Text by Elizabeth Czapski
There’s no denying that in recent years, color has eclipsed the previously neutral palettes of well-designed interiors, and this trend seems to be picking up pace. After the exuberant spectrum of Pantone’s Autumn/Winter 2022/2023 report and the announcement of the company’s 2023 color of the year, Viva Magenta, vibrant colorways continue to be on everyone’s radar as we roll into spring. While bringing bright, bold hues to your cottage schemes can certainly sound like fun, decorating with color can be a bit trickier to pull off than working with more forgiving muted tones. To help you get started in your own home, we’ve rounded up expert tips from some of our favorite designers who adeptly wield a kaleidoscopic wand through a wide range of spaces, achieving a delicate, dynamic balance of colorful yet classic style.
Bria Hammel of Bria Hammel Interiors
Minnesota-based Bria Hammel says mixing colors, textures, and patterns is something she and her team love to incorporate in any project they do. “This is one of our favorite things to do when we are designing furnishings and truly why our clients come to us,” she says. “We feel it’s what makes a space a conversation-starter and truly unique. for us, it’s all about creating balance. By mixing cool and warm colors, soft and rough textures, new and vintage pieces, and light and dark tones, a room feels complete and lived in.”
But decorating with color doesn’t always have to be loud or make a statement. You can also use color to imbue a sense of tranquility—something Bria says blue and green do well, as showcased in this 1990s cottage-style home makeover. “Our clients were not afraid of color, so we really played that up in this space,” she says. “We love the coolness of a green-blue color palette. It makes a room immediately feel calm and peaceful. But we always like to balance it out with a bit of warmth—[like] darker wood accents [or] leather details—to give the space that lived-in, welcoming feeling.”
“We feel it’s what makes a space a conversation-starter and truly unique. for us, it’s all about creating balance.”
Ken Stückenschneider of Stückenschneider Decoration & Design
Designer Ken Stückenschneider always begins his creative process by looking at a home’s natural light—and then makes his color selections based on what will enhance that light. This technique served as a guiding force when decorating his own St. Louis, Missouri, cottage. “The color palette is meant to bounce off and play off the light, so I looked at Swedish, Scandinavian color palettes to get more light reflectivity and to increase the scale of the rooms, because they’re quite small,” he says. “A lighter color palette will allow the rooms to feel bigger.”
Ken chose his 1920s painted brick bungalow for its pristine natural light and stunning views of the surrounding historic neighborhood, and he painted the walls a creamy yellow tone to amplify both features while also visually enlarging the rooms. “Light and the views outside always determine how I decorate a room,” he says. “You have to connect the interior with the exterior views.”
“I looked at Swedish, Scandinavian color palettes to get more light reflectivity and to increase the scale of the rooms.”
Kim Armstrong of Kim Armstrong Interior Design
Kim Armstrong, based in North Texas, is a self-proclaimed enthusiast of colorful, eclectic interiors, and while it takes practice to master such a style, she has a few rules of thumb that help direct her distinctive designs. “Start with your inspiration,” she says. “I love it when it has multiple colors, [so there’s a] good chance to pull different elements. Pairing organic and geometric shapes helps create a visual balance. Change up the scale. Keep going back to the inspiration for your storyboard of selections, and pull colors from your inspiration.”
She also recommends using a spectrum of shades from one base color. “A lot of people think you have to go ‘matchy-matchy,’ but if there’s blue, blue blends and works beautifully with so many differing shades of blue,” Kim says. “You don’t have to be consistent with one exact shade; I actually think it adds more interest when you vary the shades a little bit.” But no matter how bold or busy you go, always remember to create a visual break. “You always need a place for your eye to rest in a room,” she says.
“Start with your inspiration. I love it when it has multiple colors, [so there’s a] good chance to pull different elements.”
Mallory Mathison of Mallory Mathison Inc.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Mallory Mathison takes a unique approach to using color—one that actually maximizes its impact while requiring less of it. “I am a big fan of doing strong colors on trim,” she explains. “So, coming in and doing a color that is really bold on the trim and the window casings and the baseboard and the doors—especially if we have a soft wall, and if we use a wallpaper, taking a color that’s in that paper and using that on the trim, that’s something we do very often.”
When paired with a simple white, these distinctively colored outlines can make more of statement than cloaking an entire space in the same hue, especially when repeated in textile patterns and even furnishings around the room.
“I am a big fan of doing strong colors on trim.”
Connie Vernich of Vernich Interiors
When Nashville-based Connie Vernich brings color into her clients’ homes, she considers personality to help her determine the perfect shade, like she did with this classic-style farmhouse in Tennessee. “The homeowner loves the color blue, but because of her personality, I knew it had to be a bright and cheerful blue,” Connie says. A diverse mix of furnishings and décor blends elements of old and new and finds harmony across a steadfast spectrum of blue and white used throughout the project.
According to Connie, the key to such a committed color scheme is breaking it up with pattern, and they incorporated many—florals, stripes, plaids, paisleys, checks, and more. “Mixing these patterns was fun and worked nicely because they are all in the same color family,” she explains. The bedrooms continue the blue-and-white motif but with a more tranquil approach using gray undertones. “Blues can be very intense or very quiet, and in this case, we were leaning toward the quieter, calming color palette,” Connie says of the divergence from the bolder varieties they used in the main living areas—most notably in the study above. See more in our Winter issue.
“Mixing these patterns was fun and worked nicely because they are all in the same color family.”
Susan Currie of Susan Currie Design
Evidence of Susan Currie’s love for using vibrant color is on full display in her own cottage, and her advice for doing so is more straightforward that you might think: “Let color lead the way,” she says. “Choose the colors that you enjoy most. Start with a neutral backdrop, and pull pops of color from your favorite artwork, textiles, and accessories to create a palette you’ll love to live with.”
To accomplish this with a pulled-together look she suggests also mixing textures and finishing touches. “Soften rooms with hardwood or stone floors by layering in interest,” Susan says. “Add a rug, followed by upholstered furnishings. Draperies add another layer and an opportunity for more color and pattern. Don’t forget some interesting art. Then, bring in lamps, trays, and other accessories.” See more of Susan’s lively 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow in New Orleans, Louisiana, in our Spring issue on newsstands now.
“Let color lead the way. … Create a palette you’ll love to live with.”