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Choosing the Colors of Your Dreams

Nancy Schoeffler(c) 2007, The Hartford Courant

She may be right. Even in a spring drizzle, interior designer Elaine Ryan’s house on a green wooded hillside in Woodbury could be the “yellowest house in Connecticut.” It’s the intense yellow of the skin of a yellow squash – a color she positively loves. Step inside Ryan’s home, and the foyer and dining room both are painted ripe papaya – not just the walls but the ceilings, too. The kitchen and family room are painted the luscious color of cantaloupe. The master bedroom is celery green. The powder room is garnet red infused with amethyst. The sunroom features white latticework over marigold-yellow walls. Ryan practices what she preaches in her new book, “Color Your Life: How to Design Your Home With Colors From Your Heart” (St. Martin’s Press, 209 pages), an unusual decorating guide that urges people to trust their intuition about the colors they love and design their homes with colors that resonate personally. Rather than defaulting to beige, Ryan says, people should tap their memories and dreams for the colors that give them joy. The colors people love can be influenced by their mother’s favorite colors and their feelings of connectedness to the natural world. “My whole thesis is that God created a beautiful environment for us, and it’s incumbent on us to bring it inside our home,” Ryan says. “Why stand at the window of your beige house, looking outside longingly?” A native New Yorker who spent many years in Arizona, Ryan first became interested in color and people’s relationship to it in the 1970s. As a designer in New York, she says, “all my clients wanted beige. People wanted only touches and splashes of color – in pillows and in artwork … People want to use color, but they don’t know how. … The American public has been conditioned to believe we will make a mistake.” Years later, and “suddenly single,” Ryan says, “all the color drained from me. I walked around in a kind of blur. Color is a restorative element, and I knew that I had to get better. I couldn’t go on drained of color.” She prayed for insight and “commanded” her subconscious mind to reveal to her conscious mind the color she loved best. “It was a red, a rosy pink red.” She painted her bedroom the color in her dream and found she reconnected to her sensuous side. Paint samples and color wheels are a waste, she says, because every color has thousands of tones and people still can end up with colors that don’t harmonize. Over the course of eight years, using paints and crayons, Ryan developed a color matching system, zeroing in on 64 colors across the spectrum, which she split into two sets. All the colors in each set harmonize with one another – in a sense, they are all “neutral” to each other. A pop-out set of color bars is included with her book, and she lists the corresponding names and numbers of paints from paint retailers. “You cannot make a mistake,” she says. “This will make you your own color expert.” Ryan recalls decorating a restaurant for a client who wanted to get customers in and out quickly. She chose bright primary colors, which tend to make people feel impatient, she says, definitely not colors she would recommend for a home. In her book, she details the steps of her “supermarket test,” aimed at helping people rediscover the colors they love. “We find that the colors that we wear are the colors we choose for our home, and the colors we choose for our home are the colors we choose in the supermarket,” says Ryan. “I’m not telling anyone anything that they don’t already know.”


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