When legendary Vogue fashion editor Diana Vreeland had her living room decorated in 1955, she told designer Billy Baldwin that she wanted it to look like “a garden in hell.” Vreeland, who died in 1989 and is the subject of a new documentary, “The Eye Has to Travel,” was infatuated with the color red in all its intensities and hues. She believed that tiring of it would be like tiring of someone you love. The room, which was drenched in red, from the pillow cases to the picture frames, was almost as famous as she was. But we can’t all be Diana Vreelands. In fact, many people find too much red to be severe and overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why this season, the color on everyone’s minds is darker, and a bit muted. It’s red’s buttoned-up cousin, oxblood.
Oxblood is one of those colors that have myriad definitions. Some see it as a deep red with splashes of purple and blue, nearing burgundy or berry. Others see it injected with chocolate brown and closer to the color of, well, blood. It’s everywhere in fashion this season, from chunky waffle scarves to shiny leather dresses, as dark as a plum lipstick and as light as a sheer merlot.
Whatever your interpretation, proceed with caution when following the oxblood trend off the runway. When it comes to oxblood interiors, a little goes a long way.
“Dark red is like a spice,” said Alessandra Branca, a designer with offices in Chicago, New York, Paris and Rome who has been touting red for years. “It’s there to accentuate and to give balance. It is not the main ingredient. I would never paint a gargantuan room dark red, because that would be too much of a good thing.”
Branca, who said she returns to red for its glamour and energy, advises using oxblood in small, intimate spaces such as home offices, libraries or small dining rooms. It provides a great backdrop for collected objects or books, she said.
District designer Marika Meyer is not surprised that such a bold shade has taken the spotlight. After years of neutrals, she said she’s relieved to see that color and pattern have made a comeback.
“The difference between trends in clothes and interiors is the dosage,” she said. “What looks fabulous on a model can be too much in a room. You can take off an outfit at the end of the day. You can’t take off a room.”
Meyer likened red’s effect to the power of lipstick.
“Think about the woman who enters the party wearing deep red lipstick. She’s making a statement,” she said. “But it shouldn’t steal the show. You want lipstick to complement the woman. It shouldn’t be the only thing you see.”
When incorporating oxblood into a room, she recommends starting with accessories such as porcelain lamps, textured throw pillows or an accent chair. In her living room, Meyer has a dark red lacquer box that sits on top of a pile of books. It’s a tiny accent, she said, but it’s also the perfect touch.
For those with more conservative tastes, oxblood is more accessible than bright red. The hints of brown or cranberry give it a more traditional tone, especially with a matte finish (see Farrow and Ball’s Picture Gallery Red as an example). Both Branca and Meyer agree that oxblood’s historic connotations, pulling from an old English palette, will appeal to people in Washington who love red but may want something safer.
“Washingtonians want the little black dress of living rooms,” Meyer said. “Nothing showy — they want classic, timeless and understated elegance.”
Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Designer Miles Redd, author of the upcoming book “The Big Book of Chic,” joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly Q&A on decorating and household advice. Submit your questions.