Crazy Colorful: How to create colour flow with a varied palette

One of the things that signifies a well designed decor is a certain flow from room to room, and colour is a large part of that. The easiest was to achieve this flow is to pick one colour (usually a light to midtone neutral and use that colour throughtout most of the space. This does create a serene, space expanding backdrop. However, it can also be, quite frankly, boring, especially if your soul craves colour and lots of it. But how do you create a home with flow if you paint every room a different colour? Is it possible? It can be.

Below is my home's paint palette. And no, my parents did not travel with Ringling Bros. circus. Why do you ask? I know, I know it's a lot of color, but I promise you the colours do flow through the home, and I'll demonstrate how and why.Note: the paint chips did not photo graph true to colour, especially the teal in the upper right which is much less blue and the cranberry next to it, which is much less purple. This is one reason that you can't select your paint color from a photo of another room.

First, though, before you go crazy grabbing samples at the paint store, you need to spend some time thinking about how much colour you will be comfortable with and whether or not your home lends itself to a lot of varied wall colors. Typically, a wider palette works best in traditionally styled homes with lots of definition between rooms. Think of those beautiful French rooms laid out enfilade with double doors between, or Georgian style homes with thick moulding framing doorways. Bungalows and cottages also tend to lend themselves to a varied palette. In modern construction with an emphasis on open floor plans with few cased openings, the best plan is often to use a neutral in the main living spaces (with an occasional accent wall), and confine the colour changes to discrete spaces like bedrooms, powder rooms, mudrooms, etc.

Secondly, you'll need to apply the artistic idea of variety with unity. That is, the more the walls change, the more other things need to remain consistent. For example, in my home, the same flooring flows through every room, the ceilings are all the same off-white, all of the doors are painted the same dark glossy brown, most of the furniture is covered in off-white cotton, and I'm in the process of replacing my varied woven shades with relaxed roman shades in off-white burlap. Having a lot of different wall colors is visually stimulating---add in differenct ceiling colors and flooring....it would be an assault. Your goal is for guests to be stunned by your daring choices, not for them to ask if your paint consultant was a drunk colour blind clown with
a gift certificate to home depot.

Third, the ideas and examples I'm going to show can be adapted to less extreme palettes--the same kind of principles apply to a mix of tones of the same hue or to a mix of neutrals from light to dark or to a mix of pastels.

Fourth, I highly recommend you go check out the blog Colour Me Happy on my blogroll. Maria Killam is a colour expert who has written some tremendously informative posts.

When I've decided on my colours, I like to lay all of the samples out and see if they look good together--in an abstract way. Does anyone jump out as being out of place? i.e. a clean color has snuck in with my complex ones, or a bright has mingled with my jewel tones. Then I try to imagine them together in a print: would they blend. Here, I've placed my swatches on a pillow that miraculously does contain all of the tones:

The fabric below also contains a lot of the tones. This lets me know that colours do relate. Of course, it's most important for the colours in adjoining rooms to live harmoniously, but I prefer all of the colours to be able to blend. This will become important as I sprinkle touches of each colour throughout the house.


If possible, I like to indicate the palette as soon as possible, in this case my front porch. Since the front door opens directly into the living room, the porch actually functions as a sort of foyer for the house. Notice the outdoor pillow contains a print that mingles most of the colours, and that the upholstery is in the same offwhite that the interior upholstered furniture wears. The orchid and vintage pot also tie to colours found in the interior. (ignore the green vinyl trim and white siding...these are things I can't change, so I ignored them.)
The living room and office are connected by a large opening, so I treated them as one room. As the house's largest and most used space, it is also the most neutral. When using a lot of colour, I do think it's important to have some places to be able to get away from all that stimulation. Though the paint (Sherwin Williams's Blonde) is a distinct gold, it still acts as a neutral. The offwhite fabrics and natural touches (wood, wicker, etc.) continue throughout the home to provide some consistency.

Looking toward the office, you get your first hint of strong colour from the stairwell/dining room. The broad horizontal cream stripes keep the colour from being overwhelming and relate to the soft golds and creams of the front rooms. The large green leaf gives a hint of things to come in the kitchen. Notice how the uninterrupted flow of flooring connects the different spaces.
A vintage style glass lamp in an orange swirl brings the orange of the next room into this space. As demonstrated by the orchid, most florals are white or green....there is enough happening without adding coloured bloom.

We've definitely hit more colour now (Truepenny by sherwin williams on dining room walls and pale avacado by Benjamin Moore in the kitchen). Orange and green are near complements on the colour whell and work well together. Continuous flooring and lots of offwhite trim also help unify the rooms. Notice how the yellow orange of the print in the kitchen related back to the orange walls.

Little details can make a difference: notice the offwhite ceramics on top of the china cabinet, as well as the bright green off the centerpiece. Both are accents repeated in other rooms.
In the kitchen, the chair upholstery references the orange and cream scheme of the adjoining room.
The natural cherry cabinets also reference the terracotta dining area. Dishes and bowls in turquoise, gold, and white repeat colours found throughout.
Again, a small touch, the vintage wall hanging, puts all the paint colours together in one piece.
For consistency, I've even brought the avacado green (in the form of the sweet potato vine) and the terracotta out in the patio area directly outside of the glass kitchen door, as well as to the outdoor dining area which also joins the kitchen.

Vignettes time the color scheme together:

The orange walls provide a dramatic backdrop for an ever growing collection of eclectic art.

The colours in these painting directly influenced the choices for the other upstairs rooms. The background yellow of the large oil a and digitally manipulated photo in the gold frame was repeated the bath.
Again, a small touch, a dull orange vase brings the hall color inside.
Pillows, stencilling, and more art tie the varied colours together.
Offwhite ceilings, rug, bedding, and roman shades help calm the effect of so much colour.
Consistency in accessories also helps. Notice how well Cleo blends with the decor....no accident.
I know not everyone wants to live in a madhouse riot of colour, but I just wanted to let you know that it is possible to paint every room (well almost every room) a different colour and still achieve flow and consistency. And by the way, I do appreciate the irony that even though white paint is in my blog title there is not a single white wall in the house. Now go out there and bury the beige!


CarlosMaster said...

Did your house always look like this? Or is designing an ongoing process in which you have added over the years. It seems crazy to me for something to look so well put together from the get go...

Design Junkie said...

Carlos, we moved back into the house in oct. 2007 after it flooded during Katrina, and it has been a gradual process. Some of the rooms have changed very little, such as the kitchen. other rooms, such as the living room have undergone major and not quite finished) tweaking. The art walls have also been an ongoing project.

Maria Killam said...

Excellent post and thanks for the mention! I still loved your comment on that post I did on seeing if all the colours would work on ONE cushion!!

Anonymous said...

Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn't express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach