How to Infuse Your Home with Color
Faced with hundreds of paint chips at a home-improvement store, many people lust after the richest colors at the bottom of the sample cards, then wimp out and head for the safety of beige. That's never been Bonnie Connors. She infused her 1920s Chicago-area home with paint, fabric and wallpaper in sunny yellows, apple greens and revved-up oranges paired with deep neutrals. Here's how she achieved color theatrics without chaos.
Pictured at left: In Bonnie's living room, a subtle Oushak rug complements the reupholstered, flame-red velvet chair that once belonged to Bonnie's grandmother.
Bonnie Connors, who shares her recently renovated Colonial-style home with her husband, Jim, and their two pre-teens, wanted to give her rooms a mix of bold patterns and bright colors. She enlisted interior designer Denise Macey to help pick motifs and colors that meld.
Denise and Bonnie chose fabrics that strictly adhere to the home's orange, green and yellow palette. Every room contains those colors in varying amounts and shades. To avoid sensory overload, Denise used patterns on either the furnishings or the walls, but never both. Rich neutrals (browns and grays) on the walls complement rather than compete with the eye-catching patterns.
Bonnie layered spicy orange and gold patterns in the sunroom (left). The mix works because it's set against a quiet background of charcoal gray. Exotic ochre chairs and a vintage, reddish-orange Moroccan rug turn the sunroom into a cozy gathering space.
Architect Healy M. Rice, AIA (847/853-0824)
Creating pattern surprises
Unexpected pairings create design surprises. No fabrics show up twice in Bonnie's home, unless it's on a set of chairs. In the dining area, turtle-theme chairs sidle up alongside brown-and-white cowhide stools (left). "It's being a little gutsy and daring," Denise says.
Plus, large-scale patterns are child- and pet-friendly because they help hide dirt and stains.
To test colors, Denise suggests painting large poster boards (at least 2 feet wide) with the colors. Move the boards around a room, or even into another room, to see how the hue changes during the day.
Start small, if you're wary of bright colors. Paint a small space, such as a powder room. Frame wallpaper to hang, rather than covering a whole wall. "People should not be afraid to use color," Bonnie says. "If you consistently go with the things you love, it's all going to work out."
Bonnie's children painted the monarch butterflies that inspired the family room's colors (left).
Secret to balancing color
What about these bold walls makes visitors say, "Wow!" and not, "What was Bonnie thinking?" The secret is matching the color intensity of the furnishings to the walls' intensity. "Strong color personalities in a room need strong neutral personalities on the wall," interior designer Denise Macey says.
In the dining room (left), solid-color upholstery on the chairs doesn't compete with the patterned wallpaper.
Cabinetry colors that work together
A box of crayons inspired Bonnie's "aha" moment when choosing her cabinet look. She made copies of her kitchen plan elevations, then colored the cabinets with crayons to try out different color combinations.
Bright cabinets initially had been part of Bonnie's kitchen plans. But when her colorful "artwork" veered more toward kindergarten kitsch than a sophisticated design, she realized what was missing: neutral shades. "Someone has to be the stagehand," says Bonnie, who added black base cabinets to balance the apple-green uppers and marigold-yellow hutch. "Not everyone can be the diva."
Fitted with black wood accents, the stainless-steel island coordinates with the black cabinetry. A yellow-painted hutch connects the kitchen to the pantry/office.
Kitchen designer Kathy Walder, KRW Design Associates (847/549-7597)
Keeping some things neutral
Neutral hard surfaces helped the green and yellow cabinets remain focal points. Bonnie decided against a tile backsplash and granite countertops early in the design process because their busy lines would fight for attention. Instead, calm counterpoints come from stainless-steel sinks, appliances and island cabinets; white marble countertops; and grasscloth wallpaper.
Mix bright furniture pieces into your kitchen design if you can't commit to bold cabinets. Red cookware echoes the range's red handles.
Flexible unfinished cabinets
The custom cabinets had to be ordered months before Bonnie was ready to commit to final colors, so she devised a creative way to buy herself more decision time. She ordered the black base cabinets to arrive finished from the factory, but ordered the upper cabinets and hutch unfinished. Once the cabinets were installed, Bonnie had a painter apply shades of green (from lime to apple to celery) and yellow (including a black undertone) to achieve more depth and texture from the brushstrokes.
Pictured at left: Built-ins create a computer station/pantry off the kitchen -- great for storing cookbooks and searching online.
Soothing purple in the master bedroom
Bonnie credits her childhood home for her love of color. "I have no art background at all," Bonnie says. "But I grew up in a house with a lot of color." To bring richness to her walls, she picked purple-verging-on-black paint in the master bedroom (left), a dramatic brown in the living room and charcoal gray in the sunroom.
The bedroom's white trim and accessories keep the scheme soothing and fresh.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2009.)