Working the Trends
The first option is to work with trendy colors such as those the Color Marketing Group (CMG) and other such organizations forecast as fashionable at the present time for a year or two ahead. There is no doubt that these selections will make a fabulous statement. If the clients love the colors and can see themselves living with them for the next 10 to 15 years there is no problem, and your job will be easier. Fabrics, wallpapers, accessories, etc. all will be geared to these colors so the plan should fall together quickly.
The challenge with this approach arises when the clients are enthused about being in fashion but are not overly enamored with the color schemes possible. Unless the clients have the money and the option to redecorate in the next five years or so, they may not be happy with your services when the color trends change. They may be sensitive to a change in fashion that makes their room look dated.
Working the Wardrobe
Though a more unusual approach, a review of the clients' clothing closets can be practical and inspirational. Many people wear a lot of the same color in different tints and tones because they look good in it or feel good wearing it. Pick out the clients' favorite hues, then discuss how the colors may need to be altered to work in a long-term color scheme.
Some colors, such as fuchsia, are popular and worn often but for a short duration, as in clothing that can be removed at the end of the day. To translate such a dramatic color to an interior design palette one may want to use it only as an accent color or tone it down with black, tint it up with white or de-intensify it with its complement: green. Such color modification can transform an intense color such as this to a hue that can work well over a long period of time as wall, floor or window treatment coloring.
Working the Details
Do the clients already own something they absolutely adore and are looking for an excuse to use it in the room being designed? This object could be any accessory item such as a vase, area rug, piece of artwork or other collectible. Using this object and solid color swatches of chintz or cotton, pull out each of the colors found on the object no matter how much or how little of it there is. In most cases you'll get at least three colors, in some cases you'll get many more.
Ask the clients to indicate which colors they absolutely cannot tolerate and physically remove those from their range of vision. Start a discussion about the colors that are left and the amount of any of them they would like to see. Whenever a color is eliminated, pull it from view and concentrate upon those that remain.
Over a relatively short period of time, maybe half an hour, the clients will come down to two, three or four colors, and if you've guided them properly, you all will know which will be the dominant, secondary and accent colors in the space. The object around which this process is based now can be used as a focal accent piece in the plan.
Working the Fabrics
Another option is to start with the fabric. Before going on the appointment get a feel for the clients' preferences. Do they like florals, large or small prints, geometrics, plaids, stripes? A little bit of qualifying done early can save an incredible amount of toting and lugging later.
Bring in fabrics of the style selected. Review the fabrics with the clients and ask them to look for three possibilities. First, a fabric they love including the colors it is printed in. Second, colors they love though they do not care for the fabric's print. Finally, a particular pattern they love but are not drawn to the colors.
If the first situation occurs your job is easiest. You can go through the color selection process as described above and use the fabric of choice to tie the newly selected colors together on furnishings, window treatments and accessories. More difficult to complete are the second and third scenarios. Either of these get you half way there but require more efforts.
If the clients find a fabric with the colors they want, you can go through the color selection process as above, discuss the type of pattern desired and then search for fabrics using the required colors in a desired pattern. Of course, the clients may be comfortable with just solid colors, in which case your work in this area is done.
If the fabric pattern is found, your job is far from over. It will be necessary to go through a color selection process based on solid colors only (see below), then try to track down a similar pattern in the colors selected. This could be an impossible task, so try as hard as possible not to put yourself in this position. You could end up doing a lot of fruitless work and, if you are not charging by the hour, ending up frustrated and financially drained because of it.
Working Color Blocks
If all else fails, get the largest set of solid fabric samples possible. This will be easier if these can be separated by breaking up the deck in which they come.
First, eliminate color families for which the clients have no affinity. If the clients hate purple, don't have any of these swatches anywhere in sight.
What color families appeal to the clients? Pull these out first. Go through them and have the clients select particular swatches they find appealing. At this point there are no right or wrong answers, just preferences. After continuing this process, eliminate too many choices by having the clients choose between samples until you get down to two, three or four colors. This is a tedious exercise, but it will work. Once the colors are selected, decisions can be made about which colors will be dominant, secondary or accent and the rest of the plan begun.
Working with Proportional Swatches
Working with solid colored swatches is an excellent way to get the clients to visualize and get involved by handling the fabrics. To make this process even more powerful, consider using these swatches to demonstrate the quantity and proportion of each color to be used in the room.
Once the dominant color is selected, lay the swatch out flat on the working surface. It does help if the surface is white. Now take the swatch representing the secondary hue, fold it in half and place it next to the first swatch. Fold the first accent color swatch in half and then in half again and place it so that it can be seen next to the first two colors. If additional colors are being used, continue to fold the representative swatches to decrease each piece by half in size each time.
When you've done this, ask the clients how they feel about the proportions of the colors on display. Don't be surprised if they ask you to reposition or reproportion some of the colors or even do it themselves. This is good; it keeps them involved and gives them a better understanding of what they will see in their completed space.
By following these processes your selected color schemes will be enjoyed by your clients for years to come. And you will reduce the surprise and anxiety of the outcome during the design and planning stage.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.