The Dark Side of Color Theory

There are many things to consider at the high level conceptual stage of an interior design, but one of the most expressive fundamentals is crafting the color palette.  Here are two palettes from recent projects that, while distinctly different visually, rely on a similar theoretic principle.  Each palette was based on the decision to promote artistic drama rather than the oft over-prescribed notion that spaces should be made to seem larger.

The Garret Room

When we began to noodle the best approach to a family media room in an attic of an historic home, we rejected the obvious choice of painting the walls in light, bright hues to make the space appear larger.  In this home, we had already created fresh, sunny palettes on the main and second floors, so we felt the attic could be better served is a deeply-shaded and cozy away space.  We theorized that the value of visually expanding the room was not trumped by the greater goal of giving the homeowners a nurturing and even theatrical sense of place. 

Because the house has a classic mansard roof, the walls slant on four sides as they approach a narrow jot of ridge at the middle of the room.  Two dormers - one tasked for window seating and the other for a modest custom bar - provided a fair amount of natural light.  By painting the walls from base to ridge in a dark blue, we promoted a cozy sensibility for the attic.  The rather beaten up original wood flooring we had painted in a green hue equal in saturation and value to the wall color, so that while there was some variation, the floor and walls had minimal visual distinction; our goal was to keep the eye moving fluidly with the architecture instead of the gaze hanging up on sometimes awkward transitions.  A large sectional in dark chestnut leather further promoted the rich palette, while accents in bright yellow and taupe provided points of brightness and chilly contrast.     

The Jewel Parlor

There was something about this parlor in another historic home that seemed to be waiting for dramatic wall color.  And our client has a peaceful and yet magnetic energy that we felt would be nicely expressed in a space with muted variations of jewel tones.  Starting with a jade lamp the homeowner wanted to use in the room, we built an analogous palette that moved away from blue-greens and toward yellow on the color wheel.  The use of a rich plum on the walls managed to serve both a warm and cool helping of wow factor.  

Because the parlor had a large vista onto a sunny, off-white dining room at one end, and a large, off-white builtin at the other, we knew that there was plenty of lightness to offset our wall color choice.  We had purposed a boxy turret space adjacent to the builtin for a handsome Japanese travel bar; we opted to carry the soft whiteness of the trim onto this alcove to further contrast and highlight the plum tone of the primary space - and to frame the bar for emphasis.  Using dark emerald velvet on a tufted accent chair and a geometric woven in chartreuse and cream to wrap the outside back of the sofa, we pinned down our progression of green to yellow-green hues. 

We're big fans of white-wall decor and recognize the place it has taken in contemporary interior design, but our opportunities to work in dark hues are always a welcome change of pace.  The important things to consider when deciding whether or not a room should go to the dark side is how the color choice will serve the overall purpose of the room and how you will construct a palette with enough variation and contrast to not be flattened out by the weight of the main color itself.   

Tips

  • Remember that the walls will be the background of the canvas, and the furnishings will create the layering towards the foreground. If larger furnishings have sufficient lightness, they will alleviate the heaviness of the wall color.
  • Darker rooms swallow light, so consider using a paint finish with a bit of sheen to help bounce both natural and artificial light. Know that sheen will highlight imperfections in the wall surface, so we recommend a professionally applied skim coat to make the walls picture perfect.
  • In a room where the wall color is more assertive, the textures of fabrics should be far bolder and the scale of prints riskier.  The beauty of starting from a place of intentional drama is that boldness is welcome and necessary for harmony.
  • Consider how a dramatic paint color will impact the visual rhythm of a space.  If there is a series of awkwardly placed closet doors, it is sometimes advisable to paint them out in the same color as the wall.  The same can be said of a chair rail, which becomes a light belt around a dark room, often cutting the perceived height of the walls and pulling attention away from more important elements of the design.
  • Before panicking when the paint is half up and you begin to waver in your resolve, pull a few pieces into the space and view them against the walls.  You'll never feel more vulnerable about your choice than when the room is without any of the components that helped inspire the color.  

A Look Back on 2016

"The use of a rich plum on the walls serves up a warm and cool helping of wow factor" - PM 

"The use of a rich plum on the walls serves up a warm and cool helping of wow factor" - PM 

A client's gathering room in their historic home in Winchester VA. We furnished this space with a combination of American made and vintage goods. Built-ins provide a clean space to showcase our client's collection of art and artifacts. We visually merchandised the collection so that each vignette is a punctuation of beauty making up the canvas of the entire wall display.

Moody and sultry, Benjamin Moore's Vintage Claret comes to life in the lamp-lit corners of the room. We chose the palette to compliment our client's collection of Asian art.

We sourced the furnishings from our favorite North Carolina makers. Just out of the frame, the client's own lamp and artifact perch on a vintage Brandt octagon table we picked up in western Maryland - not far from its original manufacture location. 

"This cheerful floral felt well suited to all seasons in this sunny oasis." - PM

"This cheerful floral felt well suited to all seasons in this sunny oasis." - PM

In this happy gathering room on a creek side property, one can experience the joys of each season through large wood framed windows. A pair of American made swivel rockers from our maker out of High Point, North Carolina wear a vibrant, meandering (and sun-safe!) print.

On the American made sectional and ottoman, we selected our fabrics for a posh pairing of hardworking velvet and a colorful woven. We made our overall choices light, bright, and colorful for this room, bringing out stunning contrast in the architecture of the space.

As a whole, the room has the play of masculine and feminine, light and dark, textured and smooth, effectively balancing the design.

"A massive custom shadow box was key to transforming the dense collection of small treasures into a single graphic monolith. " -PM

Welcome to Ed's Heads Hair Salon on historic Main Street in Stephens City. The dapper collector's look was largely inspired by the owner of the salon. Perfection is found when the large comercial-friendly Spicher Co. vinyl rug, American made sofa, and a pair of fabulous vintage redux chairs make friends.

We played boldly with pattern at Ed's Heads. The vinyl rug is custom made to order in Pennsylvania and we paired it with a Californian sofa frame upholstered in a soft plaid flannel to make the lively combination.

We got our hands dirty making this custom shadow box for the waiting area. A classic green off sets the glazed walnut stain for a been-there-forever look that is perfect for the salon's quirky collections. Just out of view, are spectacular felted light fixtures dotting the high ceilings over the workstations. 

Hospitality accents like flowers and mementos add personal flair to this locally owned salon.

We chose joyful and expressive fabrics to keep this classic design upbeat.

A traditional project in Lake Frederic called for fresh fabric choices, highlighting the rich wooden pieces in the space. Crisp contrast welting in a dark teal outlines these custom made cushions. A perfect pair for cozy reading in the sunniest room of our client's home.

The transitional frames of the artisan made sofas in this room wear a practical upholstery that will be loved for years to come. Bright custom pillows and warm brass and wood tones provide an ambiance of coziness to the space. Mirrored tray tables work double duty to reflect light in the space, and to hold our client's treasures. 

"The serene turquoise grasscloth brought out the warm tones in the mid-century dining set. Suddenly everything clicked." -PM

"The serene turquoise grasscloth brought out the warm tones in the mid-century dining set. Suddenly everything clicked." -PM

For this project, we took design inspiration from our client's heirloom mid-century dining set. From color palette to accessories and material choices, we love how this space came together around a treasured piece. We used a combination of our client's keepsakes and accessories from our sources to round out the design.

In the same home, the breakfast room carries on the mid-century thread with a vintage hutch. We painted the find in a Benjamin Moore color to freshen the look. 

A sunshine colored Company C wool rug anchors the room and provides a point of dramatic lightness on the dark floors.

Here's to many more delightful projects in 2017!

Five Designer Favorites Vol.1

Hello, Nesters!

There has been a lot to inspire me this year - from finding new innovative makers to rediscovering classics that had fallen off my radar.  Not too long ago I would have been steeped in roughened woods with a grayish wash.  Today we have rediscovered the quiet elegance of walnut and cherry woods. After many long seasons of linens that pretended to be burlap, we see the uprising of lux velvets and graphic prints.  Even rusty finishes are ceding the way for a tsunami of molten gold faucets and fixtures.  Design is always changing, always expressive of something about the moment.  Perhaps our economy picking up has whetted appetites for things that lean toward the refined.  Here are just a few of my current delights.   

Sap Cherry Wood

I find the lighter sapwood from the outer portions of the cherry tree so engaging.  When selected artfully, the result is a striking hi-low pattern that adds immeasurably to the impact of understated furniture like our Heartland Table. For many years Queen Anne-inspired furniture cloaked the warm and deep grain of cherry in dark stains that essentially masked the wood's characteristic cathedrals.  Makers now are drawing influences from Arts and Crafts and especially from Mid-Century design, so the grain is left visible by the use of light clear finishes.  This is the way sap cherry is meant to be dressed.

Photo: MakeNest

Photo: MakeNest

Graphic Pillows

Our collection of pillows from Arnge embody everything there is to love about mid-century design.  The bold retro graphics make me want to binge watch The Dick Van Dyke Show for hours, while the kaleidoscope of colors are a study in harmony with just a skosh of friction.  Having been schooled in the finer points of sewing, I was pleased to see that the patterns match from front to back so that the design moves fluidly around the pillow.  Each one is made to order in the USA without the use of sweatshop labor, which is another reason to tip our hats to this maker.

Wool & Silk Carpets

When I was apprenticing in design back at the turn of the last century, my mentor was a dealer in fine hand-made carpets.  Helping to show her selections to her clients was an education. Peeling back dozens of beautiful carpets was good exercise, but it was also like peering into the pages of a journal from an ancient people.  Combining forms from nature and architecture, the patterns and colors - as well as the art of weaving itself - are part of a cherished tradition.  While wool is still the most common material in a hand-knotted carpets, the addition of silk adds highlights that outline the design and glimmer magically.  

Vinyl Rugs

I discovered the designs of Spicher & Co. a couple of years ago and am still finding new uses for these fabulous designs.  Not surprisingly, these graphics are created by artist designers and not fabricated from a short list of popular motifs.  Drawing inspiration from vintage linoleum rugs that were popular well into the first half of the 20th century, there is something about these rugs that feels simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.  I like using them because they add a strong graphic to a room and because they can exist in spaces where sometimes other rugs aren't ideal.  And these are printed in house in Pennsylvania, so we feel like they come to us from just over the mountain, as they say.

Deco Influences

When I first spotted this chair at market, I knew I wanted to put a whimsical and magical fabric on the frame.  With its graceful arms and deeply scooped back profile, I was reminded of chairs from my favorite 1930s black and white films.  This piece would have existed in a screwball comedy - in the country house of the haughty old aunt who wears a lorgnette, winds up getting a little tipsy on dandelion wine, and eventually comes around to like the mustachioed anti-hero her wide-eyed niece wants to marry.  Her house would have gilded things but also ruffles. For me those Hollywood sets are an escape into unabashed style.  So we outfitted this chair in a colorful Asian toile, trimmed her skirt in velvet, and the rest is history.

Thanks for indulging me on a journey through some of the things that have been in my look book and on my mind this season.

Cheers!

PM

Behind the Scenes

For our autumn home furnishings collection we drew inspiration from some of our favorite design projects.  The coastal oases of Martha's Vineyard and Rehoboth Beach offered us soft colors and buoyant graphics.  The smart simplicity of our urban homes guided us toward mid-century modern forms and artisan details.  And the elegance of the old homes we've designed in our native Virginia reminded us that antique wood and romantic silhouettes never lose their allure.  Creating a collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings was an ambitious undertaking; here are the mood boards we used to define our vision.

The Oasis.  Here not everything has to be 'just so' - this is a home that makes the hours after work and school feel like vacation.  Sturdy iron tables plant themselves where they're needed and the soft linen slipcover on the sofa looks its best when a little rumpled.  Shoes come off the moment you walk through the door and the piece of modern art everyone compliments is the doodle your daughter brought home in third grade.  Here you don't cry over spilled milk; you wanted a cocktail anyway. 

The Modern. This house isn't frilly or lacy or precious.  It is a thoughtfully composed design that favors simplicity.  The chill of minimalism is chased off by rugged textures and natural elements.  Each piece of furniture serves a purpose and everywhere you look there are testaments to artisan craft.  The sap cherry dining table is as smart as a suspension bridge and the custom sofa as handsome as it is comfortable.  This is the home of someone who doesn't believe in filler. Here thoughtful intention reigns.

The Estate.  You may or may not have grown up in this house, but you love that guests feel transported to an earlier era the moment they broach the porch steps.  This home isn't shy about embellishments; the moldings are elaborate and the walls are papered in garden scenes.  This is where emerald velvet doesn't feel too fancy and brass never went out of style because this is the good stuff. And while there may be the occasional new acquisition to add a spark of funk, the table at Thanksgiving is always set with antique china and Irish crystal.

Our design style is to mix more than match.  We use color, texture, and scale to make spaces pleasing, but a close inspection reveals that we don't play by the book when we're pairing objects.  When it comes to composing stylish design, we've thrown most of the rules to the wayside.  While we crafted our collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings with some specific inspirations in mind, we're sure each piece will shine when it finds new interpretations in rooms waiting to unfold.  Visit our boutique to explore the collection.

A Love Letter to Summer

The cricket fiddles a sweet ballad as the fireflies spark the dusk. Now is the season of road trips and boardwalks; lemonade pink or yellow; straw hats and sunglasses; spaghetti thin tan lines; basil and tomato sandwiches.  Above all else it is the season of getting together in the great outdoors.  The living is easy.

The season provokes sweet memories for each of us.  Growing up on farmland, my summer nostalgia has a bucolic bent.  Never did our cousins spend so much time with us as when Dad opened the pool; its mesmerizing blue waves brought good times right to our doors.  There was laughter and splashing all summer long that only abated when the mimosa trees began to look ragged and for the first time since May the yellow school bus rose over the hill.

Here is a love letter (in words and images) to time well spent with loved ones in the days that smolder between June and September. 

BBQ

You bring that dessert I love and I'll make the potato salad you keep asking about - the secret is freshly ground cardamon.  Today is as muggy as yesterday and tomorrow, but a blue table paints a focal point as cool as chilled watermelon.

Cocktails and Music

And while we're chilling things, lets not forget to put a few coups in the icebox for later. The evening air will rub the frost off even the most vigorously shaken Manhattan, so lets cloak the glass in ice, shave in lemon peel instead of sticky sweet cherry, and let Lady Day lilt through the screens and out over the lawn.  

Slumber Party Stories

You're staying over, aren't you?  We made up everything nice in the guest room.  I ironed your sheets in lavender water.  We'll relax in the morning over coffee before the day gets hot. Slumber parties are for grown-ups, too, and we tell our best stories after the moon has climbed high.

All too soon the days will shorten. The night music of bug life will dwindle to a lone romantic scratching out a lament through the first chilly nights.  The fall will begin, as spring did, with pale chartreuse leaves.  Yet for tonight the sultry weeks stack ahead of us and all our warm-weather adventures are only a question away.  You want to hang out again?

PM

Timeless Choices

As we prepare for our Fall upholstery launch, dozens of fabric swatches are passing through our hands, swimming in our heads, and making their way into the latest offerings at the boutique. A few stalwart heroes have survived from the previous season - a testament to picking classics over fads - but we're excited to share our predictions for the next chapter in textiles.

Lux Velvets

While buttery poly-velvets have been a practical family room fabric for a few seasons, we're watching an influx of classic cotton velvets return to the mix.  These beautiful fabrics have a denser weave and a warmer hand.  And cotton receives dye better than polyester, yielding richer colors - a boon at a time when jewel tones are poised for a comeback. 

Woven Geometrics

Unlike their printed cousins, these woven patterns employ the loom to produce their dynamic look.  While we are huge fans of printed fabrics -  see our summer print blog -  we think this variety produces a more refined character.  Depending on the thread content, the durability may also be better than print on lighter weight goods, making these great bets for high-traffic upholstery.  

Haberdasher Texture

The worst excesses of Herculon fabric in the 80s and 90s sent designers fleeing for the supple simplicity of micro-suede earlier this century, but we find that coarse wovens are enjoying a timely comeback.  The light and shadow on the surface of a toothy fabric helps disguise normal wear and tear, an advantage in high traffic areas. Mid-century design continues to gain appeal and a hallmark of the era was textural solids, fueled in part by innovations in raw materials that were developed during WWII and throughout the Space Age.    

Summer Prints

As the sunny days of summer continue to unfold in an endless splash of blooms, we're taking inspiration from some of our favorite prints.  The craft of printing on fabric dates back to China in the third century and has spurred a world of gorgeous graphic imagery ever since.  Many of the 20th century's most prolific designers - we're thinking of Dorothy Draper, her protege Carlton Vernay, and The Prince of Chintz himself, Mario Buatta - have used prints to stunning effect in some of the most iconic spaces in design history.  Follow us on our indulgent journey through five glorious prints.  To keep up with our fabric obsession, check out our Fabric Friday hashtags on Instagram.

This Jacobean-inspired print is a classic, rendered in bold indigo on an ivory field.  There are few punchy pop colors we'd hesitate to mix with this beauty.

Drawing inspiration from the primitive forms of South Pacific heritage art, this playful print is the perfect foil for its warm plum and oyster white palette.

The art style of this bold tropical print has all the innocent charm of a children's coloring book, yet the thoughtful mix of blues and greens keeps the palette tight and polished.

The whimsical waves of this cheerful print cannot help but uplift any space they wash over.  A toothy linen weave adds dimension to the block-print styling of this design.  

Perhaps our favorite motifs in prints are ones that speak to the Asian origins of the art form.  This gentle and joyful garden scene invites us to take a journey into a serene state of mind.

The Next Chapter Is Green

                                                                                                                                                            John Strauss Furniture

By the time we left Market Square, we had not only found an exciting new furniture source, we had sat in on an impromptu lesson on craft and passion. The maker is John Strauss, who we had researched before coming to High Point for the spring market. We spent over an hour learning about the collections.  John showed us a curious little doodle the French use to line up wood cuts for drawer fronts.  It was no accident that we were spending this much quality time with one furniture maker.

Our goal is to kickstart an initiative to make our entire furniture offering both sustainable and American made. We found out about John's company while doing our research.  Going into market with these standards in place was transformative.  While we spent time with new resources - most of them artisans who chose to come to market in person to represent their lines - the rest of the attendees buzzed past with an air of confusion and agitation.  They seemed shell-shocked by the vast quantities of vendors and they reminded me of myself in past years: hit with a sugar rush of goods rather than nourished by a quality experience. 

We discovered so much of value in our research this market, as well as forging relationships with passionate craftspeople.  The American furniture makers of today are maintaining our treasury of hardwoods through responsible harvesting.  And our small-batch makers comply with the kind of workplace safety guidelines that are simply not present in most overseas markets. Most seductive to a designer's mind is the fact that our artisan resources thrive on customization, which allows us to offer more design options to our clients.

In recent decades there has been much talk about globalization.  In the sense that we knit nations together through robust trade and that we find common humanity through shared resources and knowledge, the concept of globalization is very attractive.  Yet we are deeply satisfied to opt out of doing trade with makers who are not sensitive to the needs of workers and the environment.  

When I was younger, I was a fierce environmentalist. Then I drifted, seduced by an industry that seemed careless to the matter.  When the determination to make changes in my company asserted itself, I knew the time had come to commit to the progressive values in business that I cherish personally.  Looking inward has helped me to discover seeds waiting to sprout and so the next chapter is green.

                     -PM