Chasing Rainbows

Today’s hottest hues span the color spectrum

When it comes to using color to update your home décor, say the experts, no single shade casts a shadow over all the rest. Instead, it’s what you do with a color that matters—think “how” instead “hue.” 

“We aren’t just seeing a couple of colors as the hot color combinations, as in the past. We are seeing a greater use of color across the whole color wheel,” says Nancy Stilwell, Monona store manager for Hallman/Lindsay Paints. “It used to be that people would coordinate curtains, pillows and paint more closely, and it just isn’t that super-coordinated anymore; it is much more colorful, as there is more experimentation.”

Stilwell says bygone color combinations have been updated with additional, non-traditional colors. “Back in the day, we’d see navy with white or gray, and now we are seeing navy and a neutral with a yellow or orange,” she says. “You can easily spend more money on the accent textiles or décor pieces than on paint, so people are using what they have and trying to make it look different.”

Homeowners are also taking cues from fashion, where color blocking is currently popular. You know the look: bold shades from opposite sides of the color wheel are paired for dramatic contrast. And when it comes to the use of color blocking in home décor, the field is wide open. Red, fuchsia, chartreuse, goldenrod, violet—all colors are in play. The key is to keep the colors rich and intense for optimal effect. 

The use of color blocking does not reach quite as far in décor as it does in fashion, where there is less permanence and rules are fewer. In homes, contrasting shades are often set against a broader neutral palette, says Bella Domicile interior designer Dondi Szombatfalvy. This allows homeowners to incorporate the color-blocking trend with key accents while maintaining some longevity in furnishings, flooring, cabinetry and other, more expensive, pieces and fixtures. 

“Do not over-commit yourself to some of these colors and combinations that are bold; bring them in with paint, artwork, pillows and accessories,” Szombatfalvy says. “I’ve had a customer [who] loves red. She’s loved it her whole life and she never gets tired of it. Most people aren’t like that.”

Jacob Harlow agrees. The manager of Century House, the west-side home furnishings and accessories retailer, says accent pieces are smart ways to incorporate trendy styles and colors because of their relatively low cost. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that an orange or a teal is always a wrong decision. Those colors can work well, experts agree, particularly in smaller doses. “I have never done a tangerine or turquoise countertop,” Szombatfalvy says, “but I have done bolder colors as an accent in a room.”

Jocelyn Dornfeld loves a pop of color, too, but the remodeler and marketing director for the Ganser Company cautions clients about taking things too far. “Not every room needs an accent wall,” she says.

But for the rooms that do, Harlow says to pay attention to colors you are repeatedly drawn to and always appreciate. Give those preference, he says, over the ones that just happen to be on magazine covers or on showroom floors. “By choosing colors that you love, you make color trends irrelevant,” he says.

Harlow also advises customers to experiment a little and to trust their instincts about what looks good and what doesn’t. “Make friends with a color wheel. You don’t have to be a color-theory expert to learn how key color combinations can breathe new life into your space,” he says. “Play with the possibilities. Have fun.” 

Of course, when you’re talking about big pieces of furniture or painting an entire room, going bold can take a lot of courage—even when it’s with a color you love. After all, the transition from tan to tomato or tangerine isn’t a small one!

Fortunately, paint is very forgiving and will provide you with more than one chance to get it right. If you make a mistake the first time, all you have to do is wait for it to dry before you can try again. 

Tom Dorn, the co-president of five Dane County Dorn True Value Hardware stores, says experimentation with paint is easier than ever. He points out that True Value’s color chip rack has expertly coordinated hues that make it easy for homeowners to find shades that will complement their existing furnishings, floorings and drapes. What’s more, the colors and combinations are refreshed every couple of years to keep up with new trends. 

True Value also carries adhesive paint chips, so you can stick shade samples right on the wall to help you visualize a planned color makeover. Plus, the store offers a color promise, which allows customers to return a gallon of paint if the color didn’t work out as expected. “If the color isn’t just right, we’ll mix up a new color for you,” Dorn says. 

Back at the Ganser Company, Dornfeld says she sometimes works with clients who take on the painting part of a remodeling project to maximize the return on their investment. So she encourages them to test samples when available. Benjamin Moore, for example, sells small pots of popular colors, making it easier to experiment. 

“Test colors in different areas of the room,” Dornfeld says. “The color may look one way next to a window and totally different under a cabinet. It’s a very inexpensive way to test the color or color combination before putting in all the time and effort.”

Of course, a carpenter is only as good as her tools and a painter is only as good as his brushes. If you’re doing the work yourself, you might want to follow the recommendations of the experts and invest some of the do-it-yourself savings in higher-quality paint and painting supplies. You’ll see the benefits not only in appearance—even color and clean lines—but also in durability. 

-Jennifer Garrett

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