Mustards and reds mingle with oranges and blues. Cool mint cabinetry and rich olive textiles blend against the garden vistas that pour in from enormous windows and glass doors throughout. Inside Tim and Una Damon's low-slung California ranch-style house in the hills above Malibu, the commitment to color is clear. The tomato orange front door announces it better than any mission statement.
But this is no joyride around the color wheel. Instead, the Damons, who worked with architects Toni Lewis and Marc Schoeplein, crafted a carefully calibrated palette. Subtle hues and splashy ones mix with an abundance of organic materials, performing a visual balancing act in which vibrant color is kept in check with soothing tones from nature.
"Natural materials contain hints of colors that can be extracted for bolder accents," says Lewis. "We chose oak floors, which have undertones of orange - a color we used as a complement in the public spaces." Ditto the Calcutta marble in the master bath, with its flecks of green reflected in the green-on-green lacquered cabinetry.
In the kitchen, an impossible-to-miss tangerine laminate countertop on the island almost steals the spotlight, but it's quietly supported by cherrywood cabinetry. In the dining area, a set of red, cream, and yellow plastic chairs from Design Within Reach graduates from kitschy to clever by being paired with an antique wood-plank table.
"The good thing about these colors is that they always look fresh," says Una, standing in the living room where a mustard sofa, olive ottoman, and orange armchair keep easy company. "I never get tired of them."
Design: Lewis/Schoeplein Architects, Los Angeles (310/397-1600)
How to find the right color balance
Avoiding a rainbow overdose was key in this project. "Color is important to me, but in sparse ways," says Una Damon. Her instinct is echoed in the light-handed approach of architects Toni Lewis and Marc Schoeplein. Too much color, says Lewis, and you can end up with "a funhouse-looking home."
• Keep the palette in check. "Use color in splashes, not everywhere - but don't be afraid of trying a bright shade," Lewis says. Wood, stone, and ceramic help balance the visual impact, but try linking the quiet and the bright: Choose hues that echo undertones found in natural elements.
• Experiment with low-risk investments. For newcomers to color, Lewis suggests using less expensive materials in daring hues and keeping more expensive elements - rugs, sofas - in the neutral family. "Stay away from brightly colored tile and stone finishes. With color, you need to be able to switch things out if you tire of it." Try a laminate countertop, which is not only inexpensive but easy to swap out, says Lewis. And instead of buying that groovy purple sofa, start with colorful throw pillows.
• Introduce bold color with paint. "It's the cheapest thing in the world and the easiest to change," Lewis says. For a twist, use paint on unexpected surfaces - instead of painting a wall, give your front door or wood cabinets a splash.