Ten Tips: Color Theory

Local design professionals share how you can bring color into your home.

Ten Tips: Color Theory

By Lila Edythe

“Color can make a space,” says interior designer Melinda Shirk. “It can give life to the design.” But color can be intimidating, too. “It is an opportunity to make an expensive mistake. What if you get a colorful sofa and don’t love it in five years?” That’s why Sarah Kennedy, an interior designer at CLB Architects, recommends that clients stick with timeless neutrals for bigger pieces of furniture.

Still, it is important to have color elsewhere, she says. “Last winter was a perfect example of why we need color,” says Kennedy. “Outside here can be white for eight months of the year. By April, after seeing tones of white and grey for so long, my brain was dying to see color. There are so many neutral colors in our environment, it’s nice to have some visual stimulation inside.”

Shirk, Kennedy, and Stan Czerniak, a professional painter, share how you can bring color into your home.

“Personally, my home is very neutral with colors on the wall,” says Melinda Shirk, an interior designer and co-owner of Stockton & Shirk Interior Design. “I bring in color to my home seasonally by switching up area rugs and throw pillows, but I love working with clients who are open to bigger commitments to colors. The owners of this home didn’t want the current trend of light on light, they wanted richness and depth of color.”

1: Using a dark paint can be the most effective and affordable way to make a dramatic change in a room. This room has such a large scale it could carry the dark color. 

2: For this room we selected about six different colors of blue and put samples up on the wall. We picked the one that looked best in the space, and that was determined by the light coming in the windows and the color of the trim and floors.

3: Pulling the bold color on the walls into the draperies creates contrast and continuity. You always want to have a thread of continuity through a room and then extending into the whole house. The paint color is the thread that we picked up in this room. The same color is in the draperies, but combined with a cream background to keep the space light. 

4: When used with bold, dark colors like this peacock blue, neutrals like we used on the ceiling and in the draperies and the linens on the bed can soften a room and make it warm and inviting.


“We rarely do an interior that doesn’t have some accent color,” says Sarah Kennedy, one of the founding designers of CLB Architects’ interior design team. “Neutrals can get very cold in this environment, particularly in the long winters, and color can warm up a space.” But you don’t want to go crazy. “This cabin is an example of ‘less is more,’” Kennedy says. “The palette is selective and plays on primary colors. If we had done a green table here instead of the light wood, this vignette would feel very different.”

1: The idea of painting a log cabin white inside isn’t new or original, but this remodel had such a short timeframe it was the easiest and fastest way to make it lighter and brighter, which is what these homeowners wanted. This doesn’t just work in a log cabin, but in any cavernous space. 

2: To make a pop of color work in a white space, you need for the color to be pretty vibrant. In this room, the tangerine orange color of the chairs draws your attention and is dramatic.

3: We always install small brush out swatches in selected locations. We want to see what the colors look like on a cloudy day and on a sunny day. We do these brush outs only after the lighting has been installed. Colors, particularly neutrals, will look different under LED or incandescent lights.

4: Many people don’t consider white a color, but it is, and there are 1,001 shades of it, which makes it a very difficult color to get right. There are whites made from base tints of so many different colors—pink, green, blue, brown, black. How much of these base colors you see in your white depends on the light and other colors in the room.


If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, hiring a professional painter might seem extravagant, but Stan Czerniak, who founded Stan Czerniak Painting Incorporated in Jackson in 1989, says it’s not. “It’s efficient. Painting is one big mess and it requires specialized equipment. We have the equipment and come in like an army.” Anyone who has ever painted a room knows it’s hard work, too. Czerniak says, “It’s like eight hours of aerobics, and there’s strength training, too. I’d say we’re half moving company. It’s rare to paint a room where you don’t have to move furniture out of the way.”

1: To get a real depth of color, prime your walls first. And vice versa: When you’re going from a vibrant color to a lighter shade, prime it. You think it’s more work, but it isn’t. It’ll save you time when it comes to painting, and it will make the end result look better.

2: Good paints are more expensive, but they wear better. This is especially useful if you’ve got kids or dogs—both can really raise hell on paint. Good paints are stain-resistant and mark-resistant.

3: Low sheens are in. I like Sherwin Williams’ emerald matte finish. It’s a somewhat washable matte.

4: In rooms where you might want to be able to wash the walls, like bathrooms and kitchens, consider using a satin finish; it’s more washable than matte.

Share This Story With Friends