Everyone Loves a Complement

When it comes to color, it’s all about working together.

By Jessica Voelker August 19, 2010 Published in the September 2010 issue of Seattle Met

So happy together Color consultants know how a palette of colors will feel well before the paint hits the wall. “It’s the science of light,” says Emily Lauderback.

WHEN COLOR CONSULTANT Emily Lauderback ( walked, for the first time, into the newly painted interior of her home, she felt sick to her stomach. The traditional arts and crafts colors she had picked so painstakingly were all wrong—a deep azure in the dining room appeared saturated and “zingy,” the kitchen’s neutral gold looked brassy and garish. Then the painters removed the bright blue tape they’d stuck around all the windows and the trim, and Lauderback had a second look. The colors were perfect.

“We perceive colors in relation to one another,” says Lauderback, who taught elementary math before switching to design seven years ago. “I can take any color and make it look awful, or I can make it look beautiful. It’s a matter of relationships.” The tricky part is making sure those relationships work. Here are a few tips to keeping things complementary.

Get moody When it comes time to repaint a room, most people start with a color—red, blue, green—but that’s not very useful once they hit the paint store and start sorting through endless swatches. Former techie Kathy Banak owns a Seattle-based design business and a line of VOC-free paints called Authentic Home ( Rather than start with a particular color, Banak encourages clients to think in terms of mood. Are you looking to live in a serene getaway, or a playful place where kids can get creative? Once you’ve settled upon a mood, you can look for exact shades to help you achieve it.

Follow the lines Look to your home’s architecture to give you clues on color, says Lauderback. When there is no molding separating walls from ceiling, paint them the same shade to mimic that surrounded (in a good way!) feeling of being outdoors under the sky. And while painting an accent wall can brighten a room without overwhelming it, remember that “accent” refers to a wall that is architecturally distinct from the others. A square room with one colorful wall feels disjointed and cramped.

Work with what you’ve got A home that flows from room to room, says Banak, has a distinct palette—10 to 20 colors that repeat throughout. To establish a palette, look for elements in each room that won’t change. Sofas, rugs, tiles, paintings, and kitchen cabinets can all serve to anchor your color scheme. When determining whether a paint color will work in your palette, slapping it up on the wall is pointless, says Lauderback. Instead, hold the swatch up against your cabinet or tile and take a good, long look. You’re going to be living with that color for a long time, so be sure it feels right before you commit.

Filed under
Show Comments