Distributed By New York Times Special Features
Photo by William Abranowicz
At a dinner I hosted recently, one of my dining companions, Jim Santora, an advertising executive, told me that he had instantly responded to the fact that in my new house, a restored 1925 "fancy" farmhouse in Bedford, N.Y., all of the colors in all of the rooms, although different in tone and hue, correspond to one another. I was very pleased to hear his remarks, for I have tried so hard, in each house I have decorated, to make sure the rooms are harmonious with one another, that there is a subtle flow of color.
I tried to ensure that, in going from one room into another and another, or looking down a hallway into every room, there was never a jolt, never a jarring sensation. I wanted to be sure that somehow a dissimilar color or tone had not snuck in to destroy the serenity I was trying to achieve. I even joked with Jim that if I had a child who had to have a lavender room, I would paint the entire inside of my home shades of lavender and blue that would complement one another much like the shades of gray and green and brown that he saw in the rooms at Bedford.
To get a palette like the one I am experimenting with and decorating with at the farmhouse, I think about many things: What mood do I want to create, what sensibility do I want to achieve, what style am I striving for, and what connection with the outside -- with nature surrounding the house -- do I want the colors to have? There are lots of questions and it's a very big challenge, especially when I want to design the colors, to discover colors that can't be found in existing paint collections anywhere.
Designing colors, creating a palette of new shades and hues and tones, is one of my favorite things to do, and I am inspired by the strangest and most common and most unexpected of things and objects and ideas.
For Bedford, my inspiration came while shopping at one of the huge antiques shows along the Hudson River pier in New York City. Kevin Burger, a friend, employee and a very fine painter (of landscape paintings -- not of walls), was with me, as was Kevin Sharkey, the editorial director for decorating at Martha Stewart Living magazine.
I was picking through trays of cameo bracelets, admiring the oddity of the settings and the carvings, when Burger said the cameos would make fabulous new paint colors. I laid out three bracelets and a ring the dealer had and immediately loved what my friend had seen: The colors of the cameos were beautiful and odd and harmonious and weird and indescribable. There were so many hues and shades, and I knew instantly that I could use the color of almost every one of them in the farmhouse.
I bought two bracelets and the ring, and asked the dealer what they were made from. The only cameos I knew were carved from shell, and these were obviously different. He explained that they were known as lava jewelry. Each cameo was carved from a piece of porous but smooth lava from Mount Vesuvius, the notorious volcano that erupted centuries ago, covering the city of Pompeii.
But lava was not my only inspiration. The gray I used to paint and stain every exterior of every building at Bedford comes from a piece of Italian-made paper that was given to me. The gray leather of Burger's uncle's gloves (his uncle from Rome, keeping with the Italian theme) was the inspiration for the glaze on some of the wooden paneling. Two other materials offered inspiration: finely ground green tea from Japan and a swatch of linen in a similar green fabricated in Kyoto.
For another building on the property, which will ultimately house my library of books, I chose to create a different palette, based on the many colors I found while gazing at a giant Brazilian Tun shell. Inside and out, the shell was composed of hundreds of colors that were complementary and unusual. Yellows and pinks and golds and tans and grays and beiges abounded, and I had to narrow my choices, but ended up with another interesting palette that is lovely to live with.
The process of making colors, and making those colors work with other colors and materials and objects, such as wood, stone, fabrics, veneers, trims, floors, furniture and objets d'art, is for another column that I will work on about decorating, for that is indeed the decorator's work. For now, I will continue to concentrate on color and applying color to the architecture and the fixtures that will make my house a home.