Breaking down color

I know most people look at my colorful design work and think, “Does she even use neutral colors?” In fact I use neutrals all the time as the backdrop and major choice for large areas in many rooms.

If you take a look at the room above, the first reaction is, “WOW! Lots of color,” but if you break the room down by piece you will see the overall room is neutral and textural. The fireplace and focal wall are a mocha brown, the sofa is a gray, and the Barcelona chairs are good old beige. The rug is a soft coral, and the wing chair is a soft blue—all reading as very neutral. The impact and color really comes from a few key pieces: the yellow ottoman and polka dot pillows, along with the Ikat drapery and the few colorful accessories.

The key to color is making it have some continuity and balance through the space. If you take another look at this room you can see the aqua blue in the horses on the mantle connect to the blue in the drapery, throw pillow, wing chair and green Chinese statue on the floor. The yellow ottoman also connects to the polka dot throw pillow and Ikat drapery. There is no perfect matchy-matchy color (which you would never want) but various tones of the same shades of color. If there is a good balance of color around the room then it will feel cohesive.

This is another example of a room that feels very bold and colorful but broken down is mainly a neutral room with lots of pattern. The boldness of color comes from the magnificent artwork. The soft persimmon color is spread throughout the room in the drapery, pillows and a few accessories. The color does not compete with the artwork but really only adds depth to the space while still feeling neutral. If you can imagine a strong turquoise blue or bold orange in this space next to the strong artwork it would never feel like a room you would want to spend time in.

Now here’s a question for you: How do you see this room, below?

—Ana Donohue