Fitting the rainbow under the roof

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

NEW YORK

hite is light; color is bright.

In home decorating, white is the standard. It's easy, it looks clean and neat, it goes with everything. But, says interior design writer Anna Kasabian, before long, you have too much of a good thing.

White should be warm and used almost like cloud puffs to lighten a room but overuse can come off as cold or harsh.

Kasabian, author of "The New Home Color Book" (Rockport), says color -- even bold colors such as red and purple -- has a place in homes. Colors can help define space, define the activities that occur there and define the feeling one wishes to convey.

"If you respond to a color personally, you should experiment with it in your home," advises Kasabian.

Bright colors can be mood-lifters, she adds.

Even the smallest of spaces, such as the entryway of a tiny apartment, can get the color treatment.

Paint a small entry a tomato red and scatter shallow white shelves on the wall to display your prized pottery and trinkets," she suggests. "You will forget the size of the space because of its depth and character ... and because you love it."

In Kasabian's own home, the walls mostly are a butter color, she explains, and she infuses bright colors -- blues, oranges and reds -- through rugs, curtains and wall hangings.

"There are no rules! Thankfully my husband and I have the same taste," she says.

For those wary of splashing a lot of color throughout the house, an ideal place for an "introduction" is the kitchen, says Annie Sloan, the author of several books on color and interior painting, including the upcoming "Annie Sloan's Color Schemes for Every Room" (Laurel Glen).

"There's nothing better than color in the kitchen where there always seems to be a lot of white -- white appliances, a lot of lights," observes Sloan, who lives in England.

Experiment with a bright color on one wall and see if you like it, Sloan says. Build from there.

A trick that Sloan uses to make sure a room remains balanced is to close her eyes halfway, enough to filter the colors but she can still differentiate light and dark. If one overpowers the other, she knows it's time to either add or subtract color.

Another entree into the world of color that Sloan suggests is bright yellow. "The color disappears at night," she says, making it ideal for a formal dining room that is bright and cheerful during the day but can bask in the glow of candles at night.

While Sloan is a fan of color (the stairwell in her own home is painted red), she says there's no need to go to the extreme of color decorating either.

"First people are dead scared of color, then they end up with 'the red room,' 'the blue room' and 'the green room.' You can do something in between."

Sloan's advice: Blend. Coordinate. Mix it up.

And the color combinations don't have to be classic, she says, but they should be complementary. She suggests green and red, purple and yellow, and blue and orange.

"You say you hate orange, right? But you don't hate orange. You might not want an orange room but think of a bowl of oranges and how pretty it looks in a blue room," says Sloan.

It's actually easier to work with two or three colors in a room -- as long as one is bright and the others are more muted -- than it is to work with too many shades of the same color, she notes.

(The same goes for wood which comes in many shades and should be treated as a color, according to Sloan.)

Kasabian recommends starting out with one or two "stars" for each room and building the rest of the decor around them. They could be pieces of furniture or art, rugs or even picture frames.

She also urges do-it-yourself decorators to take their time finding special pieces and choosing colors that they can stand to look at every day.

"A room doesn't have to happen in a day," says Kasabian.

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