Decor Score

By Rose Bennett Gilbert

January 2, 2009 5 min read


Add a little color or texture to a monochromatic room

Rose Bennett Gilbert

Creators News Service

Q: We try to live an "eco-savvy" life, including the things we use in our home -- for decorating as well as everyday items, such as cleaning materials. Now our bend toward natural possessions has resulted in a collection of natural colors: all neutrals, like beiges and wood tones. We even have grass cloth wallpaper.

As much as we wanted this to be our look, the end result is almost boring. How can we follow our "natural instincts" and also have an interesting home?

A: Remember the monochromatic rooms that first emerged back in the 1970s?

Technically, monochromatic means one color, but it quickly became synonymous with neutrals -- beiges, browns, creams and grays. Just as quickly, professional designers figured out how to take the dullness out of monochromatic decorating: They used many different textures, juxtaposed to give the eye something to focus on in the midst of all that same color.

Think slick and shine. For example, a gray glass coffee-table top against the rough-and-tumble texture of a wheat-colored shag rug. Consider a cream silk pillow on a brown velvet sofa, or vice versa. Although the colors themselves are all subtle, a contrast in textures is what attracts our attention.

Clodagh, the award-winning New York designer who uses but one name, is widely celebrated for her harmonious, even holistic interiors; however, occasionally she spikes the neutral brew with a sudden jolt of color. Witness the serene scene in this Manhattan apartment, an oasis of calm to come home to in one of the world's most high-strung cities.

True to her design mantra, Clodagh ( fills the room with organic materials and natural colors -- beiges and ochres that might have been coaxed from boiled tree bark and earth minerals. But look how that bolt of blue-on-white breezes in to punch things up!

One reason it's so dramatic is the art fairly leaps from its neutral background.

"Vivid paintings can take on the eloquence of stained glass if hung on walls of the right color," the designer writes in her book, "Total Design: Contemplate, Cleanse, Clarify and Create Your Personal Spaces" ($45, Clarkson Potter).

Walls that are "taupe, parchment, paper-bag brown or, surprisingly, red can reinforce strong pieces," she said.

So there's another answer to your blah color scheme -- hang a dazzlingly colorful work of art to set the rest of the room to thrumming.

Q: On information overload about living green?

A: Take a deep breath and get ready for more facts. But step outside before you dare breathe in. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the level of dust, pet dander and mold in today's home can be a lot worse than allergens in the air outdoors -- up to five times worse, they warn.

What should you do? Dust daily, ventilate regularly by opening your windows to the outdoor air, and vacuum often with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. The EPA says that HEPA filters can catch up to 99.97 percent of the particulates -- dust motes and such -- in the air. One place to learn more about HEPA is

More advice on living green: Remember what your mother always told you about turning out the lights. Off saves energy, even if you're just leaving the room for a few seconds, said lighting expert Ashton Harrison, president of Shades of Light ( That method applies to incandescent lights. She said you can leave standard fluorescent lights on without attracting the eco-police, if you'll be gone 15 minutes or less.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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