Sunday 19 November 2017

In living colours - be bold with your painting choices

It pays to be plucky with paint choices - but be sure to do your research first

Annie Sloan Wall Paint in Napoleonic Provence
Annie Sloan Wall Paint in Napoleonic Provence
Annie Sloan wall paint set off by chalk-painted furniture in a continuum of blues and greens
A fireplace painted in a shade from the new Dulux Moda Capsule Collection
Complementary colours from the Dulux Moda range
Annie Sloan English yellow wall colour
Denise O'Connor, founder and managing director of Optimise Design and former presenter of RTÉ show The Design Doctors
A contemporary colour-pop interior design room scheme by Optimise Design

Eleanor Flegg

Over the years, you've probably read articles that make choosing wall colour seem easy. I might even have written one or two myself. But choosing paint colour isn't easy at all. It's really, really difficult.

I'm talking from recent experience. Earlier this year, we repainted our bedroom. This isn't something that happens very often. The last time it was painted was when I was 25 (bright orange, if you want to know). Over time, it faded to a lovely golden yellow. We kept it for so long that it was difficult to imagine that room in any other colour.

But no paint job lasts forever. It was time for something a little more grown-up. After much discussion, we narrowed it down to a vague desire for green. So we got the catalogues and the colour cards, we bought swatches and tester pots, and we installed the apps that let you upload and colour a photo of your room. We still couldn't decide. The colours that had looked so beautiful in the catalogues looked horrible when we tried them out at home.

By this stage, we'd started to squabble. I just wanted to choose a colour - any colour! - and get the damn thing over with, even if it wasn't perfect. He said (quite rightly) that he didn't want to spend the next 10 years waking up to the wrong wall colour. The pressure was mounting. Because the room has Victorian plasterwork and a high ceiling, painting it is more than we felt fit to tackle ourselves. Foolishly, we'd booked the painter before we'd chosen the paint.

In the end, we couldn't do it by ourselves. I showed the paint catalogues to my interior designer friend Laura Farrell. "I like that one," she said, pointing at a silvery green. As always, her judgement was spot on. Now, our bedroom looks amazing: fresh, cool and bright. But it wasn't an easy process.

The moral of the story is: if in doubt, ask an expert. And there's no better place to do this than the forthcoming interiors event, House. Throw a stone across the main hall of the RDS next weekend and you'll probably hit a colour consultant. For a start, there are a number of paint companies among the exhibitors: Autentico Chalk Paints, Annie Sloan, Colortrend, Dulux Moda, Little Greene and MRCB Paints. All of these will all have someone on hand to offer free advice.

"Using colour is simple when you know how!" says chalk paint expert Annie Sloan. "I suggest that people start by just using two colours. One should be a neutral colour and the other should be a colour that works with your neutral. It doesn't have to be a bright colour, and you don't need to use lots of it - but it's important to add colour to make a room look lively.

"The most interesting neutrals are made by mixing two complementary colours together," she explains. "On a colour wheel, the colours opposite each other are considered complementary. Then pick one of the tones that is in your neutral. For example, my colour Paris Grey is made from a mix of orange and blue, so I know either one will look great with it!"

Hmm. Possibly not as easy as she makes it sound. The undertones in neutral colours aren't always that obvious. Many pale greys, for example, have undertones of green. But they don't look green. It's just one of the colour ingredients in the mix. This is like flavouring a tomato sauce with a pinch of cinnamon. The cinnamon will change how the sauce tastes but may be hard to identify.

Other neutrals (magnolia is the prime example here) have pink undertones. Again, the paint doesn't present itself as pink. There may only be a few drops of red in the mix, which leaves you with a slightly peachy neutral. I'm not crazy about peachy neutrals but that may be because I grew up in a house where every single room was painted in magnolia. If in doubt, ask an expert. Paint colours have names but they also have numbers, like a code that gives you the breakdown of the colours in the paint. Anyone who is trained as a colour consultant will be able to look at that code and see that a neutral has pink, or blue or green as one of its ingredients. They'll use this information to tell you what other colours would look good with that neutral (and what to avoid). All Annie Sloan's suppliers have training in using her paint, which costs €27.95 for a litre tin of wall paint and €9 for a 100ml "small project" tin.

Dulux's Moda (€64 for a 5-litre tin) is what's known as a capsule collection. It's designed to take the pain away from paint choice, by offering less choice and grouping colours that go together. The range has five palettes, each with five colours. Interior designer Suzie McAdamwill be one of the experts on their stand at House.

"Rather than being overwhelmed by what paint to use, create a palette of colours that work together," she advises. "Then choose one of these colours for the walls, and use the others in furniture and accessories." The Coastal Calm colour family from Dulux Moda includes Salinger (sandy), Apple Box (muted mid-green), Renaissance (light fresh green), Robin Egg (blue/green) and Venetian White (off-white). All of these are designed to be compatible with each other. Following McAdam's advice might involve painting the walls in Salinger and the woodwork Venetian White (since you know those colours are going to work together). Then complete the room by using the colour palette in non-paint items. This could be as simple as upholstering a couple of armchairs in Robin Egg and finishing it all off with a lamp in Renaissance green.

While a limited palette can make a room look sophisticated, McAdam suggests that you pick one or two extra colours to add contrast and dynamism. "I always help my clients to choose a dark, exciting colour they love for either a big piece or all the walls - it is hard to create the same stunning effect with pale colours that you do with the darker, bolder ones!"

As well as exhibitors, the Inspiration Stage at House will offer a series of talks by leading design practitioners, Denise O'Connor of Optimise Design among them. Strong colour, she admits, isn't for everyone. And she's compassionate towards the colour-shy who feel intimidated by all the dramatically painted rooms on Instagram. "Some of those rooms look fabulous in the photos but they wouldn't be easy to live in. For most people it's best to keep the main elements quite neutral and limit strong colour to the accessories." Phew.

Over the past few years, she's noticed that the legendary Irish fear of using strong colour in the home is lessening. "Grey was super-popular for so long that it became the new magnolia. What's lovely now is that people are beginning to try different colours. Once you get a bit of confidence, it can be fun. Colour is a powerful, accessible tool and can really transform an environment." But be prepared for a bit of trial and error. Sometimes you'll get it right; sometimes you won't. Just keep calm and don't throw trial-sized paint pots at your partner. It only makes a mess.


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