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Taking the pain out of choosing paint colors

david oliver David Oliver uses photographs to illustrate his ideas about using colors to maximum effect. Oliver, the owner of the Paint & Paper Library in London, counts Chelsea Clinton, Tony Blair, and pop diva Kylie Minogue among his clients. (Essdras M Suarez / Globe staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / December 20, 2007

David Oliver, the owner and color guru behind the Paint & Paper Library in London, makes the process of picking paint colors sound exceedingly simple.

But anyone who has pored over paint chips and wallpaper swatches in an attempt to resuscitate a tired room knows that choosing color can be an anxiety-inducing trauma on par with watching a Sandra Bullock movie. The potential for disaster seems unavoidable: There are too many options - and too many combinations that look absolutely dreadful together.

Oliver has penned "Paint and Paper: In Decoration," a gorgeous new coffee table book with images of some of the opulent interiors he has decorated, along with tips on how to achieve similar effects in your own home. The charming Australian developed his own high-end line of paints and wallpapers - with color names such as "moth" and "pelican throat." And he's been called upon by everyone from Chelsea Clinton, Tony Blair, and pop diva Kylie Minogue to decorate their homes.

Oliver, in Boston recently on a book tour, offered up some surprising advice for dealing with what he refers to as "paint-analysis paralysis."

Cut to the color. "The best way to deal with paint charts is to cut them up," Oliver says. "It's easier to cut strips or charts into individual squares of color to eliminate the options that you don't like. Just be sure you cut them in a way that the name of the color is still there."

Test your shade. "Don't just look at paint colors on a flat surface. I paint the inside of an old shoe box. That way you can see where shadows fall, or how light behaves with color in a room. Then if you're choosing with swatches of fabric, carpet, or wallpaper, you will get a better indication of how the color will interact and alter once it's up on four walls."

Paint what you wear. "People make color choices all the time - they think about it in the way they dress every day. I've always steered people toward experimenting with the colors that they're comfortable wearing. Those are going to be the colors that look good in their home."

Color is like music for your eyes. "There's a type of music called theme and variation, which is one melody played three of four different ways on different instruments. You can do the same thing with color. If there's a color that you like, you can use the same colors in different rooms by changing the texture of it. If you like terra-cotta, paint one room terra-cotta, wallpaper one room in terra-cotta, and use terra-cotta fabric or tile in another. That gives you three very different personalities while sticking to a color that you're happy and comfortable living with."

Tart up hidden spaces. "Places like the insides of cupboards or wardrobes that would otherwise be painted a shadowy tinted white are great for strong bursts of color. The inside of a cupboard could be painted a really shocking pink. It makes the whole idea of putting away the dishes much more inspiring. There are also transitional spaces in the home - like a hallway or stairwell - where you can use wallpaper or strong colors. You don't spend as much time in these places, so you're less likely to grow tired of the colors."

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