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Dont underestimate the importance of color

Color consultants share some of their expertise
by: Submitted photo Mary McMurray of Art First Colors, who designed this living room, compares color to music.

From warm and cozy to cool and calm, color makes or breaks the place we live. Imagine a crisp autumn morning or a bright summer day, then drain the color and feel the mood change. But, can you bring those feelings inside the home using color to create light, mood and space? We asked three experts for help.

Color Consultant Barbara Pierce (503-234-4167 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / cjhurley.com) doubles as marketing director for the Architectural Heritage Center. Many clients come from the Beaverton, Tigard or Lake Oswego areas and have 1970s ranches, or homes built within the past 20 years. Always aware of today's tight budgets, she asks the right questions when she helps design the perfect, affordable space.

'I start by asking how they want to feel when they're in the space,' Pierce said. 'Some people say, 'I want the place my guests come for dinner to feel warm and inviting.' Big families often want the house to feel casual and homey. They want a place their kids can play.'

Addressing different issues

Husbands' and wives' ideas may overlap. One wants the place warm and cozy and the other light and bright. Pierce suggests choosing color combinations that answer both needs or addressing different issues in different rooms.

'In the winter, light is a problem,' Pierce said. 'Some people think, if the gray winter sky is depressing, I need the lightest colors to make it bright. Cold white trim and beige walls might feel light but not inspiring. I encourage people to try a color and see how it makes them feel. I avoid suggesting specific color families. If I say 'let's use yellow,' five different clients see five different yellows. You need to find colors that suit their personality.'

Pierce compresses cathedral ceilings with dark colors or raises low ceilings with light. 'Flow is important, especially in newer homes,' she said. 'The entryway leads to a formal living room which is open to the dining area and kitchen. If people want separate spaces, we use color to encourage people to move through the house.' Pay attention to the garage, she warned. 'If you have a hectic life, how do you want to feel when you step inside?'

Along with mood and layout, Pierce considers function. For example, she finds color influences sleep. 'I had a homeowner contact us about painting her son's room,' she said. 'He needed help transitioning to bedtime. Also, in their home, kids play in their rooms. We used color on furniture and things that are at eye level for when he was playing and a darker color on the ceiling.'

Kirstin Havnaer (503-590-5339 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / hearthstonedesignllc.com) specializes in the ancient Chinese philosophy of feng shui.

'Feng shui is the practice of setting up your environment for success including how energy flows and how color is used,' she explained.

Translating that into helping clients means understanding personal preference, architecture and the amount of natural light.

'Say, the client has navy blue carpet and light blue furniture,' she said. 'I'll suggest the complement, like the red spectrum.'

Havnaer takes a 'birds-eye view' of the floor plan noting how rooms relate to the front door. Then, she divides the house into squares.

'Each area holds energy for different parts of our lives like fame, career, family and reputation,' she said. 'Each has shapes, colors and earthly elements associated with it. The element wood relates to family. We think of the force of trees and intertwining underground roots. In that area of the house, we look for blues and greens, plants or pictures of plants, and tall tree-like vertical lines. It's all about finding harmony and balance.'

'Cathedrals to mobile homes'

Finally we spoke to Mary McMurray of Art First Colors (503-287-4354 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / artfirst.net). She began her career as an interior designer for architects.

'I started to research the effect color has on people physically and psychologically,' she said. 'I've done color for everything from cathedrals to mobile homes.'

McMurray compares color to music since both create mood. And, she notes people use the word 'taste' for both color and food. She cautions clients to keep an open mind.

'Often people are surprised to find colors they like,' she said. 'I hear people say, 'I never would have thought of that color.' The room tells you what looks right. You may think you don't like red but there might be a coral or pink. That's the process of discovery.'

She also warns clients not to choose house colors based on their wardrobe. What looks good on your skin may not look good in your home.

'And, don't copy a paint color you like in someone else's home without trying out a large sample in your space,' she said. 'Every color looks different in every room.'