Cool and calm

by Diane Dorrans Saeks


Don't move, improve! Don't remodel, restyle! Those are the mantras of many homeowners today. They love their house, enjoy their garden and the neighborhood, and can't imagine moving. But color schemes and room decor feel a little dated, boring, and in need of imaginative refreshment.

Large-scale renovation may be costly, and the thought of inviting a team of contractors over to demolish walls can be daunting. Instead, the creative and independent approach to updating - and a good test of permanent change - is to restyle with accessories, and to repaint, using new color palettes. Paints, new fabrics, and the best of the season's new rugs, pillows, vases, and frames will kick off a style and color makeover.

New hues can be an encouraging small start to remodeling. Paint is a potent medium, changing rooms in unexpected and breathtaking ways. New accessories bring fresh air and life to a room. Color and accessories can be selected in a weekend, from stores such as Ace Hardware and Pier 1 Imports, and the time and cost are not a big commitment.

Painting one or two rooms and a hallway takes minimal time and money, but yields very satisfying results. Monochromatic color on walls can bring new focus to furniture that's been acquired piecemeal over the years. And simply applied paint - nothing tricky - can make rooms feel serene, soothing, and suddenly stylish. Bold new accessories such as Pier 1 Imports' Asian-inspired designs infuse rooms with new character and personality. Change is just a paint can and some new textural accessories away.

Has pared-down Modernism had its moment? Plain white walls or rooms without collections and favorite objects can feel cold and unfriendly. Just ask those who live in and love Arts and Crafts bungalows, Victorian cottages, or new Mediterranean-inspired casas. They believe "less" in design is simply that - less. Classic turn-of-the-century houses and twenties and thirties homes offer rich architectural details, handcrafting, quirky finishes, and delicious nooks and crannies that are absent from many clean-lined modern houses. So how can you bring that character to a new house or a house built in the eighties?

The most imaginative - and easy - approach to creating and enriching interior decor is to recolor the walls, restyle floors with new casual rugs, and dress windows with new window fashions. The wisest course is to create your own style, and to reject line-for-line period-style copies and colors. Injecting more personal style into twenties, fifties, or eighties rooms avoids a museum-like feeling and brings the decor into the present. A little eccentricity - an unexpected color on the walls, colorful hand-loomed rugs on bare floors, inexpensive matchstick or rattan shades on windows - can make a new or old house do new tricks. Suddenly rooms feel lighter and more welcoming.

The most modern (and time-saving) approach is to work with new, nature-inspired tones and artfully selected color palettes, like the extensive range of Ace Paints.

For the color-timid, exploring the new world of paint colors can be exciting. Pale luminous greens, spice hues, greys with a marble or stone or limestone edge, and off-white the color of moonlight or pale sand are more character-building than plain white. And the payoff is a home that feels welcoming, enriched, and full of life.

Fresh paint tips

- Paint testing is an art. Chips are helpful references in the store, but the best way to judge the effect in a room is to test paint colors on walls. Paint an area at least four or five feet square - this size will allow for a true test of the paint color and texture. It's worth investing in a one-quart, single-test can of paint to get the right color.

- Audition four or five colors on the wall with plenty of white space in between. Or paint directly onto a square of smooth plywood or drywall (some professionals recommend using large color test cardboard or paper swatches from paint stores). These portable "swatches" can also be taken on fabric and furniture shopping expeditions.

- Test paint colors on both sunny and dark walls. And note how the colors look at night: How do they appear in artificial light? Candlelight?

- Even when considering white or off-white, test several variations such as eggshell, vanilla, stone, or Ace Hardware's new nature-inspired color palette, including "Prairie Dawn" and "Snow Lake." Rich, versatile neutrals include Ace Hardware's "Timothy Seed," "Lonesome Dove", "Warm Scones," and "Snowshoe."

Classic interiors

- Be playful. Let your intuition rather than tradition direct your color selections. Go a few shades lighter to make rooms feel luminous.

- Use new accessories as theater - to set the stage. Accessories in new shapes and themes will quickly enhance seasonal moods and colors. Accessories can play a "walk-on" role for a month or two and then be switched.

- Be open-minded about color combinations. Two saturated, neutral tones such as Ace Hardware's green-grey "Seal Point" and the paler "Millbrook" create a relaxed, harmonious mood. Or contrast the subtle grey-cream "Italian Marble" with deep golden "Brown Sugar" paint. Even two tones of cream or off-white can feel livelier than an all-white room. Combine dramatic Asian-inspired ceramics and fabrics from Pier 1 Imports with soft colors from the Ace Paint selections.

- Paint finishes affect the final appearance and mood of a room. Satin, pearl, and semi-gloss paints are usually more versatile than high-gloss or fiat paints. Check with the paint experts at your hardware or paint store for the paint that's best for walls and trim materials.

- Look for updated traditional tones that are multifaceted and lively, without the heaviness and one-dimensionality of some "historic" hues. New subtle, rich colors such as Ace Hardware's golden-green "River Bank," leafy "Happy Valley," warm "Rhubarb," and grey-blue "Chesapeake" feel fresh but look appropriate in classic interiors.

- Take indoor style outdoors. Freshen a sunny patio or garden terrace with new rattan furniture, colorful pottery dinnerware, and seasonal accessories. Pier 1 Imports has a particularly broad selection of metal furniture, handpainted ceramic vases, and tabletop accessories.