Usually I groan when I see Easter candy and decorations migrate into the drug and grocery store aisles well before the actual holiday, but not this year. This year, I want to buy all the plastic green grass and brightly colored eggs and spread them across the barren winter landscape. I want to force daffodil, hyacinth and tulip bulbs in every pot I own and put them in every corner of my house. After this cold, white winter, I need (deserve!) to surround myself with doses of bright, cheery, jellybean colors.
Unfortunately, my weather-induced craving for sunny hues is completely out of sync with Pantone’s pick for color of the year, Marsala. It is a rich, earthy red-brown named after the fortified red wine from Sicily. Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, describes the color as a “subtly seductive shade, one that draws us in to its embracing warmth.” The color does indeed connote warmth, but to me it’s the kind of warmth reminiscent of the smoky, alcohol-drenched nights of the 1970s — a color that is present in just about every scene of the 2013 film “American Hustle.” No doubt the movie had influence; Pantone looks to fashion and Hollywood as harbingers of color trends. My suggestion to Pantone: Consult a few meteorologists and the Farmers’ Almanac as well as runways and movie reels. This winter calls for more than just warm colors; we need happy ones.
I am fully aware, however, that many people are Crayola color-phobic. I understand why; if not used properly, colors, especially bright ones, can make your living room look like a kindergarten or worse, a Marvel comic. Follow these four tips to keep cheery colors in check.
1. Use color as an accent, not a focus. I have several clients who are color-averse — they like rooms that are all white, gray and/or neutral. Recently, I have nudged a couple of them to add hints of color to give their spaces a lift. My reason: If you keep a room all neutral without any color pops, you have nothing to guide your eye through the space — your room ends up looking like one boring beige blob. Adding small pops of color is like accessorizing an outfit — think colored earrings or a necklace on a woman, a colorful tie or pocket scarf on a man. Try small strokes of color, not huge ones. In general, I like to have three to five colorful elements peppered throughout a room. Don’t glop them all together. And remember, a book jacket, flower or candle can add just as much color as a throw, pillow or tray.
2. Let color flow. In the same way that you want to spread pops of color throughout a room, you want to carry those pops of color throughout your house, particularly if your house has an open plan. You should always consider how color flows from one room to another. For example, if your living room opens onto your foyer, use pops of the same color to unite them. Blue pillows and a blue lamp in your living room? Try a blue vase on your front hall table.
3. Use a paint deck for guidance. Paint decks usually show a gradation of color from light to bright (or dark). When you choose a bright accent color for your room, complement it with items that represent the full spectrum of that color, just as you would see on a paint deck. By layering the lighter shades of a color, you make the brightness of that color less pronounced. For example, you might layer a sage or mint green pillow with a Kermit the Frog-green pillow on a sofa.
4. Ground colors with black, brown or gray. Any color in the spectrum looks good — and more sophisticated — when it is offset by strong, dark colors like black, dark brown or gray.
As you have no doubt gleaned, I am not buying into the Marsala trend. No Marsala-colored throw or coffeemaker for me (although should you be interested, both Keurig and Black & Decker have machines in the clay-colored hue). Instead, I am lifting my spirits — and my rooms — with candy colors.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”