A splash of color won't hurt a thing

December 19, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing WriterLos Angeles Times Syndicate

My condominium apartment has lots of glass, white-painted walls and off-white carpeting. All this, plus my pale-colored sofa and chairs, makes the living room look just like the North Pole -- only less interesting. As you can probably tell, choosing colors is not my forte, so I wind up buying off-white everything.

Take comfort, first of all, in the knowledge that your predicament is not unique. Plenty of people blanch when presented with the need to select something less safe than plain old off-white.

As for your color therapy, I recommend that you start slowly in attempting to overcome your palette-phobia. Think of colors that you like and then treat yourself on a weekly basis to a corresponding array of flowers.

Flowers can act as a natural and easy introduction to color in a monochromatic setting. As you live with various combinations of hues, you'll soon intuit what colors will look best in your living room.

Step two: Look through your closet. What colors do you favor? Which is most flattering to you? Do you have a shawl or a big wrap-around scarf in a color you truly adore? If so, drape it across a chair and leave it there for a couple of weeks. The worst that can happen, should you decide it doesn't add anything to the room, is that you'll end up wearing it instead.

Shawls, by the way, do make an acceptable substitute for decorative pillows. Woven and fringed shawls in a contemporary pattern or an exotic paisley can be lots of fun as an interior design item. They also help soften the hard lines of contemporary seating pieces.

It's important to understand that color does not have to be bold in an all-white room, nor does a multitude of different colors have to be introduced to make a setting colorful. Variations in the tone of a single color, ranging from the deepest to the lightest, may be all that's required.

The setting shown in the photo, for example, is basically a series of variations on the theme of white. Included is this Essex Wallcovering "Enhancement" design, whose subtle textures and color values are reflected and emphasized by the room's lighting array. The only starkly different colors in this space are found in the flowers and in the black metal accents of the lamp and table base.

Note, too, that a shawl has indeed been strewn across the chair. Like the flowers, it can easily be removed or replaced.

I recently bought some rustic-style furniture for a modest country cottage that our family uses as a weekend getaway. The place still doesn't feel homey enough, however. Accessories are probably what's lacking, but I don't know how to go about adding such items without making the cottage look like a decorated model house.

Don't be so harsh in your opinion of model homes. They might prove to be a rich source of ideas -- at least by offering examples of what you don't want to do.

"Homey" is really a matter of personal perception, so it can be difficult for one person to tell another how to go about achieving a comfortable look. The main danger, of course, is that a setting will end up looking cute rather than cozy. But that's easily avoided if the decorating is done in a natural manner, meaning that the chosen accessories are the sorts of things that you truly love.

A collection of decorative tin wear, for instance, may help create a pleasantly homey mood. Objects like boxes, lamp bases and gardening equipment can be appropriately displayed in almost any room in the house, as long as it's clear that the items are part of a collection rather than a scattering of odds and ends that haven't yet been put away.

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