This is so embarrassing I almost can’t write about it. But, ego be damned, I thought it might be comforting for you to know that even decorators struggle with their own houses.
My living room has been painted. Five. Times. We’ve lived in this house for less than three years. And it’s not just a matter of tweaking to find the perfect shade of beige; the colors have been, in order, a dark purplish blue, a dark bluish grey, yellow, red, and, now, off-white. It could be painted again by the time you read this.
In retrospect, I was so overwhelmed at the thought of moving into a new, larger space that I violated my own cardinal rule of decorating: Have a complete plan for a room – and preferably the whole house – before you do anything.
In any event, the first blue, which I put up and painted over before we even moved in, was Benjamin Moore’s Nickel (2119-50). I had a series of B&B Italia ads in mind when I chose the color: they featured a gorgeous gray/purple sofa against walls of the same color on a dark herringbone floor. The Nickel turned out to be quite periwinkle in this north-facing room…instead of radiating urban sophistication, the room had the vibe of a Mother’s Day card gone bad.
Not willing to give up on the B&B concept, I tried a second blue, November Skies (2128-50 – all of these colors are Benjamin Moore). I decided to paint the corner fireplace the same color to keep the focus on a massive painting we had just bought (by Michael Hall, a good friend, artist, and architect).
Pretty depressing, right? After more than a year of feeling like we were living in a submarine, I had the room painted light yellow just to brighten it up. That took the kick out of our acidic green drapes, which killed me (Beacon Hill’s Florian – Ming Green). I don’t even have a picture of that wall color; I think it was up for two months.
Desperation was setting in, and my husband’s patience was wearing thin. With grim determination, I put up swatches and swatches of yellowy greens, oranges, tans, and dark pinks (the Dorothy Draper book had just come out). I considered wallpapering the ceiling. I still think that would have worked, but it would have meant installing crown moulding, and did I mention that my husband’s patience was wearing thin? I had a friend/client over one day to help me mull things over, and after looking at the 30 or so colors on the walls, he turned to me and said, “You know what you have to do. You already know. There is no other option.” All of a sudden, I did know, but I wasn’t happy about it. The answer, at least at that moment, was red.
Up went new swatches, Deep Rose was selected (2004-10), and I painted the room again. The red was an improvement. With black and white etchings on the walls (we moved the big painting to a less prominent part of the room) and not much else, the room felt more like a stage set than a place where you wanted to curl up with a drink or a book. But at least I didn’t cringe when I walked past, and everyone else seemed to like it. For some reason, though, the red felt like a copout.
We lived with the red for more than a year. But I was getting itchy. While the red worked fine with the adjacent mustard dining room, it didn’t do anything for the two parts of the room I was determined to work with: the green drapes and the huge painting. Out came the swatches again.
Finally, finally, I had an idea. We were moving art around, and it just hit me that I should use a neutral on the walls and paint the fireplace the color that would pull things together. From there it was easy. Farrow & Ball’s Green Stone on the fireplace in their luscious oil full gloss (my painters hate me, but I love oil paint on trim) and Alabaster (OC-129) on the walls.