A prism of your own making

Color is the key to a truly bespoke home

A vibrant room designed by Ellen Hamilton
A vibrant room designed by Ellen Hamilton

High-end interior designers agree: A truly upscale home is one that is truly one-of-a-kind. But in an industry that seems to flit from one trend to the next, what now constitutes a unique look amidst Manhattan’s vast pool of upper-crust homes? We surveyed the city’s hottest up-and-coming designers, and again, they agree: Today’s upscale interiors are embracing color — lots and lots of color, and not just one hue in particular.

Simply put: Color is the new luxury, and it’s the perfect way to make your home suit your preferences. Obsessed with your favorite red lipstick, or find yourself grabbing the same tie again and again? Then bring that shade or that pattern throughout your home. Today’s high-end homes are unabashedly colorful: think richly hued and patterned furniture, accessories and walls.

Bold use of color doesn’t just signify a homeowner’s fine taste, it’s also the hallmark of a truly top-notch designer. In the tippy-top of the market, designers have the chance to show their talents using the chromatic spectrum. “It’s a skill set; it’s courage,” according to Ellen Hamilton of Hamilton Design Associates.

Many of today’s bright and bold interior trends mimic those of the street and runways. Flip through any fashion magazine — or take a stroll downtown — and you’ll see daring mixes of brazen prints and lively hues. Interested in getting the look for your pad? Read on for what these rising design stars had to say.

Ellen Hamilton of Hamilton Design Associates
Ellen Hamilton of Hamilton Design Associates

Take a hue 

“Color is out there and people are trying hard to be expressive with it,” Hamilton said, adding that she’s noticed a dramatic departure from neutral palates.

But make no mistake: No designer we interviewed declared that, say, purple is the hot color for fall. The look, notes Hamilton, isn’t about one color in particular — it’s about creating a customized space that aligns with a client’s personal preferences.

“Color that is based on a strong overall idea or palette is how a natural and integrated use of color is achieved,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton recently completed a Brooklyn Heights brownstone that had a theme of water and beach. The home — a year-round residence — boasts a mix of seafoams, bold blues and sage greens on its walls. But she didn’t stop there: The artwork and furnishings throughout the home also embrace the same beachy palette.

Such layering results in “a much more luxe, much more beautiful, much more voluptuous and much more crafted look,” Hamilton explains.

From left: Young Huh's display at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse and Young Huh
From left: Young Huh’s display at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse and Young Huh

Fresh prints

Old-school floral prints applied in modern contexts are coming to the forefront in the high-end market, according to designer Young Huh, whose clients have included heads of hedge funds and real estate companies. The liberal use of color prints is a departure from clean, minimal days of yore. Color is back, and “this time it’s for real,” Huh said.

The key to making this look glam — and not grandma? It’s in the mix. Take these floral-dense chintzes and brocades and “pair them with something sexy, something edgy,” she said.

At the Kips Bay Decorator Show House earlier this year, Huh sheathed the bottom quarter of a corridor wall with black patent leather and covered the rest with a green, pink and white chintz pattern. An alcove with a built-in bench was completely upholstered in teal velvet, and the room’s finishing touches included leopard-print throw pillows and a shiny gold ceiling. Despite the myriad colors, textures and patterns, the completed look was fresh, unexpected and completely modern.

From left: Shawn Henderson and an interior by Janine Carendi MacMurray (Credit: Rachel Mcginn Photography)
From left: Shawn Henderson and an interior by Janine Carendi MacMurray (Credit: Rachel Mcginn Photography)

Be bold(er)

Feeling a little gun-shy about embracing the color wheel? Then take baby steps. That’s what designer Shawn Henderson — whose portfolio includes white and beige-toned walls with similarly colored furnishings — has found himself doing. “I don’t know what’s happening with me,” he said of his recent work that features bright pops within largely neutral surroundings.

One example, a project he’s working on now, includes a gold-colored sofa in a gallery-like room of white walls and white oak floors. “It’s going to be the one anchoring object with color,” he said of the sofa, and the room’s furniture will largely be neutral in tone. “It’s a nice new extension of what I would normally do,” added Henderson, whose client roster includes funnyman Will Ferrell, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and actress Glenn Close.

This select use of color helps achieve a different type of balance in a room, he said, and it also creates a more unique look — helping to distinguish a home from mass design.

According to Janine Carendi MacMurray, principal at Area Interior Design, a previous trend for neutral interiors was to make for subtle accents with accessories in muted colors, especially in the living area. Now, “people are less afraid of using color,” she said.

It’s okay for colors to be bold and loud, she said, and such hues can bring fresh energy to a room. “I think the last thing that people want is something that’s too blended,” she said.

As you gain courage to work with color, think about lacquered walls and unexpected wallpapers — and don’t be shy to echo these colors or patterns throughout the home. “People want that punch” in other areas of the home, because in the living room — where lots of time can be spent — “people will get tired of it,” MacMurray said. “You need to be able to create interest through the apartment as well.” 

Amy Lau and a handmade wallpaper from Fromental
Amy Lau and a handmade wallpaper from Fromental

Game of thrones

If you’re drawn to fun, loud design but want to mitigate risk, think big about what’s likely the smallest room in your home: the powder room.

Designer Amy Lau sees these rooms becoming hot. “They’ve become the calling cards,” she said, adding that she recently reconfigured a client’s entrance, living room and dining room in order to accommodate one. These spaces are generally small, so if something were to go wrong, there’s less to lose, she said.

Since these bathrooms don’t need tiling (thanks to the absence of baths and showers), a client can have fun with ornate wallpaper — not your run-of-the-mill flat look, but textured wallpaper that’s both bold and bright. “Using one of these unique wallcoverings would make a small powder room feel like a precious jewel box and would definitely add tons of drama to the space,” she said.

There’s also the potential for custom work in these spaces to add extra pizzazz, like spicing up a vanity with an agate onyx sink. “These sink bowls are stunning, as the natural striations in the stone creates a beautiful visual texture,” Lau said.

Charles et Fils lamps from antiques dealer Liz O'Brien and Vanessa Deleon
Charles et Fils lamps from antiques dealer Liz O’Brien and Vanessa Deleon

Heavy (mixed) metal

“Mixing metals is really hot right now,” said designer Vanessa Deleon, who’s currently working on designing furniture pieces — like armoires and nightstands — adorned with New York City scenes hand-painted by artist Domingo Zapata.

She sees gold and silver accents coexisting side-by-side throughout the home, though there’s also fun to be had with rose gold, brushed bronze, chrome and brass. Specifically, she sees this look take form in picture frames, coffee tables and even metallic-tone wallpaper.

Designer Kara Smith, president of SFA Design, whose residential projects include the homes of actress Denise Richards and musician Pete Wentz, also notes this trend. “It used to be taboo and look like a mistake,” she said. “Now, done properly, it feels very curated and current.”

Antiques dealer Liz O’Brien agrees. “I think of it as a sophisticated thing,” said O’Brien, who notes that the mixed-metal trend first emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that many items from this period are hot again. “There’s a lot of style to these pieces and a kind of joy.”

In short, everything old may be new again. “In fashion, all things have a cycle,” Henderson said.

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