You know that old saw about taking a lemon and making lemonade? That in a cliched nutshell is the decorative story of yellow, lending itself to all tastes, whether tart or sweet.
Along with red and blue, yellow is the source of all other colors, primary but hardly simple.
It's as ancient as the sun, probably the first color visible on Earth even before there were eyes to see it. From this primogenitor grew the spectrum that presents itself to us in nature, the inspiration for human interpretations.
Yet, despite yellow's manifest virtues, home decorators often shy away from it. Many are the do-it-yourselfers who have rued the yellow wall, applied with the optimism the color suggests, and wound up with a space aggressive as a school bus, or innocuous as baby formula.
Yellow can be tricky. It also can be magnificent. Two of the most famous and photographed rooms of 20th century decorating are yellow. Each is utterly different and original.
Nancy Lancaster, a Southern belle turned Anglophile, is credited with creating the English country look that defines elegant coziness. Her butter-yellow drawing room in London, draped in yellow taffeta, furnished in more yellow and loaded with gilt trim, is the most copied example of the style.
When impressionist painter Claude Monet blanketed his dining room at Giverny, France, in several shades of bright yellow and accessorized it with his beloved blue and white china, the result became the locus of the French provincial look.
Neither Lancaster nor Monet set out to make decorating history; their rooms were for their private pleasure. Only after their deaths did the rooms become known to the world.
Each vision offers lessons we can appropriate in large and small ways. You'll have a lot more choices in yellow, too, now that Pantone, an influential color specialist, has chosen a sunny hue called Mimosa as its color of the year. So if you don't want to commit to four walls, consider spots of brightness with accessories. They can be as simple as a bowl of lemons on a table or cushions on the bed. Even in the smallest doses, yellow is the perfect tonic to any mood indigo.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.
As Nancy Lancaster's and Claude Monet's rooms demonstrate, yellow has many personalities. If you don't think it's a tricky job to find the perfect shade of yellow paint, you've never tried it. Take it from those who have: Always buy a small sample and try it out, examining it at different times of day. Make sure that greenish undertone is a style statement and not a terrible mistake. • But before you get even that far, do some research on a new Web site from Behr paints, which are sold at Home Depot. (See paint samples at the bottom of the page.) Download a photo of your room, and with a few mouse clicks you can see if you want the whole thing done in a soft buttercream, or just one glorious goldenrod wall. It's our new favorite time waster. Go to www.behr.com and see what you think. • Paint is the most economical way to go yellow, followed closely by bed linens and towels. Truly committed yellow-philes might want a major appliance. Or a sunny piece of wooden furniture. There's plenty here for you subdued types, too, soft shades of honey that are almost neutrals — but not at all boring.
Charlotte Sutton, Arts and Homes editor
Furniturea is a Portland, Maine, company that offers fun, contemporary wood furniture in your choice of 24 colors, among them several shades of yellow. We like this settee ($1,090) for a guest room that needs to serve multiple duties. A trundle ($690) is optional. The TwoFold table ($320) will liven up a quiet space nicely. Check out dozens of styles and order a color chip at www.furniturea.com.
Feminine yet not frilly, the Suave Flower Bedding Collection at Target features a soft honey duvet set and decorative pillows, all cotton and machine washable. Items in the collection range from $25 to $170. Details: www.target.com.
For a brighter shade of yellow, check out the Painterly Paisley Duvet Cover & Sham at Pottery Barn. Items range from $39 to $179 and are 400-thread-count cotton percale. Details: potterybarn.com.
The Big Chill makes retro-style fridges (without the retro need for defrosting or filling ice trays) in great colors including Buttercup Yellow. The list price is $2,695 for the 20.9 cubic foot size. Details: www.bigchillfridge.com.
Leather gets a new look when it's a warm shade of honey as in this American Leather Comfort Sleep Sofa, at Robb & Stucky. There's no bar beneath the mattress to disturb your beauty sleep. List price is $4,299. Details: www.robbstucky.com.
The Grasshopper Accent Chair pairs yellow and red in the upholstery of this chic, modern piece. $749 at Macy's stores or at www.macys.com