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Make Over

Is Your Room Ready for Some Red?

Reign in the power of this rosy color. 

Courtesy of Better Home and Gardens®

It’s a powerful color that can offer a wonderful feeling of warmth, especially for rooms that lack access to sunlight. Is red right for you? Find out what it has offered one woman as she layers tones and shades of red.


You can't accuse Daily Howard of being fickle. She's lived in her Houston bungalow for 25 years, and a single color -- red -- has dominated her decor almost since day one. But don't think that means she's in a rut. With an artful eye for mixing and matching red tones, as well as an ability to tailor those tones to changing color currents, she's kept the palette as fresh and vital as when she first moved in.

"Red gives off a feeling of comfort and warmth," says Daily, a longtime interior decorator who also has a background in fashion design. "I just respond to it. When you get to a certain age, you know what you like, and chances are you're going to stick with it."

Sticking with such a potent, powerful hue for so long may not seem easy. But Daily's cozy decorating style calms it down and gives it a friendly, rather than brash, spin. A collector since childhood, she loves to marry vintage finds with unexpected accents and contemporary touches, all brought to life by dramatic red walls and fabrics. In the living room, for instance, antique violins lean against a wooden chair; a mercury-glass orb perches atop a standing pot rack. A Kurdish cargo bag is draped casually over the coffee table.

 Is Your Room Ready for Some Red? 

Because of the home's compact size -- just 1,200 square feet -- and open layout, the continuous color scheme preserves a cohesive look. "When you live in a little tiny house, it just needs to flow," says Daily, who dismisses theories that red can cause people to feel nervous or hyper.

Chinese red paint sparks up the kitchen cabinetry; threads of scarlet run through upholstered pieces, rugs, and draperies. Red-tone accessories range from lacquer boxes to vintage ledger books. Furnishings in warm woods, such as walnut and mahogany, bearing a deep and mellowed patina, accentuate the scheme further. Accent pieces and small furnishings are kept within the same color family so they can be moved anywhere in the house to refresh the look.

As with any color, the umbrella term "red" encompasses hundreds of nuances, and Daily's ever-evolving palette has scaled the spectrum. "I find that I'm going brighter, and I think that helps keep me updated without changing my color scheme," she says. The burgundies, cranberries, and other cool reds that once characterized her decorating have yielded to spicier shades tinged with orange.
Is Your Room Ready for Some Red?1 

Red in Any Form

Red -- in any form -- is especially welcome in the main living spaces, which are short on sunlight and need the extra boost of warmth. But orange accents add brilliance and interest, as seen in the vase of Chinese lantern flowers on the living room mantel and a bowl of tangerines on an antique scorched-bamboo cabinet.

Hints of the early blue-reds remain in fabrics, accessories, and artwork that the decorator has amassed through the years. The resulting layers of color allow her the freedom to build on her design, slipping in new finds and shifting old ones around at will.

"If you pick a color palette and stick with it, you have great flexibility in moving things around," Daily says. That versatility is important for displaying heirlooms and investment pieces. "You don't just throw out your Oriental rug."

Is Your Room Ready for Some Red?3

Vivid wall color wakes up art,
such as the paintings over
the living room mantel.


For her, variety is key in layering tones and shades. A pair of items in dissimilar reds might appear mismatched; a dozen look engaging and diverse. "If you have a lot of things to look at, you don't analyze the colors," Daily says. "I used to be a real perfectionist about this stuff, and now I'm a lot looser. I think that if things are a little off, it looks less contrived."

Though red is definitely this home's signature hue, she explains that "I didn't want a whole red house. I was looking for opportunities [to add different colors]." In the sunroom, red plays second fiddle to ochre yellow. "I wanted the room to be light and bright. I like the way the color transitions to the outside." Red also appears merely as an accent in the master bedroom, where she focused instead on soft lime green.

For a smooth visual transition to views of the foliage outside, subtle ochre graces the sunroom scheme. Because the space opens to the dining room, the dining room curtain fabric was repeated at the windows. The chaise reflects an early preference for cool reds.

These are minor dalliances, however; Daily won't stray from her first love anytime soon. "I don't know where I'd go," she says. "I've found what works for me."

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More Photos

The tale of Daily Howard's love affair with red plays out on the wing chair in her dining room. Its range of tones, from brick to burgundy, lets her move it to any spot. "I've had the chair upholstered in that fabric for over 20 years," she says. "It has every color in my house and literally has been in every room." Chinese red cabinets and trim link the kitchen to the adjacent dining room. Dark accents, such as a scorched-bamboo cabinet, tone down vibrant walls. The living and dining areas get limited sunlight, so the bold orange-red compensates.

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Paint is the most direct way to bring color into a room, but sources such as wood pieces and accessories get into the act as well. In the living room, a variety of accents enhance the color palette, from a mahogany secretary to antique paisley fragments made into throw pillows. Visual resting points balance the strong hues: white trim and shutters in the living room, soft floral dining room curtains, and pumpkin-and-red kitchen wallpaper.
 Is Your Room Ready for Some Red?6 

Touches of red also appear in the dining room draperies and in the antique samplers and framed needlework. Even the vintage ledger books on the tiered butler's table fit the theme.
 Is Your Room Ready for Some Red?7 

Soft green mixed with orange-red accents provides a restful palette for the bedroom. The warm tones in each play nicely off each other.

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Secrets for Working with Color

Running Hot and Cool

Warm reds, cool reds -- what's the difference? Cool reds carry blue undertones, while warm reds have orange and yellow undertones.

Although many people are drawn to one camp over the other, there are no rules against mixing cool and warm reds. Blending them offers the sense of a complete spectrum and a fuller palette. The trick is to use enough variation -- light and dark, subtle and strong -- to provide visual interest. Layer reds that are too similar in shade and you risk ending up with a mismatched effect.

You can also use other hues in a room to play up certain undertones. Cool reds look cooler against blue, purple, or black, whereas yellow, orange, and coral elevate warm reds.

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Tap into Wood Tones

From furnishings to finials, wood is an effective way to enrich a red scheme. Some species, such as cherry and mahogany, have a reddish cast that ties in nicely. But don't overlook woods that tend toward yellow or orange, such as maple. They work well with warm reds and can convey a more modern sensibility. For depth, pull in several wood varieties. The dark palm wood tray shown here is subtle, but its warm luster would make it right at home in a red room.

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Spice It Up with Fabric

If your walls are bright red, fabrics that contain only hints of the color offer visual reference and a pleasing contrast. On the flip side, predominantly red curtains or upholstery can bring out red touches in wallpaper or wake up a soft paint color. Our swatches illustrate a few ways to manipulate a color scheme with fabric. A deep red background would make the brick red in the floral print come forward; against a neutral, it would recede. In the stripe, red is unassuming but has presence. Used for curtains or an upholstered piece against a red wall, it would pop. The coral and crimson toile, good for a pillow or chair, diversifies a varied red palette.

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Branching Out Beyond Red

The lessons in this story can be grafted to any color that works for you. For this vignette, we took a stylistic cue from the dining room and applied its color techniques to a green palette for a very different effect that's a bit more contemporary. Green is a hue that's easy to steer toward either the warm or cool end of the spectrum.

The chair fabric has a yellow undertone that complements the mossy green walls and the rug, yet it contrasts with the gray-greens of the lampshade and hutch interior. It's hard to find natural woods that appear overtly cool, so painted furnishings are often optimal. If a room contains enough cool elements, though, light woods such as ash will blend in. Ebonized woods or those with a dark stain that incorporates black tones also work well.

The nickel-and-mirror campaign table, pewter dishware, and lamp base add icy notes. To underscore the effect, we sprinkled in hints of celadon, pale blue, and turquoise through accessories and artwork. Even the plants have a silvery cast.

Because the overall scheme is cool, the wooden boxes on the hutch and dabs of red in the rug lend depth without detracting. Materials such as bronze or copper, or accent colors such as yellow and gold, would have put a warmer spin on this space.

Produced by Joetta Moulden

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