Color consultant Leatrice Eiseman empathizes with consumers who feel that choosing color is no easy matter.
"You'll look at tiny chips in paint stores, or small swatches of fabrics," said Ms. Eiseman, "and it's hard to imagine what they will be like in a large expanse. You're likely to paint a wall by day and look at it by night and say, 'This is not at all what I wanted it to be.' Or you might pick a fabric that combines colors and not realize how the eye will marry them. A blue and red sofa, for example, might end up looking purple."
This is what Ms. Eiseman recommends when choosing colors:
* Start with the color wheel. If you want to be subtle, select a color related to the first one you've chosen. For example, with blue, you might move into purple on one side or blue-green on the other. These are colors that will never fight with each other.
* If you want to make a bolder statement, move to p complementary colors. In color terminology that means the opposite hue on the wheel, warm mated with cool. The combination can be dramatic. The key to making it work is that one color should dominate.
* Never buy from a small sample of fabric. Try to get as large a piece as possible, particularly when using complementary colors, and see how it looks over a chair, a sofa.
* If you're going to paint a room, you might go from the lightest peach to terra cotta to rusty, combined with all variations of blue, from powder to navy. The key to making it work is that one color should dominate.
* If you're going to paint a room, invest in a quart of paint and test the color on one wall. Look at the wall at different times of day, in different kinds of light. Consider the psychology of the room. How will the color make you feel? Excited? Relaxed? Warm? Cool? Strive for balance. If a color feels warm, it might be too warm in the summer. Too cool a color might not be inviting.
With the new '90s color palettes, what if you feel as though you're stuck in the last decade? Ms. Eiseman examines some popular schemes from the '80s and suggests how they might be updated:
* With mauve and teal, for example, you might bring in accents of purples. Purple is a first cousin to mauve. You can go brighter and/or deeper, in a shade of aubergine or something in a pinkish-purple. Consider the berry colors. Do something regal -- a rich purple would add sophistication to the soft, light palette. which over time loses its identity. Try a coral rose as an accent.
* A pale peach and sage or jade green scheme just may need a little deepening. The green is still out there -- environmental colors are very important. But take the peach to a richer apricot. Or you can try terra cotta. These colors are associated with the "lodge" or Western look. Gold mixes nicely -- not a muddy gold, but a gold from banana cream to just barely yellow. You also might move into the violet family, which would be exciting.
* Fond of red, black and gray? You might add a hunter green for a sophisticated presence. Black is a neutral, but it's powerful. So is red. The green is strong but neutral enough so it won't vie for attention. You could bring in a vivid yellow, but that would be a more whimsical touch. Beiges and creams would work if they're cool. You can't go too yellow, too warm. Taupe also would add sophistication.
* If you still like white, which does marvelous things like expanding space and enhancing light, consider the new "nuance" whites, which have a slight under-tint of another color. It's subtle, but can really make a striking difference.
If you want to make a color change, Ms. Eiseman advises the following:
* Go brighter on the walls. If that's too much of a shock, you might consider painting one wall in an accent color.
* Seven to 10 years is the general life span for upholstered furnishings, so if you have a mauve sofa, perhaps it's getting a little shabby anyway. You might re-cover it or put a slipcover on it. A bold new color or pattern can really change the personality of a room.
* A window treatment may be another fairly inexpensive way to introduce color. Swags, for example, are easy. These are wonderful do-it-yourself resources and a great opportunity to marry colors in patterns, stripes, florals and plaids.
* Experiment with color by using accents such as pillows, a skirt over a round table, or artwork. See what you can live with before making a bigger statement.