Painting. For some, the word evokes memories of new homes, a fresh start, or for DIY enthusiasts, an invigorating weekend project. For others, indecision and fear. While a glossy coat or two of matte white will probably never go completely out of fashion, lately the design world is moving away from neutral and safe, and towards bright and bold. Given the tumult of the past two years, the reasons are not only understandable, but obvious. While there are countless strategies ready to be deployed, a remarkable way of painting has gained traction in the recent past: breaking flat walls of different colors, separated only by chosen lines guided by the strongest hand – or the bluest of bands. In other words, color blocking.
Of course, once the decision to paint (or repaint) this way has been made, the first step is to choose an interesting or unexpected shade to serve as a base. This year, we have all noticed an increased interest in those born of our relationship with the natural world: hunter green, terracotta, aquamarine, citron. That said, it doesn’t have to be so limited. Important conditions to consider: the quantity and quality of natural light, as well as artificial light; any existing furniture or works of art that can be traced back to their color story; a function. General preferences also matter.
The second step, unsurprisingly, is to take it a step further: choose a second color (or more, depending on the eventual scheme). For this phase, consider more neutral options than the first, like an off-white, for balance, or try a different shade (or shades) of the same original color. Also, for the advanced eye, the mixture of completely different shades is also suitable.
Step Three: Break the mold and create new paint boundaries that are completely independent of the existing edges of the part. Remember that painting the trim differently does not count. Like most design tasks, there are technically no rules, but guidelines usually come in handy.
The first scheme that comes to mind is the partially painted wall. For this there is a predetermined imaginary line where everything below is painted one color (usually, but not always, the darkest), and everything above is painted one color. other (usually the clearest). There are no set rules, but this line is usually between one-third, one-half, or two-thirds “up” the height of the walls. (Two-thirds is a personal favorite.) This approach is incredibly powerful in rooms with high ceilings.
To get the best result, three things should be carefully considered.
The first is the relationship of the line to an architectural or decorative element: for example, the midpoint of window frames, or the edge of a work of art, mirror or other drapery mural. By having an anchor for paint line placement, there is evidence of thought and intention that creates overall cohesion, which would otherwise be lost in its absence.
The second is ultimately a commitment to the cause. Everything should be painted above and below this line, including doors and trim. The ceiling should match the top color; however, the ground can remain as it is. That said, it’s worth exploring a material that also coordinates with the lower part of the paint as an option. For example, a large rug or even a carpet of a similar tone would amplify the overall effect.
The third is mainly about contrast. The greater the difference between the two shades, the more intense the result. Often that’s the intention, and if so, just keep going. However, to add softness and sophistication, reduce the contrast to a reasonable minimum, while avoiding a shift so subtle that it requires surgical light to see.
Another scheme to consider is a gradient or ombre. This is when the colors gradually change from one end to the other; for example, from bottom to top. The overall result is similar in appearance to color charts sold by some paint companies that many readers are familiar with. (And actually those bridges are useful for selecting those swatches as displayed for the gradient itself.)
Like the previous scheme, I generally recommend darkest at the bottom and lightest at the top. A more playful option than the previous one, I tend to find success when using it in children’s bedrooms, playrooms or other spaces aimed at young people. Although for a contemporary, elevated space (think a seaside study in a glassed-in estate on Dune Road), a professionally executed scheme could also work very well.
Finally, there remain essentially simplified murals. Rather than reproducing an elaborately crafted 15th-century fresco, consider a vernacular interpretation of a minimal or modernist line drawing (drawing inspiration from Sol LeWitt or Henri Matisse), or even something as simple as a jagged mountain range with or without peaks of bright white snow. While no promises are made as to how easy such a task will be, fun is almost guaranteed along the way.