Time for a Little Color


By Sue Pipal

Black, white, and grey have been the dominating colors in interiors for the past 10 years. Why? Maybe it started with the recession and a desire to simplify. Perhaps the mood of the times just wanted clean, quiet, and straightforward spaces. Plus, the comfort of a white kitchen could counterbalance the way the pandemic kept us feeling threatened from the outside.

Even in the mountains, this neutral color trend has taken over. Tour through new construction projects from the last five years in Martis Camp, Schaffer’s Mill, and Grey’s Crossing and you will find that this color palette is dominating in Tahoe’s contemporary building projects. In fact, for many folks, black, white, and grey are still going strong. That is perfectly fine. These colors are timeless. 

There is, however, increasing interest in adding color back into our lives. If you’re pining for just a little pop but perhaps not yet ready for a complete color do-over, there are simple, affordable steps you can take to waken and freshen your interiors with a little somethin’-somethin’.

BLUE POP: Painting a cabinet is one way to add a little color into a grey interior. Photo by Bedrosians Tile Showroom

Blues & Greens

Which colors look nice with interiors that already use a lot of black, white, and grey? First to consider are three colors that are commonly used by designers as hints of color in basically colorless interiors. These are dark blue, aqua/sea green, and deep bottle green. I see these as an extension of clean, calm, and simple, and because they mimic our forests, lakes, and intense sky, they work beautifully to bring the great Tahoe outdoors inside our homes. You can add them into neutral decor without disrupting the overall emotion of the interior. Also, importantly, because they are trending, these colors are readily available in current wallpapers, tile, stock cabinetry, fabrics, home furnishings, and accessories, which makes it easy for you to shop for handy updates to refresh your interior. 

Bright Colors or Softer Colors

There are a number of bright colors that look great as pops against neutral interiors, providing exciting contrasts: intense yellows such as citrus, mustard gold, or strong, sunshine yellow can do this. Orange and acid green add a vibrant shock that some will find energizing and fun, and a strong red can also be used in this way (we’ll talk more about red later). Cool, clear greys are a great background to show off these clear, strong colors.

There are also muted, sophisticated colors that can mix in with greys to enhance beauty and elegance. Soft rusty tones, earthy greens, slatey blues, and golds look rich and calming on a grey background. With this group, the more the merrier. You can add any number of them into a single room. And if the greys in your home are already muted, warm, and earthy, these are an excellent choice. 

How do you go about using these colors? First of all, it’s important that you don’t just add a color once and stop there. You’ll need to think about distributing them throughout your rooms. I like to add a color into a room at least three ways so that it makes sense to the eye. And you’ll want to make sure you balance placement around the room so that the pieces don’t all land in one corner; distribute them evenly throughout the space. For example, if you choose dark blue, you might paint your kitchen island that color. Then, be sure to repeat the same blue in some new toss pillows on your grey sectional. Finally, you might wallpaper a feature wall in your entry with the same blue. You can take this a little further and add in some blue accessories or area rugs, and you’re done. The expense and effort are relatively low but the impact is high. 

If you love a bright, contrast fun color, you might look at mixing in some bold, exciting fabrics. Use these for pillows on the sofa, and if the budget permits, curtains, Roman shades, lampshades, and wallpaper are all ways you can add color effectively. In other parts of the house, think about new towels and a new shower curtain, Euro shams, or a reupholstered headboard. Add in a few pieces of bright, contemporary pottery and a lacquered mirror, and you’ve got it! 

GO BLUE: Distribute color throughout a room at least three times, like the blue in the floor tiles, towels, and vanity in this bathroom. Photo by Bedrosians Showroom

For subtle, muted colors, rather than selecting just one, you might use several together, especially if you need some upholstery upgrades; they go together so beautifully. For example, you might upholster two lounge chairs in a nubby, woven, muted, soft rust fabric. Then, you might replace your coffee table with a big, overscale upholstered ottoman in a gentle gold. You could think about hanging curtains in a muted slate blue and repeat that blue in an elegant grass cloth in the entry. Finally, how about some new lamps or shades in a subtle mossy green? All these colors would need to be kept quiet, soft, and muted for this to work. Texture is everything here and you should look for nubby, hand woven, and tactile. Here in the mountains, the more rustic the texture, the more luxe the result.


Finally, red is a color with a lot of history in mountain homes and cabins. But how do we make it contemporary to harmonize with our modern grey interior? Start by adding in black, red, and grey Navajo blanket fabrics. Navajo patterns manage to be so graphic that they have a contemporary feel yet also are a nod to historical mountain and cabin interiors. If you have the budget, there are gorgeous authentic vintage weavings out there. Hang them on the back of the sofa, over the banister, or frame them in Lucite and use them as artwork. Their size and pattern scale will add large graphic statements to any room. Now add just a little more red to your rooms — paint a vanity. Add an elegant red grass cloth to your entry. Perhaps toss in some red and white animal print in small doses. Try a giant red lacquer bowl on your kitchen island.

Select the color that best appeals to your soul and get started. The color you love is just waiting to be discovered in your regular shopping and travels. Make it fun and collect accessories when the inspiration strikes. Don’t rush to do this all at once; the best interiors develop over time. 

When you have chosen your color, you’ll see it everywhere. Be selective and add in only what you love. Start with some handmade pottery bowls from an art fair and fresh bathroom towels. Keep going, and before you know it your home will go from grey and bland to grey and glam! Adding your favorite color will help create everyday beauty and personal meaning in your life. 

~ Sue Pipal has been an interior designer in the Lake Tahoe area for 25 years. She is the owner of Dragonfly Designs as well as tahoedreaminteriors.com. For help with adding color to your home, or for any other design questions, email spipal@att.net.


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