Most designers acknowledge that their clients are taking more chances than ever when it comes to choosing color palettes for their homes. Yet, despite branching out of their normal comfort zones, homeowners still pick hues for both exteriors and interiors that are reflective of their regional surroundings.
"When it comes to regional color schemes, colors are driven by three factors: architecture, nature and the people who enrich the culture," says Lauren Makk, a designer on The Learning Channel's Trading Spaces. "That trilogy really drives the way that colors and our lifestyles come together."
We take a look at these factors and how they inspire the use of color in various regions throughout the United States.
"In New England, you see a lot of deeper hues, like dark grays and greens, reds and navies," Makk says. "These colors are more historical and all very beautiful. They develop a story about America's history and what we're familiar with." Such colors are in line with the region's Colonial, Georgian and Federal-style buildings.
In addition to the historical influences, New Englanders often rely on the gray tint of the Atlantic Ocean, the lush greenery in the summertime, and colorful wildflowers (which include deep purples, icy blues and cheery yellows) as both dominant and complementary colors in their homes.
The Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern Coast
With its mix of Tudor, Arts and Crafts, and Colonial architecture, the Mid-Atlantic offers a color palette similar to New England but with more energy. "The colors there are very lively and a little sweeter," Makk says. One such spirited color is sage – likely a nod to the hue of the Atlantic in this part of the United States. The varied tones of the area's river rock also make subtle appearances in homes here.
Further south in Florida, the predominant Mediterranean- and Spanish-style houses sport red clay-toned roofs and cream-colored stucco on the exterior, but in the interiors, homeowners are reaching beyond the corals and pastels so often associated with the state. Instead, consumers are picking out the bright blues of the ocean, tropical greens and sunny yellows. Jewel tones are also making their way into more Florida residences. One theory for the shift to a brighter palette: Retirees and boomers with second homes in the state are more willing to experiment with color than they were in previous homes; plus, they want spaces that vary radically in look from the homes they have lived in for 30-plus years. In southeastern Florida, Makk notes that the popular Art Deco style still uses whites and grays with touches of peach.
Like New England, the South is rich in history; the region's past, along with its charming architecture and colorful culture, undoubtedly influences homeowners' color choices. "In the South, you have the antebellum style," Makk says of the region's pre-Civil War grand plantations. "A lot of the homes here are brick, too. You have a lot of rich blues and gray blues, oxbloods, yellow ochres, and light greens."
In a region with severe winters that keep people housebound for many months, Midwesterners seek colors that reflect warmth and invitation. Beiges, taupes and creams have been popular traditional choices, but those colors are evolving into richer, deeper hues. Earth tones – including wheat, gold-tinged browns and soft greens – complement the Midwest's diverse architectural styles, such as Prairie School, Farmhouse, and Arts and Crafts bungalows. The region's Scandinavian roots also play a role in many of the current loft-style spaces in major metropolitan areas by using bright, bold primary colors.
The Western Mountains
The Western mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Montana conjure images of the rugged cowboy-rancher surrounded by tall, rocky hills and the dust of the earth. The colors homeowners choose in this area reflect that legend and landscape. "The culture is so rich," Makk says. "The people are inspired by their landscape and history. They use yellows, ochres, rich sienna browns, denims, rust, golds and bright greens."
"Being so immersed in Hispanic and Native American culture, the Southwest is very drawn to the traditional color schemes and certain palettes [of these civilizations]," Makk says. As such, the beiges, red-oranges and terra cottas affiliated with the adobe style continue to infuse the homes of the Southwest. Haciendas or Santa Fe-style homes, along with Old World-influenced architecture, borrow a similar color palette. Homeowners in New Mexico, Arizona and the deserts of California are enhancing their homes by incorporating chocolate browns, blazing reds, yellows and coppers. Still, Makk notes, "The color palettes may enrich and enliven, but the people here never deviate too far from the culture."
Southern California, meanwhile, has established its own eclectic blend of color. "Our environment is very bright and tropical," says Makk, who lives in Los Angeles. Among the diverse cultures reflected in Southern California's architecture, one in particular dominates the scene. "[The area] is driven by a lot of Spanish influence, and that's a lively culture evident in the houses here," says Makk, citing tangerines, marigolds, pinks and lime greens as bold yet common color selections.
The Pacific Northwest
Makk describes the typical color palette for the Pacific Northwest as monochromatic. "[Homeowners] use lots of grays, deep blues and whites – sort of a fisherman's color scheme," she says. Still, many people in this region jettison what they see as pallid tones in favor of tans, golds and reds. Such use of color helps counter the rainy season. Inspired by the verdant forests that the Pacific Ocean affords this region, consumers also incorporate various shades of green into their homes.
The northwest coast's architecture, a happy blend of Asian and organic themes, often features light-toned woods and large windows – design elements that are complementary to both bold and subtle colors.
For more information:
- Judith Miller's Color: Period and Regional Style from Around the World by Judith Miller. (Clarkson Potter, 2000)
- Interior Color by Design, Volume 2: A Design Tool for Homeowners, Designers, and Architects by Jonathan Poore and Eric Roth. (Rockport Publishers, 2005)