Wallcovering and Paint-Contrast or Compliment for Coexistence

This has been a dilemma faced by designers and homeowners, alike, for ages.  There’s a very informative article by Brian Coleman in this year’s January/February issue of Old House Interiors, titled Wallpaper and Paint- how the twain shall meet. Although most of the illustrations shown are of the Arts and Crafts style, the basic principals can be applied to any design period.  William Morris, who was a colorful designer of wallpapers and textiles in that style, thought the woodwork should not match the wallpaper and was fond of a “quiet green” trim color.  He believed without the contrast rooms were very tame and often dull.  Morris was also a poet, artist, socialist and lived an interesting life, which is a good read if you ever have the time or interest.

Contrasting Trim

Artist and muralist C.J. Hurley advises that papers and woodwork should not be too “safely” coordinated.  He suggests that you think of a room as a musical composition which has a combination of notes arranged harmonically with enough dissonance to be compelling.  I like that analogy.  However, if you want to play it safe, select the wallpaper’s neutral ground as the base for the walls or trim.

Neutral Ivory Trim

Maryellen Mantyla of California Paints cautions that neutrals have undertones of yellow, green, blue or red and must be considered when deciding between complementary or harmonious color combinations.  To further complicate the decision, Elsie de Wolfe said, “I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint.”  But, have you ever decided to go with white and then faced the myriad shades of “white”?  White can have many different tones-blue, green, gray, beige-just to name a few.

When making a selection, remember to take into consideration light: the direction of the light source and whether the room will be used primarily in daylight or evening hours.  When I was trying to decide the shade of yellow for a den and adjoining kitchen, I had the painter put up good-sized samples in the afternoon.  When I went into the room the next morning, it was like walking into a spotlight!  And it was much brighter on the wall across from the source of the morning light.  We had to try several toned down shades before we found the right one. The difference in the intensity of the colors receiving direct light source is illustrated below.

Designer Leta Austin Foster and her daughter, Sallie Giordano like rooms that connect or flow into each other with combinations of complimentary tones of papers and paints.  A great tip from them if you are doing a period house or historic home is to paint baseboards black or marbleize them, which is a technique the English use to hide scuff marks and (heaven forbid!) any dirt.

Marbleized Baseboard (Left) Dark Baseboard (Right)

Now, have I thoroughly confused you?  If so, I assure you that was not my intent.  The above opinions, tips, and suggestions are offered just to show that selecting the wall and trim color is not a trivial task.  But, we are here to help if you have any questions about paint colors to compliment any Casart designs that you have selected.

-  Lorre Lei


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