Diane Stewart, owner of Color Sense Consulting, knows you should never paint your ceiling white because it tends to cast blue or that your exterior paint pick shouldn’t be separate from what’s on your roof. She’s a happy camper in a wardrobe of cool colors (hues she couldn’t wear until her 20s when her hair turned pure white) and a home anchored in a palette found in nature. After spending most of her career in social work, she reinvented herself as a color expert using her inborn intuition of undertones, the key to correct color selection. Learn more at www.colorsenseconsulting.com.
What colors did you use in your home?
We’ve lived here about two and a half years but haven’t painted the inside yet. The colors work with what we own, and I’ve made situations I don’t like work by drawing the eye to what I want you to see, like my rug and not my old carpet.
A lot of people say paint is one of the best ways to change a room — do you agree?
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If you have a small room, then yes, but if you hire it out, it can be quite expensive. You have to do the foundational things first to make your house functional. The exterior of our house needed a lot of work — siding, doors, driveway — plus we added roof insulation and an expensive flue liner so I could have a nice fire. I feel like I’ve done a good job with what the house came with. In actuality, you should paint last.
Are people afraid of color?
People are afraid of making a mistake. If a color turns out to be horrible on your walls, you can redo it, but it takes time, energy and money.
Why do we paint a room a color only to find that it doesn’t look anything like the paint swatch?
There is no color without light; they’re inseparable. Light changes the way color looks. You have to consider the natural light in your rooms and which light bulbs you’re using: CFLs, LEDs or incandescents can totally change the color. Even when I help a client pick colors, I have them look at the samples over several days as the light changes, and on something as big as possible, like an illustration board.
How do you choose a paint color?
There are two types of color. There’s the bright, clear, clean type and the muted, earthy, muddy type. I look for the undertones of the fixed elements, such as in brick and stone. Granite is a nightmare — it has 10 colors in it. You can’t just ignore that; you have to have a plan. Also, most people have lots of brown furniture and wood floors. Wood looks best with natural colors, greens in particular, and all paint colors should relate to whatever colors are in wood.
Are your recommendations different from interior to exterior?
I like to use natural colors on exteriors so they fit into the landscape and look grounded. I usually go with a greenish-gray for the exterior, off-white trim and a reddish door. If I have a formula, that’s it, but I have to consider the roof, landscaping and the neighborhood.
What do you think of gray as the new neutral?
Grays look best with pops of clear, bright colors and metals. If that’s what people have or want, fine, but most people don’t have that, and the average family isn’t going to pitch everything and start over. I’m well aware that earthy colors may be considered out of style, but in my opinion, they’re classic. They don’t go out of style!
I think our homes should be sanctuaries, a place to get away from a crazy, busy world, a place where things are softer and more pleasant. I don’t think people should be surrounded by the color of concrete and hard things. And lots of bright, artificial colors and sharp contrast can be jarring, not relaxing.
Then are you OK with “Johnson County beige”?
Ninety percent of the beiges are all wrong. Nine out of ten times, it comes out looking pink or peach. People mostly want neutrals because they think they’re safer, but they still have to pick the right neutral.
Do you do any design work?
I am not a designer. I don’t want to sell anything. People come to me because they just want to know what color to paint their living room. I have one specialty, and there’s a place for me because, in everything you buy, there is a color decision. I do also help clients choose everything from upholstery and window treatments to cabinets and roofing.
What is your own favorite color?
I personally love and wear lots of fuchsia and purple. I surround myself with colors that make me feel good, that make me happy. Lots of people stop and tell me that my bright colors are cheerful and that they appreciate them. In my home, I use some version of red, orange, green and gold.
You come from a therapy background — do you think color has the power to heal?
Color can support you in different times of life. It can calm you or energize you. I have read studies about color healing in hospitals: People complain less and heal faster. I think the same principles apply in our homes. It feels good to be surrounded by warm, cozy colors that reflect the outside.
All nature-related stuff is good: plants, flowers, clay pottery, artwork representing nature. Deep down, we’re still related to our primal selves who lived outside close to nature. I’ve done a lot of study in environmental psychology, so you’ll have to trust me.