Color Cocoon

Now that the holiday cheer has been boxed up and moved into storage, many rooms can feel somewhat empty and the instinct to fill them could lead to overcompensating with impulse buys and colors that could be regrettable come spring. Enveloping a room in warm colors imparts a sense of comfort and security without the buyer’s remorse.

Creamy and chocolaty hues are delicious to the eyes, nurturing to the psyche and work well with both complementary and contrasting counterpoints. Just consider beige, the perpetual go-to that conforms to virtually any design. Its tonal quality is what makes this family of colors practical—it’s hard to get earth tones to clash. But the risk is the room can come off feeling too safe and—dare we say it—a little dull. The key is to amp up the other elements in the space to provide contrast, texture and dimension within the tones.

There are two basic approaches to room design. Slather the walls with a rich, saturated color then keep furnishings quietly neutral or keep the vertical surfaces middle-of-the-road and allow fabrics and furniture to make a statement. Either way works because each draws contrast and infuses texture and light into a space, generating visual interest.

Homeowners tend to play it safe with wall colors because they are usually the largest painted surfaces in the room. For instance, an expansive wall in a deeper tone such as Sherwin Williams’ Chamois or Farrow & Ball’s London Clay can feel heavy without other design elements to brighten things up. This decorating challenge becomes an opportunity to give a room its personality without dousing the walls with bold splashes of color


“My design aesthetic is about monochromatic colors layered with rich opulent materials,” said Mindy Miles Greenberg of Encore Décor Interior Design & Renovation in Great Neck.

“And using warm neutrals is my way of creating a relaxing environment. I prefer when the colors on the walls, moldings and ceiling are ever so slightly different in saturation. This makes for a serene space to retire to at the end of a hectic day.” Greenberg also tiers materials to create her trademark look. “I layer accessories by mixing leather, soft wools, weathered woods and subtle burnished metal tones for a low-key elegance.”

Up for something a little more dashing? Colorful abstract artwork or dramatic photography of sweeping views held in shiny metal frames can break up a subtle sand-colored wall. A large floor vase or garden stool glazed in a brilliant jewel tone, like ruby red or cool aquamarine, adds structure and color. Conversely, a bright yellow lacquered accent table draws attention to a form guests can interact with, yet is easy and affordable enough to change with the seasons or move around the house.

There are softer approaches to sparking quiet walls and one way is introducing contrast through color, pattern or texture. “I usually find a feature wall and make that a little different with paint, Venetian plaster or wallpaper,” said Greenberg.

Pauline Noel of Debra Designs in Hempstead turns to other materials to add texture to a neutral space. “I would cover a column with stacked stone, use mosaic glass tile for a kitchen backsplash or in a shower stall, or select metal artwork to add dimension to a solid wall.”

Contrast can be tactile and visual. Pair items that attract and entice, like draping a soft, sumptuous throw over a tufted leather ottoman or upholstering a sofa in dreamy velvet and covering that with silky pillows. Create an unexpected combination of finishes by placing a carved driftwood console against a deep-hued wall with glossy painted moldings. For those reluctant to make bold gestures with color, these juxtapositions keep earth-toned rooms interesting and sophisticated.


Noel uses contrasting colors to balance a warm-toned room. “There are the muted neutrals like taupe, sand and stone that can be cooled off with amethyst, indigo blue or teal. Or, other warm hues that are highly saturated like burnt orange or fuchsia that feel bright and cheery and can be used in the accessories,” she said. Greenberg favors the historical collection of colors from Benjamin Moore paints. “I often use a combination of my favorite shades which will always work together,” she said. “Warm browns are my go-to colors, even if you want a space to be distinctly unique, including Benjamin Moore Twilight Gold and Blonde Wood.”

There is a myth to dispel about paint colors. They can’t all be chosen from the graduated tones found on one strip of the paint fan or even by the name given to the color. Paints are not organized on a fan deck in a way that works well together on a wall. The strip is meant to be a family of colors presented from light to dark. Two colors found on one strip are simply diff erent saturations of the same color, but will not necessarily accent or contrast the other. Greenberg pointed out, “It takes a trained eye to select multiple colors and create a harmonious fl ow from room to room.”

A good lighting plan also figures prominently in a neutral-hued room. “Creating a mood with subtle walls illuminated by a sexy glow from dim accent lighting creates an instant calm,” Greenberg said. In a kitchen, where quieter tiles are often used for a backsplash, under-cabinet lighting can wash the surface with a gentle glow, highlighting the masonry’s texture without screaming for attention. “Lighting is key when you have a warm palette to avoid having the space seem dark and drab,” said Noel. “You need the various types of lighting—task, direct and decorative. And candles also add a lot to the ambiance of a warm palette.”

These simple tips will help take a room with warm, solid colored walls from dull to dazzling.

Create contrast by using one or two accent colors on rugs, pillows, window treatments and accessories to create contrast with a neutral wall.

Incorporate texture by adding a variety of materials and finishes within a room of similar wall color. Combinations of woods, rattan and metal in the furniture; pairing cozy and silky fabrics with upholstery and accent pillows; and mixing glass, metal, ceramic and wood within the accessories adds depth and encourages the eye to move about the room.

Layer on patterns on area rugs, wallpaper on a focal wall, upholstery on a chair or ottoman, window fabrics or accessories including pillows and throws.

Furnish with finesse. When the wall colors are safe, play it a little riskier with the furniture. Choose an unusual statement piece, like a modern chair with chrome legs or an eye-catching mirrored cocktail table.

Accessorize by collecting and placing interesting items throughout the room that echo the accent palette and provide a shot of color, texture or shine.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.