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This Mold House redux: Hue and cry for color help

NolaVie editor Renee Peck wrote This Mold House for The Times-Picayune for four years after Hurricane Katrina. She is reposting a number of her favorite columns in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the storm. This article originally was published in The Times-Picayune InsideOut section on Feb. 25, 2006.

Katrina has done what women's lib, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and 30 years of marriage couldn't.

It has turned my college-jock husband into a metrosexual.

"We need a gallon of Navajo white satin finish for the upstairs hallway," he called to say the other day. "By the way, I've picked a 5½-inch baseboard. You think that's too high? And I'm looking at door trims with George today."

After four months of remodeling, a tornado blew away part of our home, sending our renovation project back to square one and me into an emotional tailspin. I was approaching breakdown.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of everything," Stewart said.

And he has. He drives to our Lakefront home daily to nag the workers (he calls it an inspection). He prods them to re-sand the Sheetrock seams or clean up the driveway. He trades off-color jokes in Spanish with the roofing crew and kicks soccer balls with them. He has the contractor, the painter and the floor installer on speed-dial.

But his favorite person to pester is our color consultant.

Decorator Suzie Allain's Broadmoor home was the last one featured pre-Katrina in InsideOut. The story focused on her exuberant use of -- and eye for -- color.

So I hired her in December to help us pick paint colors for the house.

"I want gray and black," Stewart told her when we met for the first time.

"Gray will make me jump off a bridge," I interjected.

Stewart likes warm colors; I like cool ones. He goes for elegant; I go for cozy. His color palette, like his personality, is extroverted. I'm a hibernating type, drawn to the greens and golds of nature.

"You two obviously are polar opposites," said Allain, alluding to more than mere color preference.

She has since earned her fees many times over, not only in paint selection, but also in marriage mediation. She has managed to find rich, elegant shades that we've both agreed on without coming to blows.

The first coat of paint -- an unusual gray/brown with the unlikely name of Pismo Dunes for our bedroom -- went up this week, and it's a stunner. It's amazing how the stark white of a wall coated with primer suddenly becomes an inviting haven when the color goes on.

"Nice," I said, admiring the newly patched and painted expanse.

"Nice," agreed Stewart, who couldn't tarry. He had an appointment with his new hairdresser at H20.

ABOUT COLOR SPECIALISTS

There are many good professional color consultants in town, and they charge a range of fees. The benefits of using one became obvious to us after hiring decorator Suzie Allain to help pick paint hues. She charges $75 an hour, has spent about five hours so far on our project, and knows multiple swatch books by heart. "Take a look at Martha Stewart Beryl 8240," she told me when I mentioned that my daughter wanted a blue-green for her bedroom.

The problem with picking paint colors these days is that there are just too many of them. To combat the overwhelming number of hues, many companies are offering mix-and-match booklets or sample cards pairing two to five shades that will work together. There is nothing wrong with that approach, nor with substituting a shade or two for one you don't like in the mix.

We relied on Allain to narrow the range for us -- and also shoulder the burden of worrying about right or wrong choices.

"I lie awake at night thinking about your colors," she said at one point. ("You're not charging me for that, are you?" I quipped.) She carefully considered the style of our house, our tastes, how the rooms flow, window placement, exterior and interior textures and light effects. She painted poster boards with sample colors and moved them room to room for us to study. She prefers satin finishes for walls, glossier finishes for trims.

Ultimately, we picked about a dozen Benjamin Moore shades that can be used almost interchangeably throughout the house. They range from a peanut-shell beige to a deep taupe, from a misty green to an outrageous pumpkin. She even found an interesting gray that doesn't drive me over the edge and that Stewart finds quite elegant.

Some of Allain's other paint pointers:

  • "One of the major considerations for me when I work on a color scheme is the architecture (contemporary, traditional, or a mixture)," she says. Are the ceilings high with defined moldings, or low and open to other rooms with no moldings? Is there a logical place to change colors, or does it all need to be the same -- in which case, put the color on furniture and accents.
  • Consider orientation and light. Does the house get northern exposure, or southern? Are the windows large, letting in lots of light and view, or small? A lot of natural light can wash out pale colors, while vivid colors are good in rooms with little light.
  • What is the purpose of the room? Is it a room for relaxing (soothing, warm natural colors), or is it a room that is not used often that could have a nice shot of color (a powder room)? Is it a hallway, so that you can you see it from other rooms? Contrast from room to room is good, as long as the colors relate.
  • Most importantly, use your favorite color. After all, it is your house and should reflect your tastes. Have fun; it's only paint!

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]