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Decorating with Blue

Body+Soul, Volume 4 September 2005

Ask "What's your favorite color?" and about 60 percent of us will say blue. One reason for this is all the associations we have with it: To be blue is to be loyal and steady, top-notch, peaceful, powerful, cool -- even to have a romantic hint of melancholy. Some people shy away from using blue in their homes, or confine it to certain types of rooms. The thought among decorators is that blue is restful, good for quiet contemplation, but that it must be used carefully -- too much can be "too cold." In reality, its multitude of shades and different associations make blue particularly versatile. Contrast it with warmer colors, and blue can become the background for a vibrant environment.

Dos for Blues
1. If you live in a cool climate or have a north-facing room, try a warmer blue like periwinkle, which has a red undertone.

2. If you are drawn to the comfort and peace of blue but are prone to feeling down, try adding warm-color accessories.

3. Follow the Scandinavians' lead for warming blue up. They frequently use blue but pair it with a warmer-toned wood, like a yellow-toned oak floor.

4. If you want an area for reading, relaxing, or meditating, you might try a deeper or smokier shade of blue.

5. For a home office where you're on the phone a lot, or a room where you're entertaining others -- communicating and socializing -- try using lighter, brighter shades of blue.

6. Keep in mind the quality of light where you live. "A bright color in a duller climate with more diffuse light will look even brighter," says Ethel Rompilla, author of Color for Interior Design. In other words, the bright aquamarine that looked fabulous in South Beach may end up looking garish in Maine.

Color Combining Tips
Look around just about anywhere and you can see the results of combining blues and other warmer colors, from a gorgeous Turkish tapestry with bits of terra cotta and gold interwoven with royal blue, to a Caribbean scene where the cerulean blue sea is offset with pale sand and peach-colored coral. At home, you can use paint, artwork, or other decor to balance blue's cool tones with other colors. Here are a few combinations to try:

Cobalt Blue orange, burnt sienna, sunny yellow, or leaf green

Pale Sapphire pale yellow, pale orange, pale green, or pale lavender

Slate Blue burgundy, bright golden yellow, muted orange, or darker wood tones like mahogany

Periwinkle pale bright yellow, white, rose pink, or fuschia

Aquamarine sand color, lavender, pale yellow, pale green, or pale pink

If you'd like a little more guidance, interior designer and color expert Elaine Ryan, author of Color Your Life, has created an acclaimed do-it-at-home system of color combinations. Her Color Bars Color Matching System is a set of 32 color flash cards that can be used together in any combination. Flip the cards over and there's another set of 32 colors that fit together similarly.