Using Color with Susanna Salk

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

In April, our great friend and design expert Susanna Salk came out with a new book, Decorate Fearlessly: Using Whimsy, Confidence, and a Dash of Surprise to Create Deeply Personal Spaces! In the book, she shows us how to use color in a personal way and to make a bold statement that reflects YOU! We asked Susanna to share some of her favorite guidelines (rules being one of her least favorite words!) for incorporating color into your home. 

I used to be afraid of color. Rooms in your home were supposed to be more or less white (maybe a pastel) and you dropped in some appropriate color the way you dish out dessert for children: something sweet with an eye towards restraint. But color isn’t just for after dinner anymore. It’s a main course and should be tasted throughout your home. Because color isn’t just a hue, it’s an emotion. And the sooner you discover which makes you feel what, the sooner you are going to feel a whole lot happier in your home.

I’ve been empowered by seeing so many great color choices by designers over the years in every sort of room and in every gradation. Their insight, confidence and whimsy has helped me understand what colors I gravitate towards (tangerine) and don’t: teal.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

So hurry and create a color file: pull any image—whether from a shelter magazine, Ballard catalogue or a film poster— and expose your eye as much as possible. Then assess what you’ve culled: you might surprise yourself in your preferences: Black walls? Who knew! Not a navy person with your clothes but sure do love it in a living room! Wait: I only like yellow when its deep not buttery.

Once you know what you want, go for it! You can always paint over it. But if you’ve done your research, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Here are some guidelines (and I use that word to reiterate how much I loathe the word “rules” in decorating). Because you should never decorate from a place of fear: only happiness!

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Be Wary of Primaries

Stay away from the overly-obvious primary colors, even in a child’s room! You will feel so over it in a matter of weeks.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Pump Up the Volume in Small Spaces

Small rooms should take big color or pattern! Your instinct may feel the opposite, but color (no matter how subtle) injects personality into small spaces and is the perfect disguise for difficult corners. Painting it all white only highlights the emptiness!

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk
Don’t Forget White … and Creams!

White is a color too, so don’t get lazy and appreciate its many shades. Do you want an undernote of gray? Yellow? Beige? Never underestimate white’s power to showcase the details in your room.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Get the Benjamin Moore color app! See a color somewhere- a dress, a rug, a flower- that you want to duplicate on the wall but can’t begin to describe to your painter? Simply snap a picture with this amaze smart phone app and voila: Benjamin Moore gives you its exact color match (not to mention like-minded hues in its range) complete with name and paint number.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Let Color Guide Your Mood

Think of the emotions colors make you feel and then coordinate with your room. I couldn’t feel hungry in a blue kitchen or sleep in a green bedroom. There’s no right or wrong. Just YOU.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Try Small Touches

Feeling shy about going bold? Go for one wall: behind a bed like a headboard, a bathroom window frame, a floor in a child’s room.

Tips for using color in your home, from Susanna Salk

Patterns & Palettes

The joy of color doesn’t just mean solids: it’s about combining several hues in delightful way, either through juxtaposition or by using a pattern. Pattern can be scary but at the very least use it a guiding to finding the combinations you like best.

Often I’ll turn to a pattern and then lift that combination into my own room in big or small ways. So a wallpaper pattern I’m digging on Pinterest touting Chinese red with turquoise, can inspire me to perhaps paint my living room walls that blue and then buy some pillows in that red. Or I’ll find a rug that that offers all the colors that I love and has arranged them in a pleasing pattern. Talk about a great foundation for a room: start with everything you love in one place!

Find Susanna Salk’s new book, Decorate Fearlessly!: Using Whimsy, Confidence, and a Dash of Surprise to Create Deeply Personal Spaces, or visit her blogs, Open House  and Quintessence!

Susanna Salk

Susanna Salk

Susanna Salk helped launch Elle Decor magazine as Interior Design Manager and later became a Contributing Editor there before ultimately going on to become Special Projects Editor at House and Garden magazine until its closing. She has also appeared regularly on NBC’s “Today Show” to discuss design style for the home. Salk is the author of “A Privileged Life, Celebrating WASP Style,” (Assouline) as well as “Weekend Retreats” and the bestselling “Room for Children: Stylish Spaces for Sleep and Play,” and “Be Your Own Decorator: Taking Cues and Confidence from Today’s Leading Designers” (Rizzoli). Her 2013 Rizzoli book “C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon,” was the first pictorial book celebrating the iconic style of C.Z. Guest, the American author, columnist, fashion designer, muse and socialite. Her latest book, “Decorate Fearlessly! Using Whimsy, Confidence and a Dash of Surprise to Create Personal Spaces,” (Rizzoli) explores the power rooms can have when decorated with confidence instead of rules. She is currently working on her eighth book, “It’s the Little Things: The Power of Detail in Design” (Rizzoli 2015) Salk is a Contributing Editor to and hosts the monthly Stylish Shopping/At Home With video series on the Quintessence blog. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two boys.



  1. Reply

    Elle Gibson

    September 8, 2014

    Bravo for Decorate Fearlessly by Sussana Salk. It’s now on my reading list. Can’t wait to read it.

  2. Reply

    Linda Von Rhine

    July 24, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading and viewing Using Color with Susanna Salk. I am desperately in need of an interior designer for my house. These pictures helped me get a start. Thank you so much. Hopefully there will be more in the future—-