Though you might be skeptical that Stephen Colbert is colorblind, you'd better believe I'm colorphobic. The comedian's O'Reilly-clone persona claims that when he looks at people he doesn't see the color of their skin. My fear of color has nothing to do with race and everything to do with interior decorating.
Walls, unlike everything else, should be segregated. Whites only. The thought of picking bold, rich colors for my home freaks me out. This fear may have started when I worked in contemporary art museums in the 1980s. Back then, before museum wall desegregation --- before paintings appeared on backdrops of muted vegetable colors like eggplant, pumpkin, and artichoke --- walls were stark presences, touched-up nightly.
But "color is back," according to interior design consultant Greg Lipphard, owner of Flatiron Antiques (710 University Avenue, 244-5280). Not only is gallery white out, it may not be appropriate for your home. If, for example, your collection falls a bit short of Picassos and Cindy Shermans, and instead is a hodgepodge of hand-me-down furniture and crates of crap (like mine!) consider adding color.
Luckily people like Lipphard and Kristine Snell, an interior designer at Audets (860 University Avenue, 461-1093), can help. They're good at putting stylish new colors like opulent jewel tones, shimmering metallic paints and warm earth tones onto drab walls.
Snell picks out colors for her clients that are not only calming, but look great in domestic spaces. "They're asking for earthy tones, soothing colors like sage greens and burnt oranges," she says. Her biggest challenge is fearful customers. "They'll say, 'I like this but can we go down one on the color wheel?' They're afraid to paint it too dark." The results, she cautions, could be disappointing.
There's a fine line between soothing, comfortable colors and colors so pale you shouldn't bother putting them on the walls, Snell says. A nice blue or green, if it's too pale, can look pastel, or as if it belongs in a nursery.
"I often talk the client into going darker," Snell says. "In the middle of the process, when the paint is going on, people get scared and call me. But then when it's finished they love it."
What's hot now, Snell and Flatiron owner Lipphard say, is a pairing of rich, chocolate brown with a pale gray-blue. They see these colors often in combination with furnishings. In a room with dark wood furniture, for example, paint the walls light blue.
Another trend, Lipphard says, is chocolate browns paired with one orange wall. "Orange is a cool accent," he says. "People don't paint a whole room orange."
The overall decorating trend now, he says, is away from minimalism (bad news for colorphobes) and toward opulent, decorative styles. "Color is good. There's more drapery, luxurious fabrics, lots of trim."
Lipphard has a tip for the timid: "If you are too afraid, do it in a guest bathroom. Paint it a rich jewel color, like a deep, deep amber or rich ruby red. Or just add unexpected color; paint the bathroom ceiling," he says.
Another testing ground for daring color could be an underused room, like a formal dining room. "Use a rich, dark color to create an intimate, special atmosphere for your guests. That way you're not so afraid of having to be in that color all the time," Lipphard says. He likes the metallic paints that glimmer in colors like silver, copper, and gold. With these, or the new pale opalescent paints, he says, candlelight reflects on the walls.
My home is no longer as white as a Klansman's hood; it's a veritable rainbow of color diversity. It's not as if I overcame my fear; my husband picked the colors. Today I walk a little more slowly through my house. I take my time as I pass from the Shrek-green foyer through the butterscotch media room to the crayon-red back hall. Am I savoring the colors? Heavens, no. I'm walking with my eyes closed.