Any interior designer will tell you: Paint is hands-down the easiest, cheapest and most dramatic decorating tool you can use to change your surroundings. But as anyone who’s stood before a paint-store display, eyes squinting at the relative merits of “Sea Foam” versus “Dove,” can attest, choosing a color can be a headache-inducing endeavor.
Being on the mistier end of the 45th parallel doesn’t help. Here in Portland, we’re surrounded by soft, muted skies, lush greens and other natural colors year-round. So we definitely have our work cut out for us when trying to warm up our homes.
Choose a Hue
Although it may seem smart to paint a room with bright, loud colors to challenge the dreariness outside, local designers suggest a better strategy might be to use a muted color in a warm tone. The key is contrast, but not stark contrast. Gretchen Schauffler, founder of Portland-based Devine Color, for instance, recommends keeping three factors in mind when choosing paint in our climate: first, the amount of light you have to work with—consider all the light (sunlight, artificial light and reflective light); second, the temperature of the color—will warm (red, yellow, and orange) or cool colors (green, purple, and blue) work better for your view?; and finally, the color of the wood in your home. Your wall colors should come alive against the natural tones in wood.
“With our climate, we’re looking for more of a harmonious feel,” says Janie Lowe, cofounder of Portland-based paint producer Yolo Colorhouse. “In hotter climates, bright, hot colors really work. But here we need a sense of serenity and harmony with nature.”
Cool colors can make a room feel colder and, thus, work better in a climate (or simply a room) with a lot of sun exposure. Warm colors warm up rooms and can be a natural choice for our environment. Some interior designers and colorists will say that cooler colors are better for bedrooms because they are serene, while warmer colors are best held for more active spots like dining rooms and kitchens. Also key: Dark colors advance, making a room feel cozy (read: smaller), while light colors recede, making a room feel more open.
Henry Brown of Portland’s Henry Brown Interiors believes that if your personality calls out for more intensity, you could go for a muted version of a red, not bright lipstick red. “You can’t do saturated colors here unless it’s in small amounts,” Brown advises. “Otherwise it seems too heavy-handed.” This also applies with yellows. Use those on the earthier side and save the lemony ones for accents.
If you’re a fan of cool colors but still want a cozy room, don’t be afraid to try warmer colors on the cool palette. Some blues for example have more red undertones, which warm them up compared to blues that have more yellow in their mix. In fact, Yolo Colorhouse reports that these warm blues and greens (specifically Water .02 and .06, and Leaf .04 and .05) are some of their best-selling products.
However, once you’ve picked your color, you’ll need to consider your space as a whole before committing. Observe color relationships: how the color mixes with your furniture, artwork, woodwork and other hard surfaces. Then watch as the complexities of paint hues subtly change depending on the light of day.