colors that work with natural stains

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ask a designer – By Tanna Miller

colors that work with natural stains

Q. I am in the process of relocating to Lexington, Kentucky, and have purchased a home with natural stained woodwork and oak floors in theliving areas.  My taste generally runs to contemporary and I do not have a clue what color will complement this wood.

I want to keep the natural stain on the wordwork and the oak floors.  Can you give me some idea about what color pallet I should use for the walls especially since the space for the dining room, family room and breakfast area is wide open?—CM

A. Your home has very attractive architectural elements. With the existing white walls it is easy to see that the trim creates much linear movement which diminishes the attractive aspects of the wall planes. I would like to bring attention to the height and planes as well as give you color or personality. Many color families will work with the dark trim. My strategy is to assign a medium-dark color to a medium-sized room so that the trim and walls melt into each other a bit. This lets the trim in the adjacent room with tall ceilings have a more dynamic roll while emphasizing the planes rather than just the lines of the trim.

To imagine colors next to the brown wood, it is helpful to use a virtual paint simulator. I have included two examples. Neither system allowed for stain trim, so I found, with considerable trial and error, a dark brown that would do. The terra cotta wall was done in Ralph Lauren’s program. It appears darker than the paint chip, but is an excellent representation of how natural light affects a color.

The other image is simulated on Behr’s website. There are many intriguing options, but no brown color category which makes finding muted colors difficult. (I gave up on one of my pet colors, “raisin”).  The Behr image looks very accurate giving a true sense of ceiling, trim, and the room beyond. Color possibilities in addition to the ones shown include 1) fuchsia, peach, deep sea blue, oatmeal, mocha ceiling: white, blue ice, or mocha cream, 2) raisin,  
olive-khaki, smokey orange, deep slate blue, mocha cream; ceiling:  pale driftwood, khaki cream, or shrimp cream; 3) white sand, paper bag, cappuccino, blue fog; ceiling: fog white.
Because the openings between your rooms are so vast, you can see three rooms at a time from many vantage points. This means that you must have at least three colors that look excellent next to each other even in large proportions. Here is a simple formula that will work every time (although I would personally have many alternatives):  
choose a medium color for a medium room, a lighter version or sister hue (my preference) for the tall room, and a color which compliments both in the adjacent room, plus linking neutrals for ceilings. I have selected a few color families I would suggest for the space and for a fresh contemporary feeling. You can interpret these color concepts in most paint charts. Let the trim be your finishing touch, and have fun!

fabrics can combine classic styles

Q. I inherited a Duncan Phyfe sofa which is beautiful, but my existing furniture is country French. I am willing to reupholster the antique. Is there a way I can combine them in the same room?—B.F.

A. Blending always means finding and enhancing similarities. In this case, Duncan Phyfe was known for preferring simple style to Classical French imports which were prevalent during his day. Simple and graceful curving lines are found in both country French and works of Duncan Phyfe.  While your fabrics may be the boldest elements of your existing country French, ideally they should not be now. Let the shape of the pieces be the first linking element. Next the formality of the fabrics should relate. If your country French pieces are covered in a bold floral of inexpensive cotton, I am afraid you  
should recover them even if you have the world of choices for the settee. If your country French is of a somewhat impressive fabric, you may work around it and recover only the settee. Assuming you must recover all pieces and to keep something of the original character of what drew you to country French, consider a quiet floral tapestry and then add a softened damask, and a simple small design or geometric, all of relating color schemes.

Having three unmatched patterned fabrics will lend to an informal, cottage air while the quality of the fabrics themselves live up to the Duncan Phyfe. I would add toss pillows to the settee with luxurious trimmings that link the colors and soften edges. I would not recover the settee in a solid taken from a small country print, hoping for success. The furniture pieces must be integrated with fabric. Here is an example of a high fashion (if you don’t mind losing the country flavor) way to use a solid and floral, letting the drapery link the floral. Be prepared to work on more than just the settee. To have such a lovely antique grace a room warrants well chosen fabrics of integrity.


We welcome all questions related to home design—ask us about color, room arrangement, planning for a new home, selecting furnishings, lighting, flooring, and more. Questions are answered by Tanna Miller, allied member ASID, a well respected designer who has operated her award winning interior design practice Trends & Traditions in Nashville for 18 years. Contact Tanna at or call 615-399-0661.

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