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Color Tips from Designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey

Washington, D.C. designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey sheds some light on using color

From Interior Designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey
  • Washington, D.C, based designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey has studied at both the Parsons School of Design and the Culinary Institute of America, and it shows. Sought after for designing spaces in showhouses, she especially shines at designing kitchens. Food, family, and nature are as important to this designer as respecting the integrity of a space’s architecture and balancing function with aesthetics, always with painstaking attention to detail.

    A collector of needlepoint samplers, Delft, and quilts, Shazalynn imbues spaces with warmth and a sense of place. Her website includes a shopping link where you’ll find furniture, lighting, rugs, and more, some of her own design. When it comes to color, she advises, “Listen to your home. It will tell you what it wants.” 

    Visit Shazalynn's website.

  • Remember Your Ratios

    Color is really about balance and ratios; no room should have an equal amount of each color in play.  

  • Use the Same Color in Different Values

    In this dining room, I used several shades of blue (in the napkins, the flowers, and the chair fabric) to create the flow and visual interest. 

  • Let One Color Dominate

    Use the color with the heaviest saturation as your largest ratio and then graduate from there. In this dining room I used coral as the dominant color, then threaded blue and lavender along for perfect harmony.  

    Nab ideas for decorating with orange from these showhouse spaces.

  • Rule of Three

    The Latin phrase "omne trium perfectum" means that everything that comes in three is perfect.  Often we think of using two colors in a space—blue and yellow, pink and brown, or black and white. The reality is that these combinations really hit peak performance when they are highlighted with a third color to set them off.  Use items such as a small piece of trim, pillows, or even accessories such as art or porcelain to accomplish this effect.  The pop factor is instantaneous—like putting on glasses for the first time.

  • Keep Your Color Story Consistent

    It is essential that there is a thread of at least one color throughout a home. This story starts with purple at the front door.

  • Carryover Color 

    I call this “carryover color.” it is important that you identify this color—in this case, purple—and use it in every space.  

    Click to tour a colorful family home in Washington D.C.

  • Sparing Use of Carryover

    You don’t have to use major amounts of carryover color in each space. Here purple is used in the chair fabric and artwork. 

  • Thread Color Throughout

    It is important to thread color throughout so that each room flows into the next. Here a deeper shade of purple is used in the barstools. 

  • Listen to Your Home

    It will tell you what it wants. If you have rooms surrounded by windows, create synergy with what is going on outside those windows. (Beach homes rarely have red dining room walls for this very reason!)

    See more of this cozy cabin.

  • John Bessler

    Let Nature Inspire You

    Sometimes a walk down the street is all you need to inspire color schemes. In my home in Pennsylvania, the beautiful lichen and leaves in the fall provide the recipe for my color selections. This makes the transition from inside to out (which is what we enjoy most about this place)  is natural, easy, and intuitive.  

  • Pair Pattern and Color

    I truly love them both, and they work in tandem. Growing up in the South with tons of floral chintz on every surface, I learned early that you cannot have enough of a good thing. This picture of my daughter’s bedroom is a perfect example. While the pattern and color treatment may seem like too much to some, it fits her young, energetic personality. 

    This High Point, North Carolina, home is filled with color and pattern.

  • Give Color and Pattern Room to Breathe

    Negative space allows color and pattern to catch their breath. Playing with the scale and mix of patterns and color gives this space a unique flavor. The white desk (as well as the chests and bedding shown in the previous image) are the negative spaces that allow each of the colors and patterns to live in harmony. 

  • Let the Sun Shine!

    Pay close attention to natural light sources when determining colors for spaces. You can use color to correct lack of lighting or in some situations we may want to mellow any harshness in a space by using colors that absorb the light. Use your intuition to let the light shine in and create its own colors as it changes throughout the day.

    In this home light is coming in at every angle except the ground. Using neutrals and white walls with a small dose of color allows the sunlight to create an array of colors. At mid-day, when the sun from the skylights bask this room, it has incredible energy and brightness. And when the sun sets in the West, it glows with warmth.

  • Color Isn’t Counted in Calories 

    I don’t think you can get enough color in a space, especially when it is introduced in layers.  Color gets a bad rap because often it is used in voluminous quantities without any buffer. Instead, think about introducing color in unexpected ways. The wallpaper in this bedroom is woven on a blue background, picking up the blue pattern and detail in the chair fabric and the drapes. The overall feeling when you are in the space is that the room is cobalt blue, but not so ovewhelmingly that it is hard to relax. 

  • Color Can Solve a Crisis

    It is not uncommon to come across houses with volumes of wall space and little or nothing to place on the walls. Consider using color and pattern in these spaces to create continuity and make the walls part of a harmonious whole. When I walked into this foyer with walls the color of baked potatoes and an odd assortment of framed family pictures, I immediately felt fatigued. Introducing this fun pattern with its pretty colors gave the space instant personality and energy.

    Get inspired! Gorgeous bedrooms in gray and white.

  • Go Up, Down, and All Around 

    Never miss an opportunity to place color where you think white is supposed to be. I love painting entire rooms, especially custom woodwork, in anything but white.

    Calm colors soothe the eyes and the soul.

  • Consider Painting the Ceiling

    The soothing qualities of having a room in one entire color are unparalleled. Consider the ceiling in anything complementing color or shade variation of your walls or do the entire room from top to bottom in a soothing hue. The bunk room pictured below is a perfect example.  

  • Neutral is a Color, Too

    Color doesn’t have to present itself like an Easter basket. When using neutrals or monochromatic schemes, think about each value (light blue or dark blue, for example) as a different color during planning. People often talk about the colors not matching, but the reality is that using variety in the values of colors, as was done with taupes, tans, and grays here, can just make a space. This is especially true than when using neutrals—so mix your values when using one color scheme for flawless execution.

  • Go Big or Go Home

    I have never met a pillow cover I didn’t like. Homes are the places where we frame life’s celebrations so go full throttle when decorating with color. Swapping out lamp shades, pillows, throws, and even artwork for different seasons or celebrations transforms spaces and creates memories for generations to come.  I own layers of pillow covers that mark the entry of each season in my home. Nothing in life is permanent so why should the pillows on your sofa go unchanged?

    Click here for a great kitchen designed by Shazalynn.