How to Choose the Best Colors For Your Home

We all know that the easiest fix for the decor doldrums is a coat of paint. Choosing colors? Not so simple. But professional color consultant Amy Krane comes to the rescue

“The universe is your paintbox, and you’re the curator,” declares the Sherwin-Williams website. To which many of us will respond, “What?” Further delving will likely leave you even more perplexed, as it appears trends for 2015 cover everything from pastels to vibrant greens and purples. Benjamin Moore goes out on a limb with its Color of the Year: Guilford Green, a silvery shade that they believe will go with whatever other colors in the universe you curate. Otherwise, their advice is this: “We offer 3,500 colors. Pick one.” 


Amy Krane, who lives in Ghent, Columbia County, trained with the International Association of Color Consultants of North America, an organization that explores the art and science of color theory. She explains how she can guide the bewildered toward making the right decisions. 

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amy krane

How does your service differ from that of an interior designer?
What I do is not just about design, and it’s not just about aesthetics. It takes into account the emotional, physiological, and psychological effects of color. So we come up with a plan that’s not only beautiful, but that supports the function of a space and the well-being of the people using it. Color can affect how you feel.

Can you give an example?
Offices are often part of a company’s image. Think of a light, bright, giant loft, with white shiny floors, white walls, white desks. It’s a modern aesthetic, and it may look cool, but it’s not healthy for people to work 10 or 12 hours with all that light bouncing around. It’s called visual ergonomics, the effect of light on your eyes, and therefore on your brain. It’s stressful to be in a monochromatic space for prolonged periods of time.

Is that true even if the color is soft?
Yes. Any monochrome space is stressful on the eyes and brain. Human beings evolved over thousands of years living outdoors before they learned to build dwellings. The natural world has various degrees of lightness, contrast, and color, and that’s best to replicate in a home — not to have all the same level of saturation. 

Are there other rules about color and mood in the home?
There are no real rules, and many factors to take into consideration. I ask people to tell me about their affinity to color, their propensity to be around color. It’s so personal. I’m there with information, which is both objective and subjective. 

blue room
Feeling blue: Krane designed a living room by adding a dark blue background. Blue, according to Krane, is a calming color

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What are some generalities?
Blue is a soothing color to most people, calming and serene, although some find it melancholy. It’s the most popular color for a bedroom, and somewhat common in bathrooms because of its relationship to water.
Green is also a relaxing color, refreshing. With its relationship to nature, it’s associated with rejuvenation. Blues and greens are great for concentration.
Yellow is cheerful, jovial, uplifting. 
Orange is joyful and positive, like yellow. Orangey-reds are invigorating.
Red is associated with powerful emotions and ideas that run the gamut — love, war, aggression, excitement. It has real positives and negatives. When you walk into a red room, your heart and respiration will change. I wouldn’t put it in a bedroom, although it can be nice on an accent wall.
Purple or violet, those colors are considered mystical and magical. Little girls love purple. 
Pure gray — black and white — is a hueless color, so it’s often chosen as a background for artwork. Grays can be depressing, but there are grays with undertones that make them more complex and interesting, like a little brown takes gray toward taupe.  

Knowing all that, someone can have a personal distaste and it all gets chucked out the window. I had a client who hated green. It was a visceral reaction, and she saw green tones even when I couldn’t see them.

How does a consultation work?
First, I spend time talking on the phone in general terms about what you like, who uses the rooms, what they’re used for, at what time of day, what’s the rest of the decor, are you keeping your furniture, that kind of thing. Less than 50 percent of the time is spent talking about specific colors. People often have stories, like how they picked colors and their husband hated them. I find out how they came to call me for help.

Then I show up with two rolling suitcases of large designer-sized chips — considerably larger than those in the paint store — and we get more specific. Most people have some idea of what they want, and they certainly can tell me what they don’t like, which gives me a starting point. 

We also talk about the cost of paint. I love Farrow & Ball, whose range of colors is edited to 132 — and whoever is editing those colors is doing a fabulous job. Their whites are a study in different whites. But they cost between $90 and $100 a gallon. Few clients want to spend that much. C2, as well as Benjamin Moore’s top line, Aura, also costs from about $58 to $65 a gallon, so if that’s too much, I can’t show you those either. But there are still over 3,000 colors in Benjamin Moore’s other lines. 

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Once we determine what you’re comfortable spending, I take out the colors and come up with suggestions. We’ll take the chips off their binder ring, narrow it down, put them on different walls, walk around and determine what the favorites are until we’re down to two or three per room. 

powder room
Red all over: Krane designed a red bathroom. Red, she says, can symbolize both positive and negative emotions

How long is a typical consultation?
Two to three hours. After the consultation, if we specify paints from a company that sends out larger samples, I have them sent directly to the client. Tempting though it is to use these chips to make a final determination, it won’t be as accurate as painting a sample on the wall. Very few paint brands use actual paint on their color chips. They’re printed, so they can be pretty far off. I suggest you buy the smallest amount of each color and paint a two-foot-square patch in different places. Light changes throughout the day, and what you perceive changes, as well as what kind of artificial light you use. Your furnishings, especially something like a giant sofa, also affect how you perceive color. 

I had one client who said, “I want yellow. I want to be surrounded by an upbeat color.” In her case, the problem was reconciling how yellow looked different on different walls. No color looks the same on every wall, but your brain understands that a corner is dark, or that light is coming from a particular source. She didn’t like that. So I chose a different yellow for each wall. They didn’t look identical, but they blended nicely, and she got what she wanted.

What advice would you give anyone whose preferences are out of style?
If you’re decorating your home for sale, that’s one thing. Then I can give generalizations. But if you bring me in to make your home more livable for you, I’d say toss the trends out. If you want to incorporate trends, I’d suggest neutrals for walls. Gray has been the hottest thing — it’s modern and minimalist. But many people find it depressing, so I’d say go with warmer tans and adobe sand colors. They have red undertones, but they’re still neutral. 

What’s the best way to choose colors if you have an open floor plan?
The most cohesive and foolproof thing to do is to choose one neutral and have it run throughout. If you love bold color, use accent walls. Choose a wall that stands out architecturally — it’s peaked, or has a fireplace, or is a stand-alone — and make that the accent wall. Consider sight lines. Walk around and stand in different spots, see where the accent walls will be. If there’s more than one, make sure they relate to each other. Colors can be different shades of the same hue, or complementary colors or analogous colors, which sit next to each other on the color wheel. Choose colors that share their make-up, so that they’ll relate to each other, and that will create a harmonious space.

How about painting an exterior?
Refer to the historic period of your house, if you have an older one. See what other people in your neighborhood have done, and then individualize your house within that context. We’ve come to understand that highly diverse color is what you do with a Victorian, for example, but if you put that palette on a Federal, Colonial, or uber-modern house, it would feel out of place. Context is important.

What are your favorite colors?
My favorite combination is pink and orange, but I’m very careful about using those in the home. I really love all colors.

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