True Colors

Take the guesswork out of choosing the right shade with tips from a color expert.
Are you the kind of homeowner who goes to the paint store, picks a color and lugs home a gallon or two? After hours of dipping, dabbing and rolling paint on the walls—as well as time spent waiting for it to dry—the color doesn’t look at all like what you had imagined.

For 10 years, Liz Salierno has been helping people avoid such disasters. A decorator with a keen eye for color, Salierno recognized the challenge homeowners face when choosing the right color of paint. Her experience working with designers and multiple trips to the paint store eventually led to the creation of her business, Ambiance Design Studio, in Winter Park. A master of the color wheel, Salierno flashes a smile as she flips through strip after strip of shades of beige. Who can get excited about beige? But this energetic dark-haired woman is quick to point out the differences. “Look at this one compared to that one. More yellow. More pink,” she says.

Although you can look at paint colors in the store, and even design rooms on a computer screen with all the hues of a rainbow, it’s not the same as the real thing. “Don’t trust the computer. Trust your eye,” Salierno emphasizes. “Embrace paint as a living thing that changes when the light hits it.”

Most of Salierno’s projects are homeowner-driven—from redecorating a few rooms to remodeling from the ground up. She also advises on painting a home’s exterior, as well as an entirely new house. Charging by the hour, she comes to your home. The first order of business is to talk about the homeowner’s vision for the room—the mood, the vibe. Do they know what they want? If not, do they know what they don’t want?

“I walk through the space to get the lay of the land and clues of personality and style,” she says. But also important are the hallways and adjacent rooms. Their walls are part of the house’s flow and can’t be ignored. “Think of your paint selection as part of an overall color scheme that helps bring together all of your decorating decisions. At the end of the day, I don’t just want clients to say, ‘what a great paint color.’ I’d much rather hear them say, ‘what a beautiful room!’ The job of the paint is to bring out the best of everything else around it.” 

If a homeowner is redecorating, Salierno finds out what stays and what goes. Will the floor be replaced, which pieces of furniture are out, do the draperies remain, and how about the cabinets? Each interacts with the paint color and needs to be considered when choosing a shade. She inquires if there are any pieces the client really loves that she can build a color palette around. “I prefer to find the furniture first, then the paint color,” she says. Her advice: “Don’t pick a paint color too early in the [decorating] process.”

Once she has a better idea of her client’s vision, she does a quick pick of shades from a color family or throws out a far-out idea, maybe a chocolate brown. Sometimes people don’t know what they want until they have something to react to, she explains. Once she and her client lock in a color, then she fine tunes—lighter or darker, cooler or warmer, saturated or less saturated.

Now the fun begins. “Test, test, test,” she reiterates. Her method is to buy several large sturdy foam core boards that easily lean against the walls. Paint them your chosen colors, making sure they have good coverage. Then move them around. How does the color look next to the staircase or fireplace? Test at all times of day with natural light and artificial light.

Salierno is also good at choosing paint colors to create illusions. The right color can make your sofa stand out, or if you have a worn sofa, the color of paint can help camouflage it. Paint can call attention to the stonework on the fireplace or, if it’s outdated, minimize its presence. In a dark room, a buttery yellow will give the illusion that there’s more light.
Salierno notices things that a home-owner may not. For example if your Florida room is filled with plants, you can choose a green paint that unites the greenery or a color with warmer undertones to counteract the green cast.

The same holds true for painting the exterior of a home. Look at your landscaping. Painting your house a shade of green could make it disappear or perhaps an apple green would make it pop. Look at your neighbor’s house, your door and roof colors, the hardscape and even the window frames. These details can influence the choice of color. You really have to paint a big swatch on the house and study it, she says. That means looking at it in the morning, mid morning, evening and when it’s sunny, as well as on a cloudy day.

And for those who think they are playing it safe by going with white walls that match anything, Salierno shares her opinion: “White is not a default, but a color decision and a hard color to work with.” With hundreds of hues from which to choose and an expert eager to help, changing the color of your walls may be just what your home—and you—need.
Ambiance Design Studio, 407-765-7222,   

Categories: Decorating