What comes to mind when you think of rainbow sherbet? Do you feel a light, cool sense of refreshment? Does it remind you to slow down and enjoy a quiet and delicious moment? Or does it give you a sweet pop of energy? All of these thoughts and feelings came to me when I opened my latest shipment of fabric books. In fact, the mill had named it “The Rainbow Collection.”

You probably remember meeting Roy G. Biv early on in school. The name helps us to remember the basic colors of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Notice they do not include earth tones, browns and beige. They will probably appear in this fall’s shipment.

The fabric designers who produced the Rainbow Collection must have been on creative overdrive because their color combinations were luscious — even delicious like rainbow sherbet. In fact, the whole collection reminded me of food. Greens the color of chardonnay grapes, pistachios and celery. Greens mixed with yellows like an aisle of gourmet mustards. Lemon yellow, honey yellow, pineapple and corn yellow. There were books devoted to reds, oranges and pinks like nature-made vitamin C, and for deeper contrast, berry blues and purples. There were even colors of what scientists call “moonbows” and “fogbows” — shades of hazy silvers and whites.

Did I whet your appetite? Are you wondering how to use pastels in your home without it looking like a basket of Easter eggs? Let’s first debunk the myth that pastels are meant for baby nurseries and little girls’ rooms. While those are fine options, the uplifting nature of pastels should be available to us all. This can easily be done by choosing pastels that have been blended together, toned (with drops of gray dye) or tinted (with drops of white dye). Such pastels have complexity, dimension and character. They are mature and even cosmopolitan — a measured dye formula can transform baby blue into an edgy color of zinc, for instance.

With the right pastel combinations, you can create a sea-breezy living room, a tranquil bedroom, a white kitchen that always looks clean (even when it’s not), or a sun-shining breakfast nook. You can create a home office that reduces your stress or boosts your energy, whichever you prefer.

The way you start is to determine the effect you want to make. If you’re going for drama, add black. Even if your upholstery, draperies and walls are pink, black will transform all that sweetness into serious glamour — especially if you throw in a bit of crystal and white faux fur. Like yellow and black, this chic color combination was a staple in early 20th century Paris. But if you prefer a more modern or masculine version, pair any citrus yellow with gray instead.

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You can also use pastels as you would neutrals. Think of them as softer versions of other colors but watered down to almost non-colors. As such, they will neither overwhelm nor underwhelm your room. Once you’ve chosen a pastel or two or three, go back to your desired effect. Add walnut, cherry or mahogany wood to create a more traditional room. Add pine or painted wood (especially chipped or distressed) and targeted fabric patterns to get a country cottage, beach house or vintage look. Or, for an industrial effect, add metal and abstract art. If you live in an Eichler home or are a fan of midcentury design, you’re in luck. Pastels are signature to this era so feel free and confident to use them.

If you prefer a darker color scheme, you can still use pastels. Just stick to one overall color and incorporate its varying intensities along with an unnoticeable dab of neutral for relief. For instance, if you like purple, use a range of near-black to lavender. Or navy blue to wispy sky blue, eggplant to dusty pink, or emerald green to sage.

The bedroom shown in the photo shows another way to use pastels. It’s a little more challenging. Choose two complementary or contrasting colors and a neutral. Then, carefully mix patterns and textures to create a landscape of interest. Although this room is colorful, it is also soothing. All of the fabrics came from my Rainbow Collection. The colors of the headboard and footboard, the pillows, and one rug are toned orange and toned blue. The geometric and floral patterns could have been conflicting had not their colors and intensities been the same. The discipline in this design is in using solid colors everywhere else, including the second rug. The white acts as a unifying accent and gives the eye some color relief.

The next time your interiors feel drab or heavy, think of switching to rainbow colors, especially pastels.

Patti L. Cowger is a Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com; call 707-322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net. Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday.

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