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Lacking colour inspo? Kelly Wearstler is here to help

The A-list designer answers our burning colour questions

By House & Garden South Africa | January 17, 2022 | Trends

Not only is she the top designer on every list out there, Kelly Wearstler recently collaborated with Farrow & Ball on a range of paint colours, making her the go-to person who can solve all of your colour conundrums. Below, Kelly tackles the burning questions you may have about colour in your home.

Everyone keeps telling me to avoid dark colours, they’ll make your space feel tiny. My apartment is already quite small, should I just avoid moody tones altogether?

Not at all! Just because a room may be small, does not mean it needs to be white or light. Darker tones can work beautifully to make it seem larger and full of mood. In many ways, it truly embraces the architecture of the space you have. One thing I would recommend is to not ignore the ceiling – a strong tone with a hint of brilliant sheen is an artful opportunity to add contrast and depth to an otherwise boxy or ordinary room. Mouldings also offer the chance to experiment with colour.

Picture: Kelly Wearstler. Supplied

I just moved into a new home and, although I know I don’t want white walls, I don’t know what colour to go for? It feels like a huge commitment. Where do I start?

Colour is the spirit of a room, its heart and soul. It defines shape and justifies everything. Any colour you see is a combination of hue, brightness and saturation. Because I’m fascinated with the whole rainbow, I focus less on hue and more on noticing how saturation levels dial-up intensity and drama. Before selecting a colour palette I take a look around me: What’s outside the window? Is there a towering brown oak tree, or a street art tableau? What are the surrounding colours outside? How does natural or artificial light fill the room? If you’re nervous about totally covering a space in a certain colour, sampling paints before applying them to the whole room is helpful. Make sure to let the paint dry all the way, as the finish will transform the texture, and revisit the room at various times of day to see how the colour reacts to changes in natural light. Even keep it up on the walls for a few days and really live with it, and decide if it makes you feel good.

Picture: Final selects of the Farrow & Ball + Kelly Wearstler collaboration. Supplied

Are feature walls still a thing? Are there right and wrong ways to do them?

Yes, definitely, but I like to think about it as making the walls the feature, rather than one feature wall. You can create this in a variety of ways. Go bright and bold and cover everything, including millwork and ceilings or you can use paint to make an amazing mural. Another trick is to bring in texture.

Picture: Final selects of the Farrow & Ball + Kelly Wearstler collaboration. Supplied

When it comes to painting a wall in two colours, is it always best to go for opposite tones on the colour wheel or will it just end up looking like a carnival?

I don’t really like to have rules when it comes to picking colours as my design process is mainly instinctive but, while I love working with bolder hues, people forget that black and white are colours, too! There are plenty of ways to add depth and drama to a space when using neutrals correctly. You can create a strong contrast by juxtaposing opposite neutrals within a room and teaming colours that have similar tones within works really well too.

I'm a writer who often works from coffee shops and sees fun decor ideas whenever a new one opens up. I think about stealing them – er, "taking inspiration" – for my own home, but suspect that most of the ideas I see would end up looking like, well, I was living in a coffee shop.

What are some of the different ways in which colour works in hospitality and residential decor – and are there ways to adapt one to the other?

So much has changed in the art of designing hospitality spaces since I worked on my first hotel, the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills. These spaces are much more than a place to sleep or to buy coffee, in your case it is all about the experience. It is a place to be inspired, to feel connected to the local surroundings and the people, where you can step out of your every day and live a little bit better. We are seeing an evolution of the hotel and hospitality experience and the blurring of traditional residential and commercial spaces. Hyper-locality is something that I always consider as travellers are all about the true experience of where they are. To bring a little of this hospitality flair to your interiors I would recommend incorporating design pieces and elements from your travels and surroundings to create a deeply personalized atmosphere.

Picture: Final selects of the Farrow & Ball + Kelly Wearstler collaboration. Supplied

How do you best bring colourful patterns to your walls when a solid colour just isn’t as satisfying anymore? Is there a painting technique you would recommend?

To incorporate patterns on a wall, my favourite method is to use wallpaper. I love designing these as it gives me full freedom of expression. From hand-painted organic shapes to more geometric, structured layouts, these can be both modern and classic with patterns and colours for any style.

What is your starting point when you're putting together a colour palette and, from there, how do you 'discipline' the colour selection throughout the decorating process?

I recommend taking a hue that already exists in their home which they love - it can be anything from a vintage chair to a piece of artwork; anything that makes them feel good - and use that to create a colour scheme. Another way to start to introduce colour in your home is to select a bolder colour for the wall trim or ceiling. That way, the colour still makes a statement but doesn’t completely overwhelm the room.

Picture: Final selects of the Farrow & Ball + Kelly Wearstler collaboration. Supplied

In the end, don’t be afraid of experimenting! Take risks with colour. Sometimes by playing around with different or unexpected hues, you end up finding a palette that is unique or groundbreaking that you didn’t even think about before. You can completely transform the feeling or mood of a space by infusing colour, whether that is with artwork, textiles, wallcoverings, or objects - the inspiration can come from many different sources. Using colour is also a chance to express your voice within the space, and create a personal narrative.

What are the rules for using black?

No rules! But my tips would be to choose paint with reflective tones and use a dry brush for the final layer to create extra dimensions.

Picture: Final selects of the Farrow & Ball + Kelly Wearstler collaboration. Supplied