Home & Garden

Give Namby-Pamby Neutrals the Color-Punch of Black

By Rose Bennett Gilbert, CNS

Q: I have always liked living with calm, neutral colors, but lately, I’ve decided all that beige may just be too bland. Without getting all new furniture (not the year for that!), what can I do to punch up my color scheme (taupe, cream, and beige-beige-beige)?

A: Contrast. It’s an eight-letter word for adding zest to a color scheme.
See what we mean in the up-market pictured sitting room. New York designer William Sofield casts a golden glow over his Greenwich Village pied-a-terre with a palette of mostly neutrals. It’s the exceptions — the black armchair, strong artwork and deep-toned wood furniture — that give the space its visual energy. And without ruffling the overall calm and luxury feeling, those draperies are made of cashmere, the better to ward off the winter chills, says the designer.

“Real glamour is rooted in practicality,” Sofield told Michael Lassell, author of “Glamour: Making It Modern,” the new book published by Filipacchi, from which we borrowed this photo.

Sofield’s touches of gold on accessories like the drapery rods, candlesticks and mirror don’t downplay the glamour. But all that glitters does not visual interest make: hence those strokes of black for gravitas. You can easily follow the design pro’s lead without jettisoning your current furniture. Add dark-toned decorative pillows to a beige sofa. Change white picture mats for black ones. Paint the inside back of a bookcase charcoal gray … you get the idea.

While we’re on the subject of neutral color scheme, listen to the advice of The Trend Curve, a marketing group that tracks the latest in decorating ideas. They identify four categories of neutrals you should consider:

1. “Whisper-Light Pales” — from cream to muted olive to a purple so faint it may look brown or pink

2. “Pliable Mid-tones” — think of the variations in a bouquet of dried multicolored roses

3. “Metamorphic Mid-Values” — greenish browns and grays with splashes of mauve, beige and deep blues

4. “True Deeps” — tones you might find on a dense forest floor: greens, browns, grays and the blues of evergreen needles, accented with golden moss and light mineral tones

A far cry from your same-old beige, yes? Who says neutrals are boring?

Q: Our neighbors added a great room to their home, which practically sits on the property line. It has big windows all around, so they can look into our living room. We put up blinds, but I hate having them closed all the time. What else can you suggest that will let in the light but give us a little privacy?

A: Do it with mirrors. There are window films that let you see out but not vice versa. One version turns the outside glass into a mirrored surface that also reflects heat and glare, more good reasons to consider window film (sources include Vista, 3M, and Sears).

Uncle Sam is even offering up to $1,500 tax credits for making your windows energy-efficient (windowfilmtaxcredit.com).

Remember what designer Sofield said about real glamour being rooted in practicality?

You might also consider something more decorative. Wallpaperforwindows.com and Brewster Home Fashions (800-366-1700) make appliques that look like stained or beveled glass when you press them onto your plain old windows.

PHOTO CUTLINE: Dark accents add life to a calm, cool and luxurious townhouse sitting room. Photo by Laura Resen, courtesy of Filipacchi Publishing.

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