Originally published in STIR®

No matter where or how you use red, it evokes a response and makes a statement.

Whether you apply it as a modest accent or to an entire accent wall, the color red is a multifaceted hue in a designer’s toolbox. “Red packs a punch. It’s stimulating, fun and passionate,” says Valerie Steil of Marc T. Nielsen Interiors in Valparaiso, Ind. “It can provide a very rich background for artwork and for furnishing ⎯ from antiques to contemporary. A true red is very versatile and not gender specific.”

Despite red’s versatility, some clients still harbor false impressions about it. “There are many misconceptions about using red, and the first is the fear that red will make the room look small,” says designer Lori Miller.  “Another misconception is that red is an angry color, too stimulating, or it's just ‘too much’ and won't go with anything else.”

Annette Phillips of Inspired Design in Vienna, Va., likes red because it grabs attention and instantly makes a room feel cozy and warm. “The misconception is that red will overwhelm a room. So the trick is to balance the room appropriately ⎯ both for the purpose and for the client,” says Phillips.

For color-shy clients, start small by introducing red in small doses. “I like to use red as touches throughout a room to create a ribbon for your eye to follow,” says Lisa Peck, principal designer of LiLu Interiors in Minneapolis. “So, in a great room, use red in accessories like pillows, area rugs and artwork, so that it moves your eye around the space.”

To take red to the next level, consider including it in secondary spaces ⎯ an entry vestibule, for example. “If red appears in a space your client spends less time in or passes through, it makes an impression, but they’re not living with it for a long time,” Peck says. “A room I’d do in red is the formal dining room because it’s a space you use once a week max, or just when you’re entertaining. Red encourages social interaction and creates a lively atmosphere.”

Powder rooms also fall into the category of secondary spaces. “We encourage our clients to go bold in the powder room because there are so many opportunities to do so,” says Katie Schroder of Denver-based Atelier Interior Design. Schroder recommends painting the room red and adding an interesting stencil pattern over it. Powder rooms provide a wow factor for guests: “Just like the mystery of walking into a restaurant bathroom these days, a red power room provides that element of surprise,” says Schroder.

Accent walls are a favorite place to use bold color like red, but Schroder shies away from the use of a hue on a single wall. “It can make the room too choppy,” she says. “For clients willing to take more of a design risk, painting two or three walls, or even the entire room red, is much better. You can always soften the effect in other ways. It’s not like you’re buying a $20,000 armoire. It’s paint. Experiment and have fun with it.”

Schroder did just that with a client who had a large, open floor plan with multiple seating areas. “We painted the room red and used neutral colors throughout, such as a caramel-colored sofa and chairs. Then we used more pops of red through red artwork, red leopard prints and solid red pillows.”

In such instances, Schroder cautions to carefully choose the appropriate hue. “If you’re painting your entire living room red, you should have a little more gray or blue in it so that it’s a deep, saturated color and not overly bright — a shade that’s more livable for every day.” To test that the color suits the room, she suggests painting a 3-foot-by-3-foot section to see how it looks by day in natural light and by night in artificial light.

“If your client is afraid of painting the walls red, paint the ceiling red instead and leave the walls neutral,” Schroder says. “You can have a moment of fun, and it’s unexpected.”

Whether they’re painting a wall, the ceiling, or the entire room red, designers know the importance of carefully choosing color combinations. “Consider the other colors in the color scheme and which ones will be seen right next to the red,” says designer Molly McGinness, who’s based in Falmouth, Mass. “Red is an intense hue, so it can look juvenile or sophisticated depending on how it’s combined with other design elements.”

In a kitchen project, for example, McGinness used a red bisazza tile backsplash with black grout and a similar shade of warm red on the ceiling, both of which paired well with light-toned cabinets and flooring and black appliances. “The ceiling was high enough for this to work without feeling crowded, and the other surfaces in the space benefited from the boost of red,” she says.

Red in the public eye

Red is the color of celebration, sensuality, excitement, energy, love and so much more. It’s no surprise, then, when commercial spaces such as restaurants, hotels, salons and trendy boutiques grab hold of this powerful color that’s so rich in symbolism and meaning. At Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge in Denver, Schroder employed crimson and orange-toned reds and paired them with purple and camel accents to give the interior an edge. The result: a hip, swanky vibe that embraces red and its many facets and connotations.
Although hospitality environments provide an ideal palette to play with red, corporate environments traditionally shy away from the color. In the right context — and the right amount — red can send the appropriate message. Companies often incorporate red in lounges, lunch rooms and corridors to discourage lingering, but in areas where productivity and creativity are key, balancing calming blue or green palettes with vibrant red accents seems to provide the optimal balance of tranquility, focus and stimulation.

Color trends may come and go, but most designers believe red will stay a classic. As Phillips points out, “There’s a red for everyone. This robust hue comes with unlimited possibilities.”