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Basic Color Theory Explained

August 10, 2008

Here at Random Acts of Home Décor, we understand that decorating can be very intimidating to those of us who don’t have the natural décor gene.

There are so many theories and principles to know about. Not only should you be aware of the 3 basic elements of any object (texture, color, material), there’s the “60-30-10 rule” (which talks about proportions of colors in a room), the “3 plus 1” trick (grouping of objects) and Christopher Lowell’s 7 layers of decorating. I feel like I need a degree in advanced mathematics just to buy accent pillows.

And then, on the flip side of these “rules” is the recommendation to let a room tell you what it needs. Designers say “listen to the room,” or “let the space speak to you.” At first I thought they meant I should have a séance, because I live in LA and that’s how we do things here. But what that actually means is that every space has its own particular qualities, and you have to pay attention to them in order to get the best result.

In other words, you can’t just pick out a picture of a room you like in a magazine and expect to duplicate it exactly in your own house. You have to think of those pictures more as inspiration. That way you won’t be so disappointed when your living room doesn’t look exactly like the one from Kevin Costner’s house that you tore out of InStyle magazine and carried around in your wallet for an entire year. Um, not that I’ve ever done that or anything.

But despite all of this, I’m convinced that decorating doesn’t have to be an impossible task. This isn’t the DaVinci Code we’re dealing with here. It’s paint and curtains and maybe an end table or two. I keep thinking if I can just grasp a few basics, I can decorate all by myself, just like the big boys and girls. But it’s never that simple, is it?

For instance – paint color. It can be maddening to try to pick a paint color. The decorating gurus will tell you that there are seven colors to choose from: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. How hard can that be? What they don’t tell you is that paint is a magical shape-shifter, a wily adversary that doesn’t play fair. That pretty green paint chip you picked out at the store arrives at your house and is suddenly gray! What? How? Why? It doesn’t play fair. The lighting in your room, the direction it faces, even the color of the flooring and furniture can affect the way a color looks on your walls. Plus, you have to decide if you want a yellow green, or a blue green, or a gray green? How about a non-fat half caf green with an extra shot of espresso?

But let’s say you’ve already picked your basic wall color. It came to you in a dream that you want a dramatic red dining room. Hah! Do you think you’re done? Do you really think it’s that easy? What colors should your accessories be? How about your drapes?

Don’t despair. According to the experts, there are some basic color principles you can use to come up with a color scheme. You’ve got your complementary colors, your analogous colors, and your monochromatic colors.

Complementary colors are well balanced with a fruity top note and a clean finish. No, sorry – that’s the wine I had last night. Complementary colors are exact opposites on the color wheel – like red and green – and they rock each other’s world. When paired with red, green is encouraged to be the fullest and best expression of green possible. When put with green, red is able to fully express its true redness. They are like those couples in a romantic comedy – total opposites who belong together. They’re the straight arrow business man (blue) and the free-spirited dog walker (orange) who meet cute in the park. The shy librarian (yellow) and the race car driver (orange) who end up spending the night together in an abandoned farm house. (NOTE: these colors are complementary, not complimentary. They are not polite colors that go around saying nice things about each other. They bring out the best in each other by contrast, not by buttering each other up. Opposites attract, in decorating as well as in Hollywood.)

Another possible color scheme consists of colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They are like three suburban women who live next door to each other in the cul de sac of a tidy subdivision called “Analogous.” These are not scheming desperate housewives. They are friends, and they get along very well because they all have similar tastes. They go shopping at the mall together, where they always agree on what to eat at the food court (frozen yogurt and coffee). They agree on the important issues, like where to buy the best yoga pants, and they avoid talking about upsetting things like politics. They live happily, each in her own pretty house, all in a row. Down south where it’s warm, their houses might be red, orange and yellow. Up north where it’s cooler, their houses might be blue, green and violet. Let’s hear it for the ladies of Analogous!

Monochromatic color schemes include lighter and darker values of the same color. They are like those three sisters you went to high school with – Maggie, Maddie, and Molly Malloy. Maggie, the oldest one, was smart and really intense. Maddie, who was a year younger, was slightly more sophisticated (she took advanced French!), and Molly, the youngest, was really fun and bit of a goofball. Still, you could tell from a mile away that they were sisters because they basically looked like three different versions of the same person, with the same hair, just slightly different shades. The amazing thing was that even though they were different ages and they shared a room, they genuinely liked hanging out together. If anyone ever messed with one of them they would have to deal with all three, because they had this special bond and they were never lonely. The Monochromatic Malloy sisters made up their own special little group and you knew you would never be part of it. It made you wish you had a sister you could talk to like that, instead of going home alone after school every day and playing with your imaginary friends. Or, you know, whatever.

So, there you have it. A place to start. Once you figure out the feeling you want your room to have, you can start making more specific choices about the colors and objects you want to use. So, romantic comedy complementary opposites, the ladies of analogous, or the monochromatic sisters? Who do you want to hang out with at home?


Mysteries of the Decorating World, Part I

August 7, 2008

So much of the world of home decor is a mystery to me.

Some of the obvious include color coordination, pairing of florals and stripes, and of course, the world of window treatments.

But there are other, greater mysteries. One that has been on my mind a lot lately is how the designers on HGTV manage to do all that work and not get dirty. Specifically, how do they NOT get paint on their clothes?

Me – if I even walk past a paint store my clothes are ruined. When I do a painting project, I have to prepare the area as if it were a crime scene. I tape off the room, cover the entire floor with protective paper, and have a variety of wet and dry rags on hand. Then I put on my fashionista “paint ensemble,” which includes old t-shirt, paint spattered jeans, socks, and a head covering. I do not wear shoes, because I have stepped in one too many paint trays and then walked around leaving paint footprints. Socks are easy to peel off on the way to the washing machine. And yes, the head must be covered, even if I’m not painting the ceiling. Let’s just say I have a talent for spilling paint on myself.

I don’t know why this happens. I’m not a particularly clumsy person, but get me in the vicinity of 1) a ladder, and 2) a full tray of paint, and strange things happen. There is a kind of molecular particle disturbance, and objects behave in unpredictable ways.

I have stood on the top of the ladder and dropped an entire tray full of paint onto the floor. I have fallen off the ladder, landing in an entire tray full of paint that was on the floor. I have been at the bottom of the ladder and jostled it, knocking off an entire tray full of paint, sending it downward so that it spills onto my head.

I have even achieved the most difficult combination fall-drop-double-axle spin, which involves stepping off the ladder while holding a full tray of paint, missing the bottom step, twisting and landing in a position which causes me to spill the full tray of paint down the entire front of my shirt. I believe that one carries a difficulty degree of 10, and I’ve nailed it several times. Go me!

Apparently, my powers are growing. I don’t even have to be near a ladder anymore. Today I painted a small accent section of the front of my fireplace. 73″ wide by 6″ long. A mere 6 feet of surface. Feeling carefree and perhaps a little foolhardy, I thought I didn’t need to paper the entire room. I just put on my painting t-shirt and told myself I’d “be careful.” Famous last words.

I managed to spill paint down the front of the iron fire screen, spill droplets of paint on the tile hearth, spill paint on the front of the fireplace (which is a different color than I was using for the accent) and of course, no need to say it, get paint on myself. I cleaned it all up and no one’s the wiser now, but I just don’t understand.

If I can cause this much damage painting 73″ how does Lisa LaPorta paint an entire room and not get a single drop on her jeans?

Mysteries of the Decorating World.


Welcome To My New (Imaginary) Home

August 4, 2008

Front of House

Oh – hi! I thought I heard the front door. Come on in.

You must be a friend of Julia’s, over at HOOKED ON HOUSES. She said you might be stopping by.

Welcome to the north-west part of Glendale, California, a neighborhood filled with a mixture of grand 1920s and 1930s Spanish Colonials and Tudors, as well as smaller bungalows and homes built in the 40’s and later. Luckily, many have been preserved to retain their original architectural details.

One example is my new home. (The home exists. But the fantasy that it’s mine is completely in my imagination.) The former owners still haven’t moved their furniture out. In fact, I was hoping you might be them! They’re fine with us showing the house as it is. They’ll be moving out soon and I can not wait to start decorating.

I absolutely love this house. It’s a 1930 Spanish Revival, and this exterior is so romantic and beautiful, with the balcony and the huge arched window. It’s the essence of California to me. This is the kind of home I’ve wanted for years, and now it’s actually mine! (In my dreams.)

Sorry – listen to me going on and on. Come in, come in. Here’s the entry, with the stairs to the second floor. I love the wrought iron railing. I can’t wait to have a party and make a grand entrance down those stairs. Check out the authentic floor tile. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Do you want some water? Is Pellegrino okay or do you prefer spring water? I have both. Come on into the kitchen. As you can see, they completely renovated and updated in here, but they kept the feeling and character of the period. I wasn’t sure about the green cabinets at first, but they’re growing on me. And the Marmoleum floors are a bit bold for my taste, but it’s all done so well I don’t think I’ll change a thing.

Kitchen with breakfast nook

I absolutely LOVE breakfast nooks, don’t you? Look at all the light that comes in through these windows. I can’t wait to sit here, reading the morning paper, drinking my coffee, coming up with new ideas for articles, maybe even that second book my (imaginary) publisher keeps bugging me about. I’ll probably get a round table for here, don’t you think? And leave the windows uncovered to let all that fabulous California light in.

Breakfast Nook

Let’s go into the living room – we’ll pass the dining room on the way. I can’t wait to get a huge carved dark wood Spanish Colonial table in here, and some chairs, maybe the ones with red leather seats. And I’ll probably change that chandelier. I’d love to see something a bit more rustic up there, or maybe a very Spanish looking round iron one. It’s going to be so much fun decorating this place (in my imagination.)
Dining Room

Anyway, here’s the living room, with that amazing arched window. I’m going to repaint in here, though – I’m not big on the red walls. I like pale walls, maybe ivory or a warm white. I think it really pops the dark furniture. Can you see the dark wood beams up there? Such a classic architectural detail for this style of house.
Living room

Isn’t the fireplace great?

And these original sconces on each side of the fireplace? This was Hollywood at its best – so romantic and full of fantasy. I think we all need a little fantasy in our lives, no? This is the type of house that inspires my imagination.
Come on – you have to see the backyard. It’s sooooo pretty. I do not have any talent for gardening, but this space back here is a great motivator to learn.

back garden

And what about this pergola?
What a pretty spot to sit and have a meal with good friends. That’s the best part about living in California, being outside practically all year. When I’m not away on my (imaginary) book tour, that is. And I can’t wait to jump into that inviting pool.


The bathroom? Sure. Use the yellow one, right upstairs. While you’re in there take a look at the original built-ins. Such character.

Yellow tile bath
Yellow bath sink

Well, thanks so much for stopping by. I should be getting back to the computer now. I’ve got to work on that (imaginary) new chapter for my (imaginary) book. It’s a struggle not to get too distracted dreaming about all the random acts of home decor I’ll be performing in my new (imaginary) house.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour. I found this house through a local realtor, Gerri Cragnotti, who specializes in these types of older character homes. She’s got a great website it you want to look at other amazing houses, or if you want more detailed info about this particular house.

Have fun seeing all the other houses on Julia’s open house blog tour!


Finding My Voice

August 1, 2008

I’ve sort of been questioning my whole blogxistence recently.

There are so many fun blogs out there, wonderful blogs, and so many bloggers who have much better expertise than I do. I’m not a designer or a decorator. I’m a writer. I love to write about home decor, but I have no actual advice to offer. The only thing I have that’s different than anyone else is my voice, which, admittedly, can be a little dark at times. So I edit myself. I try to be helpful and sunny, like some of the other blogs I read. I truly love and admire these blogs. They are inspirational. They are written by women who seem kind and wonderful – women I’d love to be friends with.

I’m just – not like that. Not that I don’t have friends. I have some very good friends who go way back with me, and they seem to appreciate my somewhat cynical, grumpy view on life. But I know that the world doesn’t need more negativity, so I restrain myself and try to put forth good and light into the universe.

Except – sometimes I just can’t help it. Like my reaction to this recent horrifying story:

From Yahoo news:


“A traveler aboard a Greyhound bus repeatedly stabbed and then decapitated his seat mate …
Greyhound spokeswoman Abby Wambaugh said 37 passengers were aboard, many watching the on-board movie”

I could hardly believe this when I read it! Greyhound shows movies on their buses?


Stupid Universe

July 29, 2008

I was a little upset yesterday, so I painted the fireplace.

Yesterday morning, after endless hours of searching job sites and submitting resumes and sending clever cover letters, I was offered a really fantastic freelance writing job. A job that would have been challenging and exciting and a great career move. And it paid well. I was psyched!

And then, just a short time later, I was un-offered the job. There was some sort of miscommunication within the company and they realized that my particular talents were not what they needed for this particular job. I’m glad I didn’t order that Calvin Klein handbag I’ve been eyeing lately, as my reward for landing a job. That I didn’t actually land. My contact at the company was really nice about it and assured me she would use me for other projects I was a better fit for, and I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Except the Universe. Stupid Universe.

I’m not very happy with the Universe right now. It keeps promising me that it has a plan, and that everything happens for a reason, and then it goes and pulls some stunt like this and is all “Ha-ha SUCKER!” Oh Universe. I wish I could quit you.

I put on a happy face, which is really really hard for me because I’m basically a cynical suspicious New Yorker who believes that the world is a swirling vortex of nothingness and there is no purpose and we’re all just limping toward oblivion. And that’s AFTER I’ve had coffee. I told myself “no big deal.” Tomorrow is another day. You only live once. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Comfort was cut TWICE from SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, and she took it like a champ. I had to find my inner champ.

So I put on my work clothes and painted the fireplace. Because when the going gets tough, the tough go decorate.

It’s nice to have a fireplace in Los Angeles on all those winter days when the temperature plummets to a bone-chilling 65 degrees. Although the fireplace is not original to my 1925 Spanish style house, I like it. I don’t love the wimpy little mantel, which looks too insubstantial for the size of the fireplace, but at some point I can probably do something about that – add some molding or perhaps a completely different mantel. The tiles on the hearth are miles from Batchelder – they’re large marble tiles from Home Depot that some previous owner slapped on in the 80’s – but if you squint and stand back far enough – hey! Marble! Classy!

Picture of old colors (because still no camera):

When I painted the walls a few weeks ago, I left the fireplace the old color, which was a 50% reduction of the wall color I never liked. And you know what they say – 50% of something you don’t like is still something you don’t like. But yesterday, feeling a bit down about the job situation, I threw on my work clothes, grabbed the paint, and changed the color. The fireplace is now that nice Milfweed color – a soft yellow-leaning ivory.

So, still no job. But a nice freshly painted fireplace. I’d be tempted to sit by a roaring fire with a cup of hot chocolate, except that it’s the middle of summer in Los Angeles. Back to the job hunt.

Universe – you and I are not done here!


The Circle of (Design) Life …

July 25, 2008

The people at HGTV are really smart. They’ve figured out a way to ensure that they will always have new programming.

The design shows go into someone’s house and completely personalize it. They paint the rooms orange! They staple sheets of shiny silver to the walls! They drape canvas from the ceiling! They use a garden planter for a nightstand! They use a nightstand for a garden planter! It’s unique! It’s special! It’s designed Just For You!

And then, when it’s time to sell, the staging shows come in and completely remove all traces of personality. They paint walls a neutral color. They take away almost all of the furniture. They artfully arrange a bowl of green apples on the completely clutter free counters.

They leave a blank slate for the next owner.

And so it goes, the unending Circle of Design – design, neutralize, design, neutralize.

Respect the design cycle, and you will be on the path to enlightenment and a nice furniture flow. Reject the design cycle and you will live in chaos and confusion, and no one will bid on your house.

Now please excuse me while I go off to find some crystals to glue to my ceiling.


Paint, Part II

July 13, 2008

Two gallons. That’s all it will take. And then I’ll be happy.

Okay. Not happy. I’ll never be happy until I live in one of those grand Spanish Colonials up in Rossmoyne, with all the arches and a little courtyard and a flat patio with sufficient space for outdoor entertaining.

Okay, that’s totally not true. I am happy. Right now. I realize that I am very fortunate and I have a lot of wonderful things in my life and I know that material possessions mean nothing, in the grand scheme, and if we constantly look outward for satisfaction we will constantly be disappointed and empty. I know that a beautiful Spanish Colonial with an authentic Batchelder fireplace or perhaps Catalina tile will NOT make me a better person. A beautiful house is just a “thing.” (A fantastic, wonderful thing that I covet.) But true happiness comes from within, and only when we are content with where we are and what we have, will we truly be able to yada yada yada.

I’m painting the bedroom.

After seeing how nice the living room/dining room look with the new ivory paint, I’ve decided to do the bedroom too. I think I’ll use the same color, because choosing paint colors? Seventh circle of hell! I did a test board in the bedroom and I think it’ll work. I think it ties in very nicely with the ivory in the rug and is a nice neutral background for the other colors in the room, especially the pecan drapes which should look great against ivory walls, and there seems to be some yellowish-ivory in the duvet, so I THINK it will work. Of course, this is me, the Queen of not knowing colors, so we’ll have to see.

I keep feeling I have to do all these projects now, while I’m not working, because I know once I get a fabulous new job I’ll be too busy to do much around the house for a while. You know – la di dah, I’m just going about my life, doing this and that, tearing the house apart, knee deep in paint cans and oh? What’s this? You’d like me to come work at your ad agency and think up clever banners for web campaigns? Well, I suppose I can finish faux-marbling the fireplace later. (Pssst – not really! I would NEVER faux-marble anything. That’s just me trying to fake out the universe with my very busy and involved life, because when you sit around waiting for things to happen, they never do, and then as soon as you start to tear down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room you have to fly to Singapore. Or something. I have a very active imagination.)

So – new paint in the bedroom. We’ll take it from there.