How to Be Bold With Color

By Molly McConn
mint kitchen

It’s one thing to experiment with wearing “the color of the season” when it comes to wardrobe decisions… but dressing our homes with color undoubtedly requires a more long-term commitment strategy. To help guide us on making bold color decisions in our living spaces, we consulted Austin-based interior designer Meredith Ellis for expert tips on how to tastefully incorporate color into our homes — without regret. When designing for her clients, she believes that color, like texture and pattern, provides an opportunity to add visual interest to any room. Here she shares her go-to paint shades as well as trends she stands behind and an up-close look at how she strikes the perfect color balance in her own home. Click through for all the colorful details!

photography by Amy Bartlam

For big spaces (like walls and cabinetry), how do you pick a direction colorwise?

First, I always take into consideration the architecture and design as a whole. Colors have to make sense and work with the rest of the house.

Second, I consider my client. What are their desires and personality? Are they conservative and looking to play it safe with white or taupe? Or are they adventurous and up for something sharp like a dark glossy green or pale celadon mint?

And finally, I consider their lifestyle. Are they young professionals who want something simple and streamlined? Or do they have kids where low maintenance and durability is key? Whatever the choice, it has to work for them.

Once I answer all those questions, I pick colors that are current and look great, not something that is a passing fad. Repainting cabinetry is expensive so you have to get it right the first time.

Any tips for visualizing what a paint swatch will look like when covering the walls of your entire space?

Always look at swatches in natural light. Go up to a window or even outside if you have to.

What are your rules for testing and buying paint? 

Always try before you buy. I usually buy a small pint and paint it on a board and move it around the room. Or if I can, I paint large swatches in different areas of the room…by doors, by windows, and in shadows…and live with the color for at least 24 hours.

Colors change as the light changes. You need to see it at every time of the day including night.

Do you have any favorite brands or go-to colors? 

I primarily use Farrow and Ball or Benjamin Moore. I trust their colors, and know the quality of paint is good so that the paint looks rich.

My foolproof go-to shade is Vale Mist from Benjamin Moore for the bedroom. It’s the perfect soft gray green and works with just about any color. I also love Hague blue from Farrow and Ball. I’ve used it as a glossy trim in a powder room and children’s bedrooms. It’s the perfect dark navy without looking nautical.

For bathroom and kitchen walls, I tend to use an eggshell because it provides an easy clean up.

I will usually use flat paint on walls to facilitate an easy touch up unless it’s a more formal home. Then I sometimes use eggshell because it has a slight sheen. For trim, doors, or cabinetry it’s generally good to use a semi or high gloss paint so it’s wipeable and looks finished.

How many bright “pop” colors do you like to incorporate into a room?

I don’t think there is a magic number. It’s what feels right. You know when a room is missing something, and you know when something is over-done. It’s about finding a balance.

What are few do’s and don’ts for using color in a space?

I am not a big fan of accent walls. I think if you’re going to paint, commit to the whole room. Otherwise, it looks too patchy and not cohesive.

Also, take into account how you use a space. I would warn against painting a bedroom a bright harsh color like red. You’ll lose sleep. Bedrooms should be calm and cozy. Powder rooms are great places to be adventurous.

Meredith’s home full of color is filled by her adorable family of four! Big thanks to Meredith for helping us out with all our color conundrums, and be sure to check out Meredith Ellis Designs in New York featured in Sotheby’s Second Annual Designer Showhouse this April.