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Dear Readers,

This column is just for you. Every other week I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. This week’s question:

I just bought a plain, white box condo. I have zero furniture. I like many colors and styles and haven’t decided on anything yet. I want to use color in a big way. I saw on your website that you sometimes used it fearlessly. How do you choose color when you’re starting with a clean slate?

Using color is a smart idea for your condo. Since it’s a plain, white box, color will replace its lack of architectural details. But, since the human eye can detect about 10 million colors, you’re facing quite a challenge. The best way to answer your question may be to tell you two personal stories. Both, oddly, involve umbrellas, swimming pools and food.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a friend to dinner for her birthday. Towards the end of the meal, she asked me what color she should paint her 18-inch retaining wall that went halfway around her new swimming pool. The obvious options were concrete grey, clay, or olive green (the color of her house). However, I told her that if it were my wall, I’d paint it a more noticeable color. Her response was, “That would be hard.” My response back was, “Just pick one color for the whole pool area (flowers, umbrellas, and seat cushions) and paint the wall the same color.”

She had already purchased periwinkle-blue umbrellas and said she loved the color. I remembered earlier in the evening, she had told me that she loved violas. I use the word “loved” twice on purpose. This told me that she had strong feelings about both. Bingo! I suggested she paint the wall periwinkle-blue, surround it with purple violas, and add chaise lounge cushions in the same color as the umbrellas.

I knew this sounded scary but I also knew that this was a harmonious plan especially since the periwinkle would blend with the pool’s blue water. By the way, if the wall was taller or was located in the front yard, I would have agreed with the grey, clay or olive-green options. If my friend takes such a brave step, I’ll report back with a photo.

My other umbrella-pool-food story occurred in 2003 when I moved back to Napa. I had ordered new business cards and they arrived just as a friend was taking me to lunch. I was excited to see the cards because they used my new name, logo, and color scheme. So, I brought the unopened box to lunch, which happened to be on the deck at Auberge du Soleil. It was a sunny day and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the swimming pool and the lounge area.

At some point, I opened my box to see how the Napa version of PLC Interiors would be represented. The image was classic and formal. The colors were earthy and dark brown. My card reminded me of an Old Masters oil painting. It was striking and beautiful. My friend agreed and then said, “No matter what your new card is, it should reflect who you are.”

The reason I can remember his words 16 years later is that he was so right. The colors did not represent me. They didn’t feel right. What felt right was the swimming pool area in the distance. The clear, aqua water was surrounded with orange, magenta and white umbrellas. I was so drawn to the colors. They made me feel joyful and light. My business card made me feel serious and heavy.

I immediately redesigned my cards and have always remembered this lesson while working with clients. Color affects us. My job is to open doors to different possibilities, and in the end, ensure that my clients feel as good as I did at Auberge du Soleil.

Since you are working with a completely blank canvas, I recommend visiting a paint store and take notice of the colors that catch your eye. Most likely, there will be a dozen but after a while, you’ll notice that you keep going back to a few special ones. Enjoy your new condo and a color-filled new year.

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Patti L Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.

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