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UNLEASH THE Photography by AIMEE HERRING © Janet Lee

COLOR The unmistakable wow-factor of color can’t be beat when it comes to invigorating interiors. Spices, flowers, the ocean, the sky, lush greenery, fruity drinks—all of these attract our attention because of their appealing colors. Your home is just that, your home . It should represent what inspires and excites you.

ABOVE: Exquisite die-cut paper panels provide shadowy texture on a white wall, while a mix of colorful pillows and an amber-hued lampshade spice up this bedroom. OPPOSITE PAGE: Bright-on-white geometric patterns set a lively tone in this seating area. The sofa's seat cover is simply an orange-printed Jonathan Adler throw tucked in to place.


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We talked to design blogger and book author Janet Lee about decorating with color, and specifically how to take those first steps. Lee’s book, Living in a Nutshell: Posh and Portable Decorating Ideas for Small Spaces was published this spring by HarperCollins. Her remarkable book is filled with clever and colorful ideas to a burst of sunshine to virtually any space.


1. In your book, you encourage readers to express their creativity in their small living spaces. How did you take that first bold leap?

Growing up in a family with six kids, I always had to share a room with one sister or the other and self-expression was not encouraged. Fighting over borders did not allow for my inner decorator to blossom until graduate school in Boston. In Boston I shared a two-bedroom apartment and it was the first time in my life I actually had a room of my own. I stretched my student budget and bought a Laura Ashley fitted sheet, cut it in half and made two balloon shades for my windows. They were totally functioning with attached ribbons and it was an idea I updated and included in my book so many years later. I’ve sewn my own clothes since I was eight and now I found myself making duvet covers out of sheets with pillows to match. Right after graduate school, I got a job producing a local TV talk show and booked decoupage artist, John Derian, as a guest. I was hooked. Paper became my medium of choice. I decoupaged plates and transformed old dressers with vintage wallpaper.

2. Many of your projects involve bright colors and vivid patterns. How can homeowners determine how much color or pattern will work in their rooms?

Balance out color statements, such as this rosy pink wall, with plenty of pure white and earthy neutrals.


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Take baby steps with fabric and accessories that involve a small color commitment. Build a color wardrobe for your room like you do your outfits—one accessory at a time. A bright pink pillow mixed with a chartreuse yellow cashmere throw might inspire you to take the next step. Cover the entire seat of a sofa with a tucked-in piece of designer fabric. T-pins can help keep the fabric from shifting, strategically pinned underneath the cushion. I do this with my Jonathan Adler orange geometric throw over my linen sofa (see book cover image, page 41). Then think about adding a bold, patterned wallpaper to line the backs of bookcases. Keep the look flexible and use removable mounting squares to hold the paper in place. Another option is to hang the wallpaper on a feature wall, like you would a large art print, and cover the edges with decorative polyurethane molding to create a jumbo-sized frame. The molding can

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be held in place with removable picture hanging strips. This way if you don’t like the way it looks, just take it down and try something else. The next level of color commitment is with paint. That scares people but bad paint can always be corrected. There’s not one designer or decorator who has not made a paint color mistake so give it a whirl. You can rescue a flea market chair and paint it an outrageous color in a high-gloss finish and use it as a statement piece in your room. Instead of painting an entire wall a bold color, mix in an exciting hue by stenciling it in a pattern on a white wall. That way it won’t seem so intense. A Kelly Wearstler-inspired lattice stencil recently caught my eye on I am dying to use it. My go-to is always stripes. That way you can introduce a saturated color without being bombarded by it. In my friend’s bright white foyer, I taped off a chair rail border about 40 inches up from the bottom and painted it a rich Kelly green. Right on top of the kitchen doorway, I repeated the color in a two-foot section, which stands-in for molding over the door. It’s just enough color to make a ho-hum hallway pop.

Square lacquer trays from West Elm are an easy way to add color and function indoors or out. Photo courtesy of West Elm.


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3. What’s your advice for selecting colors for a room? Is there a formula for combining various colors in one space?

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What guides me around a color palette, from room to room, is determining what mood I want to evoke in the space. Do I want to feel cozy, romantic, serene, or social? Do I need it to be all business? Cozy colors I’ve used are a deep gray (yes, gray can feel warm in the right tone), lavender, and a vintagey avocado green that makes me feel the comfort of home. In my home “office,” which is a corner of my living room, I painted the closets chartreuse yellow. It gives the room energy when I need to brainstorm ideas and meet deadlines. 4. Do you have advice for painting with bright colors and rich hues?

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I spend a lot of time sitting at my local paint store researching color options. I watch people rush in and commit to a full gallon of a bold color without buying a sample first. I would never put paint brush to wall without using a paint sample board and studying how light changes the hue during the day and night. For rich and bright colors, you need to use a tinted primer as a base coat first or your colors won’t be as saturated as they need to be. I’ve gotten great tips from my paint store experts who are always happy to help.

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5. How can homeowners tell if a drab space can be transformed with lighting? What are some strategies that work?

I always thought because I lived in small, postage-sized spaces that one main light source would do the trick. But every space needs a three-pronged (pardon the pun) approach: First, bounce main light sources off walls and ceilings to softly fill the space with ambient light. Second, task lighting like reading lamps help to define work, play and rest zones and add depth and definition to a space. Then, there is the last layer I call the “glow” factor—mirrors, glass, crystal, and candlelight that radiate and reflect a little shimmer and glamour into a space. Sometimes living in a rental or an older home, the outlets are in the wrong place and you might not want to commit to a full electrical installation of overhead lighting. My mini-chandeliers and pendant lamps are all retrofitted with a plug-in lamp cord so that way I can hang the lights anywhere and take them with me to my next space. I embrace the look of lamp cords on the wall. In some cases, I’ve used red, yellow or turquoise lamp cords and featured them in loops down a wall. Keep every light source on dimmers so you can create a different mood at a moment’s notice. LEFT: These bold, colorful Clinton Friedman melamine plates will help make your outdoor gatherings festive. Available at West Elm. Photo courtesy of West Elm.

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My last tip is to change out the light bulbs to soft pink ones in your bedroom reading lamps. It’s a flattering glow on the complexion and so easy on the eyes when you’re trying to unwind. 6. Can you share some of your tricks for decorating with mirrors?

Bigger is better. Get glass mirrors cut to fit the back of bookcase shelves or lean a collection of flea market mirrors on a shelf for the same effect. One of my favorite projects is to use industrial convex parking mirrors on a wall. They’re great in kids’ rooms but I’ve used a collection of small security mirrors in my friend’s decidedly feminine living room and the more masculine mix of these mirrors creates an exciting contrast. I also love using chalk ink pens on mirrors, the same kind used in bistros and cafes. Writing out a dream meal you had in Paris or Italy on a kitchen mirror adds personality and heart to a space. I’ve written a list of humorous daily affirmations on a tall standing mirror in my bedroom and it makes me smile every time. If you’re really in a DIY mood, try using a spray that turns any piece of glass into a reflective mirror. The effect is more like a smoky antique mirror finish but I’ve used it to transform a boring café table and a glass frame with great success. Janet Lee's inspiring book is sized to be purse/tote-friendly and is available at bookstores and online retailers.

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Unleash The Color  
Unleash The Color  

The unmistakable wow-factor of color can’t be beat when it comes to invigorating interiors. Spices, flowers, the ocean, the sky, lush greene...