Bright over Beige: Choosing Bold Paint Colours

Working with a colour expert can transform your home from boring beige to bright and bold

Credit: Anna Beaudry / Styling by Maria Killam

Green walls play off muted orange chairs in the library

Rather than relying on trusted neutrals, the Wong family chose bold colours and patterns with the help of a colour expert

“We’ve always said we wanted our house to look impressive when people walk in,” says Laura Wong. “We wanted the ‘wow’ factor.”

Laura, her husband Edmund and their two kids moved into a new house in White Rock last fall, and although they knew they wanted it to make a statement, they weren’t exactly sure how to achieve such a goal. That’s when they turned to Maria Killam, an interior design and colour expert, whose brightly hued online portfolio jived with their own design sensibilities. 

Going for Bold

“Right away Maria knew what she wanted to do,” says Laura Wong. “We’d just moved into our house and it was pretty much empty, but she walked in and had this vision of what she could get our house to look like.”

Yet when Killam began introducing swatches and paint samples, Wong admits she was apprehensive. “I was intimidated, uncomfortable about these – what for me were – strong colours. I think most homeowners go for the comfort of beiges and other easy stuff,” says Wong. “You do it a little on faith – you trust that she’s the expert and knows what to do.”

Edmund, too, raised a skeptical eyebrow – particularly the day he was greeted by green walls in the library. But in the end, the strong colour scheme won the couple over, especially since the bold tones aren’t overbearing in context, explains Wong. “When you walk in, there’s flow. Everything goes together. It doesn’t mean everything is matchy-matchy, but it’s just natural as you walk from room to room.”

Killam elaborates: “When you’re creating flow – and certainly in the main areas of the home – it’s really important to repeat the colour. One way is to have it on the floor in one room, on the furniture in another room, and then have it as the wall colour in another. It’s a unifying element that way.”

Creating Colour Flow

Keeping the colour palette simple is key in large, open plans where sightlines lead from one room into another

For the Wongs’ home, Killam began with the fresh green of the dining room rug – a bargain find that inspired the entire colour scheme – and repeated it in the living room furniture, on the library walls, and in accessory pieces throughout the main floor.

The four ottomans that tuck under the custom-designed living room coffee table are a bold complementary orange that draws the eye and makes the coffee table the room’s focal point. Similarly, bold shades of orange in the drapery and throw cushions round out the effect.

Orange also makes a more muted appearance on the chairs in the library and on the walls of the vaulted-ceiling entry and living room. “Laura didn’t want green everywhere, or a really strong orange in such a large space, so we chose a butterscotch colour that would be a nice warm, neutral backdrop,” says Killam.

Clearly, Killam doesn’t shy away from using vivid colours – and surprisingly, less isn’t necessarily more.

Using a strong colour once will make it stand out, but repeating that colour can make it look like it belongs. She references the commonly touted rule of three, pointing out that although the dining room seems to be bursting with colour, the palette is limited to green, orange and sunshine yellow (not including neutrals), all repeated at least twice. 

Orange and yellow accents are used in the dining room

“You have to repeat the colour, and you want to use colour in gradations of scale,” Killam says. “When you’ve got an accent colour like orange, you want to have a small orange, a big orange, and an even bigger orange if possible.”

Taking the living room as an example, the throw pillows and decorative papered books on the bookshelf are the “small orange,” the ottoman coffee table serves as the “medium orange,” and the orange undertone of the butterscotch wall colour works as the “bigger orange.”

The same technique is applied in the library: orange echoes from the framed artwork on the walls to the bold fabric of the curtains to the elegant upholstery of the chairs. And although this room’s green walls once sparked misgivings in Edmund, he quickly fell in love with the finished product, says Wong.

In fact, the once-awkward unclosed space off the entry went from being “the one room we didn’t know what to do with,” to the one that receives the most compliments from family and friends.

5 Questions
 with Colour Expert Maria Killam

1. Favourite colour combo? 

Sunshine yellow and raspberry – I’m considering doing my living room in them.

2. Accent: Black or white? 

White. It’s definitely not a neutral – you have to repeat white in a space. I don’t like all-white rooms, but I think it has a place and creates a clean look.

3. Metal: Silver or gold?

Gold is growing on me because it’s coming back in. And, of course, when any look comes back around, it looks different. It’s not the shiny brass of the ’80s – it’s more dulled and organic-looking now.

4. Most overused colour?

Pinky beige – I’ve seen too much broadloom carpeting from the ’80s. People choose that colour without realizing it’s pink. I think people see it as warm on a small scale, and they don’t see the undertone of it until it gets big. Then they install the tile and they paint it on their walls and they get their carpeting installed and it’s pink!

5. Most underused colour?

The colour of stone for exteriors – it’s the perfect neutral warm grey that should not be overlooked!

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.