Sally Wilson: Live a Colorful Life!

March 1, 2011

I find that people love color. Most people are afraid of how to use it. They have their favorite colors, and they usually have one or two that they tell me are their least favorite.

Nature is full of great examples of beautiful things that use color in unexpected ways. Recently I was walking in a park, near a pond full of wintering mallard ducks. The males have such beautiful green heads that shine with iridescence in the sun. I immediately thought of dark green taffeta.

All bird photos courtesy of Google

I also thought of all the color schemes that could inspire you by looking at the coloration of birds!

Nature is a great guide for us, especially for those who are not in the design arena and would like to be more comfortable in this world. I like to guide clients to look not for exact matches, but for complements–colors and shades that like to live comfortably alongside each other. Sometimes I talk to clients about a black-and-white photograph: if all the colors in that black-and-white photograph were exactly the same, then we would see a very flat photo, lacking interest and that special pizzazz. Creating a special interior, with thoughtfully used color, is a bit like composing a great black-and-white photograph. The tonal variations add interest and life.

If you’re afraid to approach color, just look at these birds and gain confidence. Birds can be our inspiration for a new “no fear†approach to color.

Let’s start with one of the most no-fear-of-color birds, the painted bunting. Violet-blue, rusty-orange, chartreuse green… face it, when your interior designer speaks these words to you–all concerning one room–you pale, thinking you have hired the wrong designer, and ask for something more sedate. But look at this proud bird! It gives you confidence just knowing that such a creature exists in this world. At least it gives me confidence.


We recently designed a small room using similar colors. Purple as a stain on maple paneling, rusty-orange-red for the sofa and green and yellow on the upholstery. It made a dynamic statement. This is our city-style condo in the suburbs we did last year for the Wenham Museum Design Show. We subtitled it our “no fear approach to color.†If only I had known about the painted bunting beforehand, I could have given him credit.

Design by Wilson Kelsey Design; photo by Eric Roth

I absolutely adore how this hummingbird shows how a neutral scheme of grey can be punched into perfection by that dash of magenta! I see grey flannel sofas and magenta pillows, with soft neutral walls. It absolutely invites you in! If you’re more adventurous, you could try pale, soft green walls. See that blurred green behind his wings? Pale, pale, olive green, with grey flannel and magenta!

Here, in this room by famous designer John Saladino, you see hot pinks and soft neutrals.

Design by John Saladino; from “Style by Saladino”

Do you see the bright specks of color around this hummingbird’s neck? I just love how the magenta and orange set off the neutral scheme of brown and white. Did anyone fear using magenta and orange together before? (I mean besides the Pucci prints of the 1960s.) This is how to use brown and white and give it the punch that it needs for excitement. White walls, brown sofas, toss pillows in magenta and orange!

Or, for example, this dining room with white, brown, magenta and orange.

From Architectural Digest (October 2010); design by Ike Kligerman Barkley, photo by Peter Aaron/Esto

This tranquil looking ringed plover shows exquisitely how a calm brown-and-white scheme works.

We have seen many brown-and-white color schemes in magazines over the past several years. Well grounded in nature, it speaks of calm and order. If tranquility is what you seek, it is well represented in nature. Think sand dunes.

From Veranda (March 2011); design by Jan Showers, photo by Stephen Karlisch

Don’t you love penguins? Who doesn’t? There is something about their elegant simplicity that just mesmerizes me. I adore black and white. John and I did a black-and-white kitchen more than twenty years ago and still love it today. Black and white speaks of elegance, balance and minimalism all at the same time.

Here is a foyer that we did recently in Prides Crossing where the black-and-white floor adds the same elegance to the home that the dinner jacket of the penguin seems to add. Doesn’t he seem “dressed for dinner?â€Â  Brideshead Revisited visits again.

Design by Wilson Kelsey Design; photo by Michael J. Lee

Black and white with just a touch of vibrant color can be very effective. See how the basics of black and white are enlivened by this dash of red. Very daring, very sexy. I love a dash of lipstick red with the monochromatic of black and white.

From Veranda (January/February 2011); design by Richard Hallberg, photo by Max Kim-Bee

The red-bellied woodpecker illustrates this well.

Now here is bright, with a bit of restraint;brown or black, a touch of white and a dash of yellow! A “lesser†bird of paradise–although I can’t see anything lesser about him myself.

Look at how this can be interpreted in this room–so elegant, so restrained and yet so different from the average. Put yourself out there and experiment! This color combination makes a fabulous room!

From Veranda (October 2010); design by Richard Hallberg, photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna

Isn’t this lady amethyst pheasant fabulous? There is every color you could love here! The balance of the white makes all the other colors come into line and behave. Take your lesson: a white sofa with numerous toss pillows of lime, yellow and red! If you get tired of it (believe me, the pheasant doesn’t), just change out the pillows. Or a red sofa with toss pillows of lime, turquoise and yellow, with white walls. Now that’s daring. Go for it! Have fun!

I have many other topics on color that I can’t cover here. We’ll talk about them in our Wilson Kelsey Design blog and you can visit us there for more ideas.

–Sally Wilson
John Kelsey and Sally Wilson own the award-winning interior design firm, Wilson Kelsey Design. John’s primary area of expertise is in interior architectural design, detailing and space planning; Sally’s interior design work showcases her sense of color and ability to successfully combine patterns and textures. You can follow them on their blog as well as Twitter and Facebook.

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