5 Steps to a Perfect Palette: Analyzing a Color Scheme

Confused by the kaleidoscopic choices of color as you redecorate? With just five easy steps, you can replace bewilderment with beauty.

| July/August 2005

No element of interior design is more important than color. Yet with nontoxic paints in a full range of colors, a host of natural fiber upholstery and drapery fabrics, and eco-friendly wallcoverings, the possibilities for beautiful color in the natural home are overwhelming. Fortunately, with just a little time and thought, you can find the shades and hues that are just right for your personal space.

Step 1: Train your eye.

Johannes Itten, the famed Bauhaus color theorist, reminded his students that even the naturally gifted eye requires color training. Teaching yourself to be more sensitive to varying hues requires the patience to notice details in daily life. First, seek inspiration in the natural world, beginning with your own ­surroundings—especially during a change of seasons. For in­stance, study the changing greens of spring trees from bud to new leaf to full leaf. In addition, use your usual rounds of shopping and errands as field trips for color study. See what pleases and surprises you in the supermarket produce section, the flower shop, or the antique store. Look carefully at the arrangements of apples and plums, roses and irises, old woods and metals.

Then put yourself in the hands of the color geniuses, the painters. Spend a few afternoons at the art museum. A bowl of fruit or flowers seen through the eyes of the Dutch Masters will train your memory’s eye for color. A Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot or J.M.W. Turner painting can forever change the way you look at the sky.

Step 2: Visit the paint store.

Find a paint store that sells a line of environmentally friendly paints. As you look over the array of colors, you’ll see that ­simply calling a color “blue” or “red” or “green” hardly begins to tell the story. The basic colors, or hues, actually appear in families, and the families imperceptibly shade into one another. At one end of the spectrum of blues are the deeply soothing blue-violets and periwinkles: flower colors, evening sky colors. At the other end are the jewel colors of aquamarine and turquoise with their notes of green.

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