As a child, my room was yellow. In the 1970s we were awash in yellow, orange, and avocado green. The walls of my apartments in young adulthood were always white, and I was forbidden to paint them. Nothing makes me twitch more than a rule that seems meaningless – the walls would be repainted on my leaving regardless. What would it matter to paint white over navy rather white over white? One coat. One coat too much, apparently.
Once I was in a house I owned, I painted the walls myself, sometimes over and over again. My houses were full of color. Over the years my walls have worn butter yellow, regal red, and apple green, like living inside a bag of M&Ms. When I moved into my current home, my oldest son was beginning to drive. He’s an adult now and living on his own. This house has evolved since we moved in, and while there is still color, it’s calmer. The walls are white, cream, the blue of the sky in the morning before the sun is fully up. Only my office is a deep hue, the green of fir trees in sunshine.
My shift to neutrals was unexpected and entered my life about the same time as a brown-eyed chef who is now my husband. When I saw his home for the first time, I was struck by sheer individuality of selections – and perhaps also by the fact that there was no milk cart storage in sight. Entirely neutral, it was sonata of texture, finish, and form.
As we make our home together, we are finding a way to blend – our families, our schedules, and our things. While I mourned taking down the yellow Chinoiserie curtains in the living room, I find I prefer the French antique-linen tablecloths that have taken their place. As I always have, I am watching and learning from the experts.
Local designer Lisa Schmidt has a firm foundation in classic modern shapes and natural materials. Her rooms naturally integrate to their surroundings, whether they are in Kansas City or Colorado, where she enjoys a healthy client base, as well. She likes neutral palettes because they lend a sense of calm without shouting.
“Our work is often described as being earthy,” Schmidt says. “To me that is taking the neutral aspects of a room and adding the punch, whether it’s softness or interesting textures – which tend to be more tactile rather than shiny or reflective.”
Schmidt says that while she has never been attracted to very colorful and patterned rooms, when she remodeled her living room a few years ago, she decided to use a lot of color and pattern.
“I think I was experimenting on myself, which is better than experimenting with clients,” she says. “But in the last few years, I’ve changed out the rug to something simpler and replaced the pillows with ones that have texture rather than color.”
She says the change has delivered a new sense of calm in the room.
“Maybe, in my case, with raising children and working all day, what I want to come home to is something that’s relaxing, welcoming, and peaceful.”
In addition to the calming effect, Schmidt thinks neutral backgrounds provide a lot of flexibility, as well.
“We have a client whose whole house is neutral, but she has a very colorful art collection and accessories that she changes in different seasons. A neutral background allows her to add personality on a whim without a big commitment. I’d rather the artwork and other textures attract attention rather than the palette of the room itself,” Schmidt says.
While the neutrals of decades past might have led homeowners to forbid red wine in the living room, Schmidt notes that today’s textiles offer wearability even in rooms that withstand a lot of use and traffic.
“When it comes to lighter-colored materials, we use a lot of natural materials like wool, which repels and cleans very well. When my children were young, we had a light-colored wool sofa, and I had it cleaned once and never had an issue. It just repelled stains.”
Schmidt also appreciates the evolution of outdoor fabrics that have a soft hand.
“They’re not the plastic-y, scratchy material of the past,” she notes.
If there is any “bling” in Schmidt’s rooms it usually appears in light fixtures or the texture of tile.
“Someone might not think of tile around a fireplace that is neutral and matte as ‘bling,’, but it has a nice, chiseled stone face to it. You may notice the simplicity of a room, but the artwork, light fixtures, accents – such as the pillows – and the objects on the tables add a lot of interest.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Patricia O’Dell started the lifestyle blog “Mrs. Blandings” in 2007. Her curiosity led her to write about designers, artists, business owners, and industry leaders. She’s been published in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Chicago Tribune, Flower magazine, Kansas City Spaces, and The Kansas City Star, as well as archdigest.com and elledecor.com.