As gray washes over the sky in winter, color becomes the vitamin D of our interiors: essential and yet deficient in many of our residential diets.
Jamie Drake, whose clients include Madonna and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is the interior designer to consult for a supplement. His exuberant embrace of color earned him a place on Architectural Digest’s list of the world’s top 100 designers and architects in 2014. He recently launched collaborations with upholstery manufacturer Theodore Alexander and Scott Shuptrine Interiors, an upscale division of Art Van Furniture.
Although Drake is known for color, he said his spaces aren’t as flamboyant as his reputation might conjure.
“Often people will say there’s so much color, but really when you look at a room, it’s predominantly gray or sand, with accents of color in smaller pieces of furniture — throw pillows, lamp shades and accessories. It’s not the quantity of color but the way it’s used — in a very impactful way.”
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He offered more of his tips on taking the color wheel for a spin.
Q: How does one begin to introduce color into a neutral room?
A: You don’t need to paint your giant walls and cover the biggest piece of furniture — your sofa — in color. It can be the top of a stool, or putting a small collection of ceramic or glass pots together as tabletop accessories. If you have a thread of color in a room, it keeps it calmer. But I like to disperse color throughout a room, not all collected in one corner. When you do that, it’s like a dance-step chart of color that keeps your eye moving around the room.
If you have a thread of color in a room, it keeps it calmer. But I like to disperse color throughout a room, not all collected in one corner.
Jamie Drake, interior designer
It can be seasonal. In the great houses of the 19th century, there would be winter slipcovers and summer slipcovers, and you’d change the rugs and roll them up. It’s an investment in energy as well as money, but how fabulous! One zip off and one zip on.
I like to do something unexpected. Say you’ve had a dining room table forever; maybe it’s a little tired to your eye. Why not add color there, and keep the wood chairs or upholstered chairs around it? Paint the whole table, so it becomes more of a sculptural element.
Q: What are some counterintuitive but successful uses of color?
A: One I often employ is putting color on a ceiling. People think that must bring the ceiling down and make the room feel lower. I think the opposite; it brings the room up and elevates the room. From pale sky blue to a much bolder sunset coral, color on a ceiling is something I’ve used consistently throughout my career. The walls could be another color. It depends again on your color tolerance. You could have a room that has intense chrome yellow walls with a vivid turquoise ceiling. Then again you might choose to have a room that has soft gray flannel walls and a paler turquoise ceiling. It’s what reflects your tastes and passions.
Q: Do certain materials — metals or woods — take to color better?
A: Right now we’ve seen a huge swing back to brass, bronze, gold tones, warmer metals, away from nickels. And then when it comes to woods, you have extremes going on, very dark, or very lighter ones with pickled finishes and cerused washes worked into the grain. I always find it more harmonious when I’m looking at warm wood tones to stay away from warm colors. I wouldn’t put orange with cherry wood or red with mahogany wood; you look to highlight the wood, not mimic or fight it.
Q: How does light mitigate or enhance color?
A: That’s a very important thing to keep in mind: where you’re located. If you’re in a brilliantly sunny Southern climate, you need to be quieter with your color; otherwise your color will light up too much. In grayer climates, stay away from things that are too cold in tonality, because you’re going to have cold for 10 months. But even grays can be warmer gray tones. Concrete is warmer — it has a little warmth from a sort of brown undertone — versus blue grays.