Shades of Chromophobia
We're a colour-shy nation when it comes to our homes, but it is possible to add drama without a big hue and cry
There's no getting away from it - we're a colour-shy nation. "Playing it safe with colour is an Irish thing," says Sarah Jane Murphy. "People come to me with the intention of using colour on their walls, but they almost always bow back to a softer palette." An interior designer based in Mullingar, Murphy understands that her clients aren't looking for decorative drama.
"Most of them just want a timeless, homely look," she says.
Many people, myself included, plan for an adventurous colour scheme and panic at the checkout, running back for a 10-litre tub of white emulsion. It's the classic cop out, but builder's white can make a room look cold.
"I would always try to encourage people away from cream and white," Murphy says. "If you've employed me to put colour on your walls - then let's put colour on your walls!" The solution is often a medium tone palette.
If your heart is set on white walls, Murphy can work with that too. The trick is to choose the right white. "People often think that white is white," she says. "They try out sample pots on their walls and they don't see the difference between them. I'd always bring a sheet of plain white paper with me. When you see the paint colour against it, you can see that it's not just white."
For a neutral colour scheme, she often uses Hardwick White from Farrow & Ball on the walls (this is a grey in all but name) and Wimborne White on the timber. This off-white from Farrow & Ball is described in the catalogue as "only a shade away from a pure white". Used together, the two shades bring out the best in each other.
Paint from Farrow & Ball comes in five-litre tubs, which cost around €102, working out at €204 for 10 litres. Little Greene, which is also known as a high-end brand, costs between €146 and €159 for a 10-litre tub of emulsion; the Irish brand Colour Trend costs from €110 to €127, also for 10 litres; while the same amount of Dulux emulsion will set you back between €70 and €80.
These prices, quoted by MRCB paints, vary according to the type of emulsion. Murphy recommends that you choose a brand that you can afford and stick with it. "People will choose a colour from the Farrow & Ball or Little Greene colour chart, and then get their builder to copy it in a cheaper paint. It never works!"
When Murphy is working out a colour scheme with her clients, she often asks them if they have a piece of art that they plan to hang in the room. Then, she allows the colours in the artwork to inspire the colour scheme.
"It's about allowing the colours in the room to come together through a work of art."
In a recent living room renovation, she allowed her client's large Kyle Barnes painting, purchased from the Chimera Gallery, Mullingar, to lead the scheme. The walls and curtains are grey and the carpet is Mineral Sea Glass from Ulster Carpets' Watercolours range which she describes as: "a mix of grey, beige and light teal". A pair of antique chairs was upholstered in yellow velvet from GP & J Baker. The fabric echoes, rather than replicates, the yellow in the painting. "Once there are too many matching colours you lose the effect of what you are trying to achieve."
If you're skilled with a paintbrush, the paint technique known as colour blocking combines blocks of different colours within an interior space.
"It's one of the easiest ways you can add interest into your decorating without having to think too hard," says Marianne Shillingford, creative director of Dulux. "It's a step on from the single feature wall but just as easy to achieve and the look is layered and individual."
"Use the darkest shades to emphasise areas that you want to stand out and the palest shades to visually push the walls away and expand the space," Shillingford says. For example, a palette of delicately greyed blues will create a sense of calm and openness. Some of the high-street brands have picked up on the trend for colour blocking in their accessories. The Rothko block colour cushion (€33); two-tone knit throw (€59); Painterly print cushion (€20); and Klee block colour cushion (€33) will make you look as though you're adventurous with colour, even if every wall in the house is painted in white. You'll find all of these in House of Fraser.
In Next, the 12-piece Studio Modern dinner set from Next (€39) is decorated in asymmetrical blocks of colour. You can buy a co-ordinating set of stacking mugs (€15.50) and a table cloth (from €26). Next also has a series of accessories that will boost a neutral colour scheme, including Mesh lampshades (from €33) in rustic orange and Kira lampshades (from €36) in teal.
And, if you'd like to gain the confidence to use more colour on the walls, working with an interior designer like Murphy could help you find your spine.
See sarahjanemurphydesign.ie, dulux.ie, mrcb.ie, next.ie, and houseoffraser.co.uk