Designer tempts readers with daring splashes of color

Tricia Guild puts passion and punch into her vision for domestic hues

March 09, 2003|By Claire Whitcomb | By Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

Reaching for a paint chip in the fluorescent light of your local hardware store, it's easy to forget that what you are actually selecting is a mood for your rooms. You're choosing between the joyfulness of citrus hues, the contemplative quality of earth tones, the serenity of sea green and aqua, the dynamism of persimmon and berry and rose.

So it may pay to pause between paint chip and paint purchase and settle in with two new books that offer the most delicious sort of homework: an armchair journey to the heart of color.

As you travel through Think Color (Chronicle, $40) by Tricia Guild, you'll experience fearless combinations of hues. Guild, a London designer known for her brilliant fabric designs, thinks nothing about draping a window with three panels of jewel-toned silk -- one in dahlia pink, another in mandarin orange and a third in luminous purple.

As if she's arranging a bouquet, she'll cover upholstery and pillows in closely related shades of red and pink. Then she'll balance her boldness by keeping accessories and art to a minimum and by painting walls an ethereal neutral. Pumice, aqua, gray and, of course, cloud white are all favorite wall colors.

Though Guild uses patterned fabrics to great effect, her strength is in solids -- in graphic punches of color. She's an expert at taking an all-white living room and then choosing a different ice-cream-parlor hue for each piece of furniture: orange sherbet for the sofa, lemon and peach for the chairs, vanilla for the coffee table and icy blue for the ottoman.

As you can also see by studying the extensive pictures on her Web site, www. designersguild. com, Guild relies on crisp, contemporary shapes: boxy sofas, squared-off chairs and graphic flower arrangements in clear, cylindrical vases. But her palette -- lush and romantic -- provides an emotional resonance rarely felt in modern rooms.

For the average person, Guild's look is difficult to re- create, but Think Color isn't really about advice. It's about enticing readers to try on Guild's magnificent palettes and imagine the joyful effects of mandarin orange and citrus, the soulful benefits of shell and pebble.

"I am fascinated," Guild writes, "by the emotional impact of color." Why, she wonders, "do berry reds make us feel sexy and intense, and pale blues and lavenders calm? How can a single splash of orange alter the entire mood of a room?"

Those are good questions to keep in mind as you peruse another book, Living Colors: The Definitive Guide to Color Palettes Through the Ages by Margaret Walch and Augustine Hope (Chronicle, $29.95). A clever flip book, Living Colors pairs text and color swatches that analyze everything from the earth tones of Greek vases to the yellows used by the 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner.

Because of its spiral-bound format, the book invites the literary equivalent to channel surfing -- flipping from a discussion of Bakelite colors to a look at Henry Matisse's blues, skipping from Wedgwood's putty tones to the pastels of 1950s car interiors. If you see something you respond to -- Harry Truman's Hawaiian shirt, a pink Miami Beach art deco hotel -- you can ponder the adjacent color swatches and see if they would lend the right quality to your rooms.

Living Colors is an interesting romp through history. It explains that George Washington loved Prussian blue, the most expensive pigment of his day. Robert and James Adam, the 18th-century English tastemakers, liked to pick out architectural details with a palette of pink and green, accented with pale blue and wheaten yellow.

Madame Recamier made grayed blues and violets all the rage in Napoleonic France. And Andrew Jackson Downing, the American architect, lamented in 1842 that "there is one color frequently employed by house painters, which we feel bound to protest against most heartily, as entirely unsuitable, and in bad taste. This is white."

Both Living Colors and Think Color will help you tune into the world around you and savor, as Tricia Guild says, "the satisfaction of what color can do: a shaft of sunlight illuminating the petals of a rose, the dusty sheen of black grapes on a blue ceramic plate."

Whether or not you're choosing a palette for your home, that's a rich reward.

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