What do your sink and your mattress have in common?


I've been doing a lot of consulting on kitchen design lately...helping clients navigate choices in countertops, cabinet colors, sinks, and appliances.  Everything comes in a color!  Flooring, walls, plumbing fixtures, hardware...all of those choices need to be made with an eye to balanced, harmonious color.  

Some of you are starting from scratch, working with a blank slate.  Others may be updating an existing kitchen, and how you combine the old and the new can make all the difference.

Anyone who's ever chatted color with me for more than a few minutes knows that I am a big believer in function.  

"Beauty without function is not beautiful!"

 So, in addition to helping clients navigate their color and finish selections, I also speak often and enthusiastically about why things work and what happens when they don't.

So, how is your sink like your mattress?  You know how they say you spend one-third of your life in bed, so you'd better invest in a good mattress?  Well, the same is true of your sink and especially your faucet.  Appliances are the Big Investment Pieces and oftentimes, the sink and faucet come last, almost as an afterthought.  


But, think for a minute about how many times a day you go to the sink -- to wash a piece of fruit, rinse your hands, get a glass of water, soak a dish -- not to mention full-on cooking and all it entails.  So, the case I am making here is that you spend one-third of your life in bed and one-third of your kitchen time interacting with the sink.  

Rather than ending your kitchen design process with the sink, let's bump it up in the queue....give it the attention it deserves, and YES even spend up a bit on a sink that functions and a faucet that really REALLY functions.  This means a faucet that feels good in the hand, that operates smoothly, that pulls out easily and maybe even turns on with just a touch.  It may also mean paying for a better design that stays cleaner by not having those nooks and crannies that attract gook.  And getting a more durable finish that looks good longer.

I'd love to see you spend a few hundred less on your oven and divert that money to a much better faucet.  The difference between a $1000 oven and a $1300 oven will hardly be noticed in the long run.  But, jumping from a $200 faucet to a $500 faucet will improve your life in the kitchen at least a dozen times a day. 

I am not asking you to buy any particular brand or style....just asking you to think about the faucet/sink combo in a new way, giving that decision good thought, enough research and careful attention.  I bet you'll thank me.

When you think of your sink, remember your mattress! 

Looking for Undertones when selecting Wood Flooring

This week, a client asked me what I meant when I'd said to her during a color consultation,

"Make sure you pick a wood flooring material that is neutral."

She will be replacing almost all of the carpet in her home next month and wants to make her investment a wise one.  So my advice, good as it is, needs some clarification....preferably with pictures!

The backstory is that in 2002, I bought a house in Florida with almond colored ceramic tile and off-white wall-to-wall everywhere!  Pulling it all out and replacing it was our first big project....and let me tell you, they used a jackhammer on 700 square feet of that tile.  I can still hear it today!  

Bamboo was newly in style and I thought it was pretty cool, semi-tropical and environmentally friendly.  Of course, this was years before my IACC color training and I didn't know what I should be looking for when I made that choice.  

I think many homeowners hold the common misconception that Wood is a Neutral. And as a neutral, it should go with everything.  Right?  Well, after my beautiful bamboo flooring was installed, and it came time to paint my walls, I realized that the floors were yellow.  

Very yellow!  

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with yellow, but I just wasn't prepared to figure that much yellow into my color equation when decorating my home.  So, in an effort to save my clients and readers from the same surprise, I have pulled a few photos of common flooring materials and their finish colors....so you'll know what to look for when you invest in new wood floors. 

In the top row, notice how the first example looks very reddish, the second leans quite orange and the last one on the right is a bit yellow.  Remember -- what we know about wall colors and sample chips is also true of any other material used on a large surface.  When the surface area grows, so does the intensity of the color.  So, that slightly reddish tone of the Gunstock stain on the left may leave you with a room full of red.  Same goes for the orange. And you already know what happened to me with the yellow!  


The way any material reads will depend on the lighting, what else is in the room, etc. but to be on the safe side, I always recommend choosing a floor color that doesn't suggest any particular color at all.  Notice the examples below and compare them to those above.  There is still a dark, medium, light variation going on, but without nearly as much pronounced color.  Of all three of these last samples, I think I would choose the Rich Oak.  It's not to dark, not too light and my best guess is that it's not holding any surprises!


So, the bottom line is, choose your flooring wisely so that you:

1. Get the most out of your investment

2. Simplify your decorating choices after the floors have been installed, and

3. Ensure more flexibility in paint color by NOT putting too much color on the floors! 

I hope this was helpful and I welcome your questions and comments.  If you have a story to share -- good or bad -- about your own color choices, I'd love to hear from you!  

Five Steps to Hiring a Painting Contractor

Ready to paint?  Well...not that ready.  You've decided that DIY is not for you, so you need to hire a painter to do the job.  Here are five steps to finding and hiring the best professional.

#1 Assess the Job

First, consider the goal of the work to be done.  Are you putting your house on the market any time soon?  Or is this your forever home?  Knowing what you want out of a paint job - whether it's a quick spruce-up that will likely be painted over by new owners, or a job that needs to last a long time because you considered your colors carefully and just want to live your life - is really important.   

It's also important to think about a budget up front.  Many homeowners have no idea what it will cost to paint their home and you'd be amazed at the range of prices you'd be quoted if you asked a handful of painters you find in the phonebook.  Here is a little calculator that may help you start to think about what this project will cost.

#2 Ask Around

It almost goes without saying....but I'm going to say it.  Ask your friends, family and neighbors for recommendations.  Likely, your Color Consultant or Interior Designer will have a list of trusted contractors, but your  friends and family know YOU best.  If you are familiar with your neighbor's standards, and feel they are similar to your own, using her painting contractor would probably be a good bet.  

#3 Make the Phone Calls and Start the Process

Once you have a list of 5 - yes FIVE - painting contractors you want to consider, make the calls and ask the following questions over the phone:

How long have you been in business?  (You want someone who's been around a while.)

What paint brand do you use the most?  (Big Box Store brands need not apply.)

Will you send out a crew and/or be here on-site personally?  (How long will the job take and how many people will be buzzing around your home?  And who's going to be watching?)

Remember, this is the Courtship Stage of your relationship, a time when your prospective contractor should be going to great efforts to win your confidence.  Is she courteous?  Does he call when he says he will?  If he does not return your calls now, just think about how the relationship will go once he has landed the job.  I always tell my clients they should never have to beg someone to work for them.  If a contractor - any contractor - doesn't bother to call you back, scratch them off the list!

#4 Time to Meet In Person

Having determined that several painting contractors might be The One, it's time to have them over to see the house and talk about their process.  Ask them about prep and clean-up.  Ask about how they deal with problems when they arise on a job.  (It is a rare project that doesn't bring up an issue or two.  Mistakes happen, but how they're handled is what distinguishes the pros from the hackers.)  Ask them how they determine price, by the project or by time and materials.  Ask them how often they come in on time and on budget.  (The sad truth is that some contractors will land your job with a lowball price and then once they are there they'll start adding on all those extras that they kind of forgot to tell you about.) 

The most important part of this step is to figure out how you will feel about having this person, and his or her crew, in your home for the duration of the project.  Even more important than what it will cost in dollars, you need to be certain you're comfortable with the team you hire and won't pay an undue emotional cost because they are not professionals.  

Now for a radical proposal!  I am going to suggest that you do not automatically ask every contractor who visits your home for an estimate.  Your goal is to compare apples to apples, which means that, having assessed your specific needs (see #1 above) and figured out which of the contractors can best meet those needs, you then ask for quotes ONLY from contractors you'd actually hire.  Apples and apples.

If you are not happy with the way the painting process has been described - maybe it feels like they're going to cut corners, and this is your Forever Home - then a price from that particular contractor is irrelevant.  It is likely that he or she will come in low, which will skew your sense of what the job, done properly, should cost.  Similarly, if you're just painting to sell, then the guy who talks about his meticulous prep will probably not be the right choice and that price would also be irrelevant.

Building an estimate is time-consuming and I think the flow respect should go both ways between a homeowner and contractor.  If you really don't think this is the guy for you, and therefore the price he quotes is irrelevant to your decision, please don't ask him to waste his time or yours.

#5 Last Step: Ask For a Price

Finally, when you have decided which of those first five painting contractors might be right for you, it's time to ask for an estimate.  You may have ruled out all but one in steps #2 and #3, and I think that's okay.  So long as you did your due diligence back when you created the list, it really is just fine to just get one quote from the one contractor you truly feel most confident about.  Hopefully, you can work together to satisfy your budgetary requirements and find that sweet spot where the job will feel like a success on both sides.

Last but not least, remember this old adage from the construction industry...

Good luck and please drop me a note to let me know how it goes!

How To Save Money On Your Next Painting Project

Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me use these words -- Too much is just enough! -- and knows that I am a believer in Abundance.  Too many flowers, too many colors, too many books.  When I host a dinner party I have enough food for a small army.  When I start tomatoes from seed, I grow enough for the whole neighborhood.  But too much paint?  That's another story.

I recently worked with a client who was very sensitive to waste.  She challenged me to specify two colors that would work for 5-6 rooms in her home.  She was also working closely with her painter to make sure they had enough paint on hand...and not too much.  Everyone who has ever painted before knows what a disappointment it is to finish the project and find yourself with an unopened can (or two) of paint.


Even worse, of course, is running out in the middle of a job.  Nothing worse, in fact!

This problem is often be avoided by choosing one color and just running it throughout your entire home.  Often, when building or remodeling, your color decisions come at the end of the project when you just don't feel like you can make One More Decision.   And maybe your builder or painter charges you a few hundred dollars for every color change.  So, how you you get the most bang for your buck from just a handful of colors?

Your most important tool when answering this question is a compass!

As we know, color is reflected light.  What this means to you is that the lighting conditions in a given space will impact how a color shows up.  Look to directional light for a variety in light quality.  Southern light is clear, strong and highly directional.  Artists prefer studios with Northern exposures because the light is muted and more diffuse.  Western light can almost "cook" a room as the sun sinks through the atmosphere while Eastern light is perhaps the easiest of all to work with, warm but forgiving.  

As an example, a fresh green used in a sunny Southern-exposure room will appear moodier -- and like an entirely different color -- in a room with a cooler, lower light Northern exposure.  You can use this to your advantage by repeating a color on different sides of your home.  The same color will appear completely different, depending on the direction the room faces and what time of day it receives the most natural light.

You can also bring a color from one functional zone of the house to another.  A friendly family room color can also be perfect for a guest room.  A soft terracotta used in an upstairs bedroom could be repeated in your powder room on the main floor.  If you happen to love a moody blue like Benjamin Moore's Nocturnal Gray shown here, use it in several locations like we did in this master bedroom and the den on the opposite side of my client's home.

So, you can lower your color change fees, reduce clean-up, prevent waste and even simplify your decision-making process, all by carefully repeating a few select colors.  The added benefit of repeating colors is what I call Automatic Flow.  Though the rooms will appear differently, they will automatically be harmonious because they are actually the same color.  Seems obvious, but it's worth saying it out loud!

One of the other things I've been heard to say now and then is, "There are no shortcuts with color."  But, this is definitely a shortcut and it's one of the few that actually works!

Dear Amy: Advice and Etiquette for Exteriors

I don't know about where you live, but last summer, here in New England, we saw a lot of rain and a whole lot of exterior paint jobs were delayed by weather.  What does this mean to you?

Well, if you are thinking of repainting your exterior this year, you need to line up a painting contractor...um...yesterday.  Why?  Because they may already have jobs leftover from last year and because the good painters will book up fast. So, call for quotes, line up your team, and start to think about color.  Here's how...

#1 Architecture

While today's architecture can often be a "mash-up" of styles, most of the homes here in New England fall into a distinct category -- Colonial, Victorian, Farmhouse, Bungalow, Arts & Crafts, etc.  Each style has a range of colors from which you should not stray too far without professional help.  You can push the envelope a bit, but I believe that on a deep level, we expect certain architectural styles to carry certain color schemes and when they don't, things begin to feel off.

Cottages are happiest done up in cottage-y colors (not beige, my friends, even though that feels easier).  Mediterranean Revival homes really look their best in shades of white, terra cotta or umber, colors that mimic the natural stucco from which they were originally constructed.

Colors used in Colonial times were far brighter than we think of them today.  This bird egg blue house in Historic Deerfield is accurate to the original in 1747.  But, the truth is, we are more comfortable today with the muted colors we consider Historic.  In other words, if you live in a Colonial, don't try this at home!


While we do expect a Victorian to show up polychrome, à la The Painted Ladies of San Francisco, here is an example of pushing the color envelope just a little too far.  Of course, your mileage may vary...


Paint companies like Sherwin-Williams have brochures featuring exterior color schemes suitable for a range of architectural styles and they are a very good place to begin for many homeowners.  While using an "out of the can" color palette is much less personal than choosing your own colors, it is a safe way to explore the possibilities without getting into too much trouble.

#2 Context

They say, "context is everything."  Right....who are they anyway?  In this case, they are the neighbors.  Nothing will annoy your neighbors quite like painting your home a color that sticks out like a sore thumb.  So, see if you can find colors that feel individualistic enough while still playing well with others.



Back in 1991, when I lived in New Jersey, a certain couple the small historic town of Haddonfield by painting their home three shades of day-glo purple.  Word on the street was "outraged," "aggravating," and "terrible."  By 2005, more than a decade later, the house had become a landmark in town as people calmed down and affection for the quirky color scheme grew.  Here's my advice...don't be that person...unless you really must!  Just be ready for the slings and arrows.


#3 Individuality

I know I just warned you away from being too "out there" with your color scheme, but I also want to suggest you look around the immediate neighborhood and make sure you choose a palette that is different enough from the colors your neighbors are using.  Next to day-glo purple, the most annoying thing you can do is copy your neighbor's color scheme.  It's hard to imagine, but I've heard of people asking their neighbors for paint color info and then using the exact same color right across the street.  

Trust me, this form of flattery does not go over well!

When I worked with the Northampton family living in this Foursquare, they were leaning towards blue.  When we walked the neighborhood, there were at least three other blue houses within direct eyeshot.  So, we had some work to do!  The result was a grayed-down teal on the upper portion of the house, balanced by khaki below.  This scheme fits beautifully into its extremely colorful neighborhood while maintaining its individuality and originality.

Amy on Houzz

#4 Inspiration

I strongly suggest you DO move beyond your immediate neighborhood and look for houses you love, check to see whether the color schemes make sense with your architecture and take photos.  I have knocked on doors and written notes to homeowners to try to find out a color when a client needs to have that color!  

These kinds of inquiries have always gone over well.  Most people who own beautiful homes are happy to share their colors with admirers (so long as they don't live across the street!)  So, don't be afraid!

Look around you, at the natural features of your property - the stone, tree bark, the plants and flowers you tend to like - and see if these elements make any color suggestions to you.  My clients' front doors have been inspired by things like hydrangeas and river rocks.  Just make sure that you are working with the surroundings and not against.   In other words, no blue exterior paint for a lover of hydrangeas...they'd just get lost!

For more color inspiration, both interior and exterior, stop over and visit me on Houzz!


And if you have any questions or would like to discuss your upcoming exterior paint project, just leave them in the comments below so we can connect and chat!  You can also find me doing more colorful things on




Please do stay in touch!


Dear Amy: How About Behr?

I recently received this email from a client:

Dear Amy,

Several people have recommended Behr paints as excellent and yet less expensive than Benjamin Moore and other of the long-term advertised.  Do you have any preference?

Here is my reply:

Dear C, 

I have no personal experience with Behr, so I cannot offer any specific advice.  Most of the professional painters I collaborate with use Ben Moore or Sherwin Williams.  I think there is a reason for this, but I will defer to your painter for his answer.

What I can tell you is that when you invest in a professional painting job, the cost of materials is a small fraction of the overall budget.  What you are paying for is the expertise of the applicator -- that is an excellent painter.  So, to cut costs on materials can be a false economy.  My rule of thumb is to buy the best quality paint you feel you can afford, that is also appropriate for the job at hand.  For some people, that means a $125 gallon of European paint, for others it means a $15 gallon of Kilz from Wal-Mart.  There is an appropriate context for both cans of paint, and everything in between.  

When I discuss the materials investment with clients, we discuss the longevity issue.  Are you moving soon or painting to sell?  Do you like to choose new colors and repaint every few years just for fun?  Are there children in the house who will likely outgrow their colors in the next 2-4 years?  Or are you looking for reliable colors and durable paint that will satisfy you for a good number of years to come?  

We also discuss wear and tear....kids, pets, high-traffic areas like entries and kitchens, etc.  A certain brand of paint may be cheaper at the outset, but if it does not wear well and you need to repaint sooner, the savings is lost.  This applies to the "big names" as well, where there are ranges of quality, from builder-grade paint (Eco-Spec) all the way up to the top of the line (Aura).  

So, that is my take on the brand/quality/cost conversation.  Hope this is helpful.  

Choose a good quality paint and sleep well, knowing you made the right decision.  

And, if choosing color is keeping you up at night, give me a call!

Full Spectrum Paints - Northampton - part 2

This is the second half of a story on a Northampton Bungalow where Ellen Kennon Full Spectrum Paints were used.  You can read the first half of the story here.  In the Spring of 2011, I was called in to assist with color for a whole-house remodel here in town.  My client has spent time writing and teaching in the South of France so she was looking to recreate the feeling of the colors from that part of the world.  

Here is a look at that glorious front door and foyer from the last post which highlighted the first floor, including the owner's cobalt blue Five Star range in a sunny yellow kitchen with French-style terracotta floor tiles.


The front hall, naturally dark due to the limited exposure of the space, was originally painted an off white which did little to highlight the gorgeous millwork.  At the top of the stairs, we see a glimpse of a rather unpleasant brown that my client knew had to go. 

What I know about paint is that no color will ever make a dark room brighter.  Based on that principle, we decided to go with a moody deep blue and make the entry a statement space.  My client says it is the most talked-about color in the house.  Looking upstairs, we get our first glimpse of the large open hallway where my client plans to do a little yoga.    

The desire was to find a color for the upstairs hallway that was both peaceful and a bit invigorating.  Green has that capacity...to be a color of comfort, yet still have the energy one wants and needs.  

Looking toward the front of the house, here is the Before shot of the 
upstairs hall with a view into the study.   Bye bye brown!


Here's the After!  A gorgeous custom green and Ellen Kennon's Slate 
in the study.  What a combo with the original wood floors, 
newly refinished during the renovation.

A couple more shots of the study, 
complete with loads of built in bookcases and an inviting sofa.   


Looking into the master bedroom, we see the previous owner's chocolate brown walls.

After: That glorious green again with a view to Ellen Kennon's H2Ahh!  What a difference!!

      Upstairs Bath Before

After: Ellen Kennon's Aqua provides a kinder way to begin and end the day!  Overall a very serene room, even with the vibrant yellow wall tiles tucked behind the white shower curtain.  And I am in love with those windows!  Aren't you?

Last but not least a guest room done up in Ellen's Buttercup.  
This photo really captures the way the room glows! 

Okay, anyone else feel like sitting for a while after taking in all this beauty?  I'm headed back downstairs and out to the back deck where it looks cool and shady.


Full Spectrum Paints - Northampton - part 1

In the Spring of 2011, I was called in to assist with color for a whole-house remodel here in town.  My client has spent time writing and teaching in the South of France.  She said she wanted to recreate the feeling of that part of the world and that she was a "sun junkie."  I took one look at her fair skin and blond hair and challenged her assertion.  I asked if maybe she was a "light junkie" instead and she agreed that was perhaps a better way of talking about her relationship to color and light.  

We did use bright, sunny colors, but most importantly, we used Ellen Kennon's Full Spectrum colors to maximize the reflection of light in my client's home.  Here is a quote from Ellen's website which perfectly explains Full Spectrum Paints:

Our paints are blended from the 7 colors of natural sunlight and closely mimic nature's elements such as sky, water and stone, with infinite color and variation.  Standard paint colors are usually a blend of two or three pigments that includes black, which absorbs light. Ellen's paints omit black and have a broader range of pigments that reflect a broader range of light and coordinate more easily with the colors and furnishings around them. They are chameleon-like in their ability to pick up colors from adjacent materials and to change character as the light changes.  Also, because of the absence of black and the perfect balance of a full spectrum of pigments, they don't tend to turn muddy or lose their character in low light conditions. 

I have been working with Ellen's colors since 2005 and I can tell you there is nothing quite like them.  The paints have a mirage-like quality in certain lighting.  Regular paint looks flat on a wall....Full Spectrum paints almost shimmer.  There is no better solution for low-light situations than paint that reflects back the maximum amount of light possible.  Without further ado....

As an IACC-NA member one of my codes of conduct includes not holding opinions about what colors a client should use.  It is my job to observe the environment and help the client to fully understand what's in play -- natural and artificial light, existing colors, desired mood of the space, etc.  I knew we were going to use a bright yellow in the kitchen and a deeper yellow in the adjacent living room.  I felt strongly that a rich navy in the foyer would be a fabulous counterpoint to the yellows and it would set off all the white details of the stairway, french door and millwork.  

The foyer is also naturally the darkest room in this house.  Contrary to what one might think, using a lighter color in a dark room will not brighten up the space.  Pale colors tend to get shadowy and sad in a dark room.  Though my client was somewhat hesitant to use a dark color in the entry, I felt compelled to give her a little nudge.  She has come to love the color and says it is "the most talked about" color in her home.    (Foyer color EK custom color)

Though my camera and the lighting did not do this photo justice, here is a picture of my client's pride and joy in the kitchen, a Blue Star range in cobalt!  The kitchen walls are EK Sunshine.  All cabinetry, trim and ceilings are Benjamin Moore Mascarpone.

The dining room is painted in EK Rust.  The living room beyond is EK Citrine.

Looking beyond the dining room, there is a small sitting room with an exterior door.  As in many of the rooms, my client had built-in bookcases installed.  because the room was small and the bookcases provided plenty of visual interest, we decided to use Ellen's Classic Cream.  The color was also used in a small hallway leading from the sitting room to the kitchen, as well as the small adjacent powder room.

When I come back, I'll take you upstairs to see some exciting before and after shots.  Stay tuned...