I'm puzzled about how to decide on a color scheme for the family room in our new home. Someone told me to start by choosing a work of art for the room and to base the color scheme on that. Is that a good idea? Do you have other suggestions for how I can move in the right direction?
I'm familiar with the pick-a-picture approach to color scheme selection, and my advice is to forget it. Especially in today's family room, there's likely to be little wall space available for an important work of art, what with the flat-screen TV and the bookcases, mirrors and cabinets typically deployed in these spaces.
I recommend instead that you look through magazines and books until you come across an appealing color scheme. Once you do, please don't think it's sufficient to arrange some paint chips, fabric swatches and furniture finishes side by side. It may all look fine in the abstract, but the outcome will depend on how you apportion and place each color in a particular room. That's the hard part.
Let's say you like the combination of brown, beige, red, orange and cream. OK, so we'll choose red orange for the walls and a couple of chairs, along with cream for the ceiling, a chocolate-brown carpet, a beige sofa and a cream-and-brown print on two chairs and the curtains. That'd be one look. Now imagine that same color scheme and the same chocolate-brown carpet and cream ceiling, but with beige walls, chairs in red orange, and a beige-and-orange print on the sofa and curtains. That'd be quite another look. The perception of the size of the space would change with each of those color combinations. And the room's lighting would have to be adjusted from one color arrangement to the other.
I'd suggest you pick up a copy of Ethel Rompilla's Color for Interior Design. Rompilla is a professor at the New York School of Interior Design, which also gets an author credit. The book is partly about the way color choices affect the appearance of a room, but it's also about how tonal values and contrast influence our perception of a space. Consider the setting shown in the photo. This is the interior of the Schroder House in Utrecht in the Netherlands, built in 1924 by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld. It's a striking but harmonious combination of gray, white and black with strong accents of red (on the floor) and blue (on the chair). The distribution and proportional use of these colors powerfully affects our perception of the space. It may not be your style - or mine - but it sure does make a statement.
Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior-design questions can e-mail her at the above address.