MyHomeIdeas (MHI): You seem especially comfortable using strong color. Do you have a strategy?
Mary McDonald (MM): Well, everything depends on all of the circumstances, but more often than not, I usually try to have one strong color (perhaps even a second balancing color), but I don't use a lot of really strong colors together. This is in general, of course. I might use a red and balance it with a brown, but red would be the strong color.
MHI: What colors in particular do you love right now? Are there any color combos you're tired of?
MM: I have a dark teal blue green that I love, but I am having trouble getting anyone else on board. I sit with piles of linen velvet swatches on my desk wondering where I can use these. I think of coordinating Indian fabrics that would work and glossy paint colors.
Color combos I am tired of ... hmmm ... To me, it is how it is used. I am usually tired of more than the color. The thing about color is it can be used in so many combinations. So not really, but I am bit sick of the application of lime green in the past few years ... myself included.
MHI: If a person is considering making a strong color statement in their home but is unsure of what palette to choose, where should they start? Their wardrobe? Artwork?
MM: I think you may always start with a color you love in a sweater, a piece of art, or an invitation. You have to start somewhere, so any color you even think you like is fine. You must test your feelings about it with bigger swatches and paint cards sitting around for a while. I personally am always motivated by promotional ads and invitations. I have a drawer of them as well as retail packaging at my office for inspiration.
MHI: When you have to convince a client to sign off on a bold color choice, how do you make your case?
MM: I don't generally push my colors onto my clients. In fact, the one thing I start with when we work together is colors they like. I work my magic to balance them out or choose the right color to coordinate with what they like. I have a distinct group of clients that are more daring than others, and they are into that sort of leap -- others are not. I have to pick my battles.
MHI: Does your use of color change when you're dealing with a large space rather than a small one?
MM: Yes. I will paint or wallpaper a small room anytime with a dark, deep, or bold color, but for a large room, it might just be the upholstery or accents. This is not a rule, but in general. A small room becomes a jewel, but intense color can turn on you in a big room. You can end up wanting to call Barnum & Bailey. I have come close to dialing their number before. Although I did a dark charcoal gray throughout a Hancock Park living room, and it could not be more elegant. (But it was gray, not purple.) I am also kind of loving eggplant lately, by the way.
MHI: Do you keep bright colors out of bedrooms? That’s the conventional wisdom ...
MM: I do not have any rules really. If the client is a vivacious, bold person, I might go for strong color in the bedroom, depending on the rest of the house. I probably have more soft palette bedrooms than anything else, but I have done a few very bright color combo bedrooms. One was done in dark coral, brown and red, and orange. I once did royal blue upholstered walls at a beach house. It all depends on the house and the person.
MHI: Where do you get your inspiration?
MM: I am honestly inspired by so much out in the world: the color of a leaf, the mold on a lemon, invitation colors, packaging. I love that yellow Marc Jacobs perfume bottle (it is like an old-fashioned tea party with a modern line), vintage trim, pictures of old English manor houses and French chateaus, crumbling architectural fragments, vintage dresses, antique vases, anything matte brass from the forties, Argent paintings, fashion photography (I have a lot of Mark Shaw), Jordan almonds, feathers, kooky Madeleine Castaing (and Morticia Adams while I am at it), and many others designer's work, past and present. It all inspires me.
Inspiration is the easy part. The jump from inspiration to execution is really what it is about. We all have ideas: They are free and easy and somehow all finished perfectly in a nanosecond in our head. It is the jump that is important.
MHI: Your style seems so particularly West Coast. Would you use different colors in a different environment?
MM: At heart, I really like these old-fashioned Nancy Lancaster rooms with layers of chintz and books everywhere with a gilded broken table. So yes, I would and do use different colors in a different environment. My library is paneled and all dark olive green. In fact, there is nothing really California or hip about my own current living room, so it is funny to me that I have this reputation.
But at the same time, I am glad because I have made an effort to express what is current for us here in California in a lot of my work. I am glad it shows, because as I said, inside I am in a chintz living room in Connecticut.
MHI: You seem to be able to balance traditional design with very fresh colors. Is there a trick?
MM: I don't know. It is very instinctual for me, so I will need an analyst for that one.
MHI: With the difficult economic times, are you worried people are going to pull back from exuberant color?
MM: The great thing about color is it is cheap! You can paint a room any color and give it a whole new life without much expense -- so no, absolutely not.
If anything, colors should be timeless unless it is a particular trend. I love ALL colors: taupes, beiges, and whites, too, so I never even think about it. Because I have had colorful jobs published in design magazines, there is an affiliation with me and strong colors, but I love almost all colors (though I struggle with mauve). That means all the gradations of pewters, beiges, taupes, and ivories. Those are colors, too.
Color is the easiest and most affordable way to evoke an emotion and mood in a room, and in this economy, I think people would love to feel a shot of affordable joy from a pink wall.