Color Part III: Using Color for Accent

Text and photos by Erica Fay.

There are as many ways to use a bit of color to create a big effect as there are reasons you might chose to do so.


“Firenza” fabric by Carole Allen.                                                                           

It could be that you’re in no way ready to spend money on the furnishings, paints, rugs or fabrics that you would love to have, but want to spice up your space. Or you like to change the feeling of your environment every now and then. Maybe you love the peaceful feeling of a room you’ve done in closely related tones, but begin to find it dull. Then there are those who are color timid – unable to jump into committing to color in a big way – don’t worry, it’s not a disease or a debilitating condition. Adding a splash of color is an easy, changeable, and inexpensive way to solve decorating doldrums.

And what do you want from this splash of color?  Do you want to brighten the scene, or remind yourself of what you love?  I think it’s important to have something you see upon entering your home that makes you glad to be there.  In the past, entries were planned to impress arriving guests, but I think you should impress yourself.  In many of our New England homes the formal, street entry is not what we use on a daily basis.  Where you actually enter your home should be designed to give you a happy greeting.  Yes, you need to take off mucky boots and snow covered parkas.  You need to put down your burdens, at least for a moment. But you can use a visual feature that makes you smile.  A fun color on one wall or a bench cushion in something bright can help as you rest your weary bones while removing those sweaty running shoes.

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The bright ‘Sounds of Nature’ green wall was only five feet across at the end of a long entry, which included the laundry. Without that fun color and fanciful rack at the end, it was a dreadful room to come home to.

Our homes need to serve us by being functional, and a big part of their function is to help us feel some contentment, even if momentarily. That can mean reminding us of aspects of life that get forgotten in the daily drudge. This is where a spark of color can be of assistance. Even a mirror or a reflective, shiny item can do this. But use mirrors with caution. I like to place them where I see the mirror but not necessarily my reflection.

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This accent came with the house. When selecting new colors for the entry and stairs, I chose a mellow brown for the newel post and gold for the walls with a soft white trim so that the stained glass would catch the eye.

Don’t forget that a piece of artwork, a hanging quilt, or poster of something you enjoy can serve this purpose. Even when there’s a color you love, you may not want to surround yourself with it by painting it on all your walls. It can function more like a brightly colored scarf, to add spice to your basic black outfit.

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The single bright blue planter (waiting for the growing season) catches your attention among the bright white Adirondack chairs on this deck in Sandisfield.

For those who fear color commitment, a couple of bright throw pillows can be a start. If you don’t like what you chose, just pass them along and try another color. If the budget allows, a small throw rug or brightly colored ceramic lamp base can do the job.

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Here is an alcove in a bedroom at the former Silo B&B in North Egremont. A deeper shade of gold was used in the recesses to create interest. Trim: “Cameo White”; walls: “Amber Waves”; accented alcoves, “Peanut Butter.” In the adjoining bath, the same colors were used in an opposite way with the deeper color for the main walls and the lighter for accents.

I have often assigned an accent color for the back of shelves. It works well for bookshelves as well as in kitchens. My dishes are white so I can use a variety of table linens to add the color to table settings. They also invite a bright color on the back wall of my upper kitchen cabinets.

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“Forest Moss” is used behind the open dish selves here in a kitchen in Egremont. The walls are “Yellow Squash” and the trim is “Acorn Yellow.” The oil painting is by Kate Knapp.

An accent color can be changeable, a spontaneous decision, or one carefully planned into a scheme. Just a splash of color — especially when unexpected — can be on a single piece of furniture, paint on just one wall or the trim, or fabric used on something distinct.

Use too much and it’s no longer an accent. I could show photos of some exteriors here in the Berkshires where a unique trim color was overused and lost its pizzazz. What could have been an exciting choice became a major component in the color scheme, throwing the elements out of balance. If I were to include photos of such homes it would be libelous, if not scandalous, and certainly bad form. But, if you look, you can begin to notice when something that should be fun is overused – not to judge, but to learn by seeing.

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The black and white fabric print of Florence rooftops by Carole Allen Design is accented with piping, the color of which is picked up on the frame of this simple chair. Before upholstering the chair was painted with Liquitex professional spray, “Cadmium Red Light” Hue 2, then coated with a satin clear spray finish.

And while you are noticing, you will see many more examples of choices well made. Often successful exterior color schemes use several closely related colors with something expressive on the front door.


This large barn-like post and beam home in Sandisfield is oriented to the natural setting out back and to the side. The view from the road where one approaches would seem austere without the bright red doors which give a mere hint of the stylish and unique interior. Exterior stain, “Seagull Grey,” doors “Bonfire.”

In the end, think of using an accent of color as a way to express your uniqueness. If just a glance at that special color you chose brings a smile to your heart, it’s a good thing. A bit of bright color can distract you from your habitual thought patterns for a moment.

I’ll say it again and again. Look around and notice colors, their use and your response to what you see.


NOTE: I select paint brands according to the preferences of the painting contractor doing the job. I have been happy with Pratt & Lambert, Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore. Unless otherwise stated all photos here used Benjamin Moore.

This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Edge on February 3, 2017





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