4 common color mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Go bright or go white? Design expert Allison Arieff shows how to pick paint like a pro

Photo: Emily Nathan

When it comes to our homes, my sister and I are like the tortoise and the hare. My husband and I looked for nearly a year before buying our first house, for example, while my sister and her husband found their place in less than a week. Our aesthetic sensibility is incredibly similar, but our means of turning that aesthetic into reality couldn’t be more different.

If I get it into my head to change something in my house, it’s not going to happen quickly. I need to sit with the idea, research it, and overanalyze it. When I don’t have this luxury of time, I’m usually dissatisfied with the result. If I need an impulse buy, I stick to the shoe department.

My sister? She’s the exact opposite. When Adrienne thinks it’s a good idea to paint a room, it should have happened yesterday. She’ll find a painter on Craigslist, speed over to the paint store, grab a can, and get the thing done by the end of the day. (Years ago, when we shared an apartment in New York, she decided the refrigerator was in the wrong place and relocated it down the hall. By herself.) Her spontaneity rarely disappoints her.

One day, after about a year’s consideration, I finally paint a small section of my bathroom a shade of bluish gray. After a few weeks of staring at it morning, noon, and night, I have a eureka moment, decide I love it, and inform my husband that he can go ahead and paint. Adrienne comes over, loves it, and decides she needs to paint something too.

Adrienne loves color and is not afraid to use it, but, interestingly enough, all the walls in her home are white. Once she gets paint on the brain, she thinks maybe what she needs is that proverbial color cure-all: the accent wall. But as the sibling who tends to overthink things, I suggest that she put on the brakes and bring in an expert before she picks up a paintbrush.

We call in San Francisco Bay Area–based designer Shannon Kaye, who, as host of the DIY Network show Fresh Coat, spends a lot of time thinking about paint. We talk first about the biggest challenge: picking the right color. “I’m a big proponent of color. It can totally change a space,” says Kaye. “But you’ve got to pay attention to your personality. Everyone wants to feel comfortable in their space but doesn’t necessarily know how to go about using color to make that happen.”

Next: go bold or stay white?


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