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How to Add Playful, Purposeful Pops of Color to Your Home

Pale and pretty or bold and brash, color can imbue a home with energy and personality. Here’s how to do it right.

Photography by Meghan Beirle

Lauren Jacobsen understands the complex feelings homeowners have about color. “My clients are often afraid of color,” the Scottsdale-based interior designer says. “They have either not used it, or they have but have been unsatisfied.” Neutrals, on the other hand, feel safe. “People think, how can you mess them up?” Jacobsen says.

There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a quiet palette, in Jacobsen’s opinion. In the right hands, neutrals can be exquisite, she says. Still, color—in saturated swathes, airy pastels or somewhere in between—can add energy, interest, depth and personality to the home.

For success at introducing hues beyond neutrals to your dwelling, Jacobsen says it’s all about layering. Rather than scatter random splashes of color around the house, step back and look at your space as if it were a canvas. “When you’re painting with oil, you paint under-colors first, then you layer other colors over that,” she explains.

“Those neutrals you have decided are just too boring don’t necessarily have to go. They might make the perfect base coat for the canvas of your home.”

— Lauren Jacobsen, interior designer

Color can be scary for the nonprofessional, so Jacobsen suggests starting small. “For a lot of my clients, we take it in baby steps,” she says. Those neutrals you have decided are just too boring don’t necessarily have to go. They might make the perfect base coat for the canvas of your home.

When it comes to choosing colors, the designer looks to the architectural style and location of the house as well as to her clients’ preferences. “Sometimes I walk into the closet and look at their clothes to see what they like,” she says. A client who wears bright colors might want to bring some of those happy hues into the home.

A favorite piece of artwork might offer you clues into the colors you should choose. Jacobsen tells of one client who was convinced she wanted a home in shades of white, gray and silver. “Then she showed me a painting of hers, and it was beautiful but it was full-blown color.”

The designer suggested adding punches of the jewel tones found in the art—a living room chair outfitted in a rich merlot hue and dining chairs sporting sapphire-blue cushions—to create balance. The client loves the result, which has all the quiet glamour she envisioned, along with a dose of drama.

Greens from chartreuse to forest add a dramatic layer to the dining room’s white backdrop. Designer Lauren Jacobsen covered the chairs in four different shades of the same luxe fabric from Pindler to create ombre effect. The large photograph, “One Good Eye,” by Harold Davis, echoes the colors and enhances the drama.
Effective color layering might mean lightening up some rooms to give the eye a rest. In this mostly neutral kitchen, a sunny pop of color in the breakfast area lends interest.

Whatever colors you gravitate toward, Jacobsen suggests choosing no more than three different hues. “You don’t want to live in a gumball machine,” she says.

One of those colors should take priority, she advises. For the midcentury home of one of her clients she brought in colors from the outdoors. On the living room’s neutral backdrop of pale gray, white and cream, she superimposed blues in a variety of shades from the turquoise of the swimming pool to the azure of the sky. For a secondary color she added green in a nod to the landscape. Then she added a splash of sunny yellow here and there.

Have fun with the colors you choose, Jacobsen suggests, using a variety of shades. Red can run the gamut from rose to burgundy, for example, while greens can go from chartreuse to emerald.
How you use your palette from room to room is important, too, Jacobsen notes. “Color moves you through the flow of a house,” she says. As you bring vivid new hues into your space, pay attention to the sightlines from one room to another. Some rooms might have just a few splashes of color, while others take a bolder turn. “Sometimes neutrals are good because your eye needs to rest at points,” she says.

In the modern farmhouse-style home of one couple, Jacobsen kept the palette in the foyer to the classic white with black accents, then added a colorful runner that hints at what’s to come. “As you travel down the hallway, the rooms to each side open to a color story,” she says.

Brave homeowners might want to go it alone, but, says Jacobsen, “If you really want to embrace color, hire someone who has the skill set. It’s not just about putting in color. It’s also about scale, balance, value, tone and hue.”

Your home should tell your story, she says. “As designers, we’re always looking to create the story.”

Layers of color ground the airy living room, where the designer went bold with a graphic rug. Rust swivel chairs balance the vivid hues, while the charcoal in the rug and the sofa play off the room’s black architectural accents.



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