unexpected dashes of color?

A: Surprising color can show up in a hot pink throw, a chartreuse ottoman, a canary yellow desk chair, a gutsy piece of modern art, or a stack of books with all cobalt covers.

Q: Do you have a sure-fire color formula anyone can use?

A: When creating a room’s color palette, think 60-30-10: a base color, two friends and a wildcard. For example, a strong neutral, like a sandy off-white, can be your 60 percent base. Add a couple of friends, say 30 percent blue and green, then toss in a 10 percent wild card of citron. Avoid 50-50 combinations, which fall flat.

It’s that unexpected color, that fuchsia that comes out of nowhere, that’s your zinger. You could repeat the wildcard color a second time, but it’s almost better if it stands alone.

In this room, gray and white make up the 60 percent neutral base. Orange and pink are the “friends” of the base, adding 30 percent of the color, and the wild card is the citron ottoman, a touch of the unexpected. (Photo: Spacecrafting) 

Q: Speaking of too much of a good thing, can you talk about restraint?

A: Picture a woman in that proverbial black dress. Her outfit comes alive when she adds a great hat and beads. But then, she adds a print scarf, leopard-print shoes and bright red lipstick, and it’s a fail. You want to be careful the result doesn’t look gaudy. Add too much color, and you can’t see the accent anymore. Let it stand on its own.

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