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Design Advice: Baby Steps for Colour-Phobes

“Life is too short to be lived in a beige box” — Calgary designer (and colourphile) David Crosson

Pillows are the perfect entry point for your adventure in colour. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)
Pillows are the perfect entry point for your adventure in colour. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)

Attention grey, white and beige lovers. It turns out that for the most part, it’s not you, it’s where you live that’s producing that signature West Coast affinity for neutral palettes.

The light on the Coast isn’t the same as it is in Miami, so colour actually looks different to Vancouverites and Islanders (and it’s sometimes scary). To find out how West Coasters can work with this geographical predilection and successfully incorporate colour into the home, we spoke to Calgary interior designer David Crosson of Barbarian Interior Decoration Ltd.

Are the majority of people on the West Coast afraid of colour?

“I don’t think it’s fear so much as seeing colour differently; people will react to colour in varying ways when geography plays a role and that’s largely due to the quality of the light. The light on the Coast is quite diffused and slightly greyed down, so bolder colour can appear somewhat jarring—hence the preponderance of beach palettes: sand, sky and water, but all on a muted level. A lot of people wisely defer to the view outside rather than trying to compete indoors. In a place like Calgary, where the light is clear and fairly constant, brighter hues tend to ‘blow out’ a bit so you can amp up the saturation a bit more.”

Is there good reason to be afraid?

“Regardless of where people live, I will say adults tend to shy away from colour—even if they love it—for fear of ‘getting it wrong.’ This is, of course, the reverse of how we react as children, embracing and using it with abandon.”

Cut flowers add a pop of pink to an otherwise neutral bathroom—a safe experiment for any colour-phobe. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)
Cut flowers add a pop of pink to an otherwise neutral bathroom—a safe experiment for any colour-phobe. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)

How can people incorporate more colour into the home?

“I love fabric as an avenue of expression because it can give you a delightful palette in one gesture, with various dominant and recessive colours. Pillow covers are great for this, but I also like a really divine, vibrant rug underfoot. If you wrap the rest of the room in neutrals a good rug will hold its own. Cut flowers—in anything other than white—are a fresh way to bring life and vibrancy to a space without major commitment. And I have yet to see Mother Nature get it wrong!”

How do you know you’ve gone too far?

“I think if you love something you can never go too far. However, if you feel something is pulling too much focus in a space or making you feel anything but happy—or calm—then you might want to step back and re-examine. If it’s just a matter of the neighbours or guests not liking it then don’t invite them back…”

What’s a safe baby step or half-measure for extreme colour-phobes?

“For a baby step I’d say select one objet that speaks to you and, if possible, buy it in the brightest colour available. Painting the inside of closets is also fantastic for making a bold statement without going crazy in a widely used room. As far as half-measures go you can always grey a colour choice down to a tone, which tends to be more livable anyway. Mind you, being a colourphile, both these notions have a ring of blasphemy about them!”

Love emerald green? Embrace it on a feature wall and don't look back. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)
Love emerald green? Embrace it on a feature wall and don’t look back. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)

What colours would you recommend for right now? 

“Warm greys seem to have some currency right now and people are still embracing that whole inky blue thing. As far as next year goes I’m expecting to see more ’80s fashion colours come to the fore: plummy purples, deep Dijon yellows and bottle greens.”

Should colours change with the seasons and trends? 

“I’m a fan of having, say, winter and summer slipcovers, rugs and drapery in play, but I find a lot of people lack the engagement to really flip a room regularly. Everyone is so busy these days I think reversible pillows are all they want to invest their time in. As for trends, I think if a trend colour resonates with you then perhaps you incorporate a piece or two in it, but if it’s not your thing it’s the décor equivalent of being a fashion victim. You should just focus on what makes you happy, whether it’s ‘in’ or ‘out.'”

Looking for an easy and affordable way to bring in a little colour? Crosson recommends colourful art pieces over a more tedious paint job. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)
Looking for an easy way to bring in a little colour? Crosson recommends colourful art pieces over a more tedious paint job. (Photo courtesy David Crosson.)

What are the easiest ways to incorporate colour?

“Clearly paint fits the bill here, both from an ease and affordability perspective. That said, can you imagine having to re-paint a whole house because you can’t get along with the colour? Art is, to me, the easiest way as it is a joyful investment that often delivers on the colour front and doesn’t have to ‘go’ with anything.”

What’s the most affordable way to incorporate colour?

“Again, I think fresh flowers are a must, but even little things like coloured candles, interesting crockery from Chinatown, bright picture frames, or cool, inexpensive prints from somewhere like Society6 can deliver maximum dividends on a very minimal investment.

What’s your colour splurge item?

“I always invest in good fabric—provided it’s not flavour of the week—and also indulge heavily in beautiful books. I strip the dust jackets off and colour-block them on the shelves and they look fantastic. Naturally, though, their primary purpose is not to be decorative.”

Any mantra you want people to remember?

“Life is too short to be lived in a beige box.”

 

More Tips from David Crosson

Be sure to catch the Calgary designer in person at the Calgary Home + Design Show Sunday, September 20th at 1 p.m. MT.

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