Upholstery fabrics, paint colors, furniture and accessories that range from neon orange to tangerine to terra cotta are getting attention this season. • But orange isn't for everyone. When interior designers suggest decorating with orange, clients can get nervous. Designer Kyle Schuneman often eases homeowners into using orange by suggesting variations on it. • "The idea of orange can sound juvenile and unsophisticated," Schuneman says. "But if you go with umbers, burnt bricks or terra cottas, you can sell a client on the idea much easier." • The key, he says, is using orange creatively and carefully. • Here, Schuneman and designers Brian Patrick Flynn and Betsy Burnham offer tips on decorating with the color orange, and avoiding the pitfalls of using it badly.
How much to use?
Orange can be overpowering as the main color in a room. But, like red, it works brilliantly as an accent color.
"I don't suggest painting your walls orange," Burnham says. "But maybe there's an orange in the print on your pillows."
It can be casual ("maybe you bring in a garden stool that's bright orange"), or chic and sophisticated ("think of Hermes orange, those shopping boxes"), she says. In a bedroom with muted, gray-blue walls, Burnham opted to add lacquered end tables in a rich shade of orange.
Orange paint can also be a great way to spruce up a dated piece of furniture.
"Think about painting a great old chest of drawers a beautiful shade in a high gloss," Schuneman says, "and changing out the knobs to really special crystal knobs to make a statement piece in a room."
Which shades are best?
All three designers like earthy burnt orange tones that are almost as brown as they are orange.
"With a burnt orange, you'd be surprised what the paint chip looks like," Burnham says. "It looks more like a brown. But you paint a piece of furniture that color, and it reads orange. It does what it's supposed to do — it brings some whimsy."
Flynn also likes using red-orange, "ideal for more youthful or edgy rooms."
The style of your home may help determine which shades you choose, says Schuneman. "Terra cotta is a beautiful backdrop for a traditional or retro feeling space, while pops of a more neon orange could be really fun for a modern space."
Whatever tone you choose, Schuneman suggests testing a sample if you've decided to take the plunge and paint with orange. "Try three or four different shades," he says, and view them in various types of daylight and artificial light.
Also, he says, "Orange is a lot like red when you're painting, so you're going to need three or four coats to get an even finish. But the end product will be a beautiful cozy space."
Just one word of warning: "Don't go with a true shade of orange," Schuneman says. "It will feel like Pee-Wee's Playhouse."
Where does it work?
Orange can look good anywhere in your home, but these designers say it's especially beautiful for bedrooms.
"Orange is my favorite choice for kids' rooms, because it's totally gender-neutral," Flynn says. "My favorite combo for a kids' space is tangerine and white. It's clean and classic."
Schuneman agrees: "I love a warm shade of orange for a bedroom. My last bedroom was a burnt brick. It felt so warm and cozy," he says. "It really works well with dim lighting at night, but also can invigorate you to wake up in the morning."
Burnham is using orange and white gingham print draperies, along with navy blue and dark denim upholstery, to decorate the bedroom of a preteen boy. "It's boyish, but sophisticated," she says. "Not over-the-top country or anything. Sort of preppy."
What goes with orange?
"I love pairing gray with orange," Schuneman says. "It immediately amps up the hip factor and brings it into a contemporary setting. It works well because gray has a cool base, where orange is warm. So the balance really creates harmony in a room."
Along with pale grays and deep charcoals, orange also goes well with dark and light blues and also browns, taupe, cream or white.
Burnham cautions against pairing orange with other tropical colors or other harvest colors, like red and yellow. The room can easily begin to feel as though you've taken those themes too far.
Rather than piling on all the fall colors at once, Schuneman suggests pairing orange only with brown: "I think you can create a really beautiful monotone room of creams, off whites and browns," he says, "and pop it with orange to create a cozy feel. Use different textures in these similar color tones . . . jutes, velvets and linens for that cozy fall feel."
What to avoid?
"I find yellow-orange the hardest to work with," Flynn says, "because it's very limited in accent color choices." Burnham agrees, saying it's best to avoid "that school-bus orange."
If you're going with a bright orange, just be sure you'll enjoy it long-term.
Edgy, bright shades are "really going to pop and give your room some personality," Burnham says. But "a little goes a long way," and what's hot today may quickly go out of style.
"Like any trend," she says, "use it sparingly."