People often ask me why is it I tend to be so adept with mixing and using bold colors. Why do designer’s bold color choices look great together but when just anybody tries to do it, the results range from awful to garish? My simplest answer for how to create epic color schemes with bold colors in our modern homes today, is to study the past, specifically the work of Dorothy Draper and her protege Carleton Varney.
Recently I spent time in one of Mrs. Draper’s most famous interiors, the historic Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia. Within the halls of what was once termed, ‘America’s Resort’ one has the opportunity to be in, and study interiors employing some of the most successful interior color schemes using big bold colors.
Why is it important to be inside of these spaces? It disproves one’s preconceived fears of big bold colors, they are neither harsh or unsettling. Bold colors can make a space inviting, interesting, comfortable and surprisingly the use of big color does give people a natural tendency to smile. Consider this the next time you want to bathe an interior in beige or brown! (Brown and frown sound similar because they are.)
Let me add one very important disclaimer here, forget these interiors are of a more classical traditional style, one which most of us do not live in. These lessons for using color translate seamlessly to our modern or contemporary interiors. Exchange Mrs. Drapers’s big florals for a big modern pattern, or the glittering crystal chandeliers (the one in the lobby bar was in the movie Gone With The Wind) for contemporary sculptural LED light fixtures. Where she used large traditional paintings, you can exchange modern artwork in the same scale to achieve the same impact. Her vertical stripes are our horizontal stripes. It’s an easy leap.
The trick to making colors schemes with bold colors work is balance. Hot vibrant colors need the support of either equal hued colors or opposing colors, and equally important furnishings or architecture. Where the Greenbrier has grand architectural moldings we can substitute the use of art, statement fixtures and/or furnishings to balance the rich bold colors.
Scale is another important factor in using beefy bold colors. Everyone’s heard the saying, go big or go home, this is particularly useful when using bold color. Big colors and patterns need space. They need large space or furnishings to come alive. While this doesn’t necessarily require the room to be big, the use of a vibrant bold color needs to be big. Just a smidge will not do. Big colors look better when paired with big stuff. Look at the use of big bold stripes of color and other patterns all over at The Greenbrier. The impact and beauty of these colors would be completely lost if Mrs. Draper and subsequently Mr. Varney chose a tiny one inch stripe or a small version of the big leaf patterns. Believe it or not, the smaller patterns can feel busy and disruptive, where the huge versions feel safe and welcoming.
Balance and scale are two of the most important principles in design at any level and with every interior. When it comes to color, big bold colors, repetition is another key component to making it all work beautifully. When one looks down these expansive vistas from one colorful room to another, this repetition creates flow which translates to our feeling comfortable in an interior. The greens and coral colors repeat and beckon one to come in. Throughout the property repeating a color, shape, fabric pattern, furnishings or lighting from one room to another gives the interior familiarity which makes people comfortable.
Let’s put this another way, if something was great once, its even better when used again!
Big blue and white stripes are repeated throughout.
The resort’s signature Rhododendrons appear all over the property, live, in fabric, in rugs and in colors.
A common mistake in modern homes is when each room is a completely different color and there is no connecting parts from one space to another. We’ve become so enamored with having something new and different we forget how repeating an item or color is much grander and visually pleasing than having a lot of different things.
Another important trick when using big bold color, which appears in every one of these photos is use white, not off-white, not cream, not tan and never beige, but a crisp, perfect white.
Admittedly there is some sort of come-out-of-the-womb intuitiveness good colorists possess, and part of it is learned. Dorothy Draper was known to have said “great decorators are not trained. Great decorators are born.” This is especially accurate with the use of color. Not every person or even interior designer is skillful at color scheming with fabulous bold colors. My best tool for color is my gut, but then again my eye for color was honed in my childhood on the shores of Lake Michigan where crisp pure bold color played well and I went to Mackinaw Island only to spend time in the Carleton Varney designed interiors of another historic Grand Hotel.
For further help when creating great colors schemes for a room or home you can use a colorful patterned fabric as a guide or enlist the help of an interior designer who’s forte is color (when people hear my name they automatically associate it with color). If you can’t make it to The Greenbrier or Grand Hotel, look at interiors either online or in their many books, designed by the great Dorothy Draper and Carleton Varney.