Designers Share Their Biggest Color Mistakes—And How You Can Avoid Them


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As with everything in life, in interior design, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks. When something goes awry—whether it’s ordering the wrong finish on a color choice or not making enough of a custom color—the point isn’t perfection. It’s figuring out what to do next.

AD PRO spoke to interior designers and color specialists around the US to see how they make lemonade, as it were, when the yellow they specified is more of a lemon. Read on for their worst color mistakes, and their best advice for finding the right shade.

Plan ahead

“I’ve been an obsessive nut about testing out paint colors before committing,” says color specialist Eve Ashcraft. “That staves off a lot of potential disasters.” AD100 designer Young Huh uses her own home as a testing ground. “Your own house is a great place to experiment without getting an angry client,” she says. Or, at least, the angry “client” will only be you.

Make yourself at home

“A mistake designers commonly make is not taking the surrounding environment into consideration when choosing a paint color,” says Guillaume Coutheillas of FrenchCalifornia. He notes that in his home base of New York City, for example, “the way a paint color will look in the space is often affected by neighboring brick buildings, weather, or direction of light.”

Amount of light is a crucial concern too. “You can look at a swatch and not realize that a color that’s relatively light is going to magnify, become more pronounced, or get darker, especially in a room that doesn’t get a lot of light,” Huh says. “But also, the opposite happens. You pick a really light color for a room that gets a lot of sunlight, and the color doesn’t magnify at all—in fact, the color’s too light. It just becomes a snooze.” The key is knowing how the sun fills the space.

Hit the lights

Artificial lighting poses its own challenges—and can lead to some painful color mistakes. For a small room off an apartment’s main space, Prime Projects’s Brendan Mahoney recalls how he wanted to “create a more intimate enclave experience by going several shades darker on the paint.” But when a pendant arrived, “the lighting washed over the color in a way that made the difference in tone between the two spaces almost unnoticeable.” The color scheme was a washout, in other words. “The space was still a success, but I admittedly wanted a bolder visual statement,” he says.

But what happens when the fixtures themselves are the wrong color? Little Wing Lee suggests conducting a thorough review of your order. “You can have a moment of, like, Oh my god, did I specify the wrong thing,” she laughs. Going through the documentation can establish who’s responsible for making things right. “We’ve all been in this position,” she says, “and it’s about trying to help your client out of this problem. If vendors are making mistakes all the time, you’re not going to go back to them. But if the vendor says: You’re right, this was a mistake, and fixes it, then you’ve established a relationship with someone you can work with and have honest conversations. I think that’s important.”


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Sample clearance

“Always see a sample first,” advises Ernst van ter Beek, design director at Future Simple Studio. “You go to Morocco once, and of course you’re going to want a ‘tadelakt’ plaster bathroom at home. I’m not afraid to paint my walls some out-there colors, but tadelakt lasts a lifetime.” In other words, not getting the color just right could cost you.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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