How color consultants sell you on tangerine

Yahoo! HomesBy Allegra Muzzillo | Yahoo! Homes – Thu, May 31, 2012 2:41 PM ED

Alternating exterior colors give each dwelling its own identity and uniqueness. | Photo: Jill Pilarosca

The mere color of a room can make us want to settle in and curl up with a favorite book or turn around and head for the hills. It’s no wonder that the act of choosing which shade of blue (there are more than 65,000, by the way) to paint the bathroom ceiling can turn into a downright agonizing task. Will it be too dark? Too bright? Will it look the same on the surface as it does in the can? And as varied are the questions we have about color and how to wield it, so is the expertise of the pro that means to answer them.

Enter the professional color consultant, who’s (usually) well trained (scroll down for how to tell) to swoop in and resolve your color torment. So, how can you tell if you should hire a consultant? Well, schedule a meeting first: Decide whether your ideas jibe with the consultant’s, and whether your trust won’t lead you down the Primrose path with too-trendy hues and suggestions that seem eons away from your comfort zone.

We’ve all heard that consultants are really good at convincing us to take color gambles we normally wouldn’t. So how exactly do they do it? San Francisco-based color consultant Jill Pilaroscia insists the colors themselves do the coaxing: “Color empowers people to make their own decisions—I just provide good choices. In residences, it’s not about me, it’s about creating environments that resonate with inhabitants.”

Getting Professional Help
Four exterior colors and a dark teal door give this house more personality. | Photo: Denison Lourenco

What scares my clients most is that they think they might choose colors that are too dark or saturated—and make a small room look smaller, and a dark room, darker,” says Debra Kling, a color consultant in Larchmont, New York.

“Hiring a consultant was the best thing I did,” says Joanna Powell of Purchase, New York, whose pro came highly recommended by a friend—after Powell’s walls were professionally painted a certain gray with a too-pink hue. “On the first consultation, she and I just clicked. We discussed colors I liked, and she showed me similar shades. She never suggested anything crazy, only to go darker or lighter. I had faith in her,” says Powell.

But all the trust in the world matters not, however, if the consultant lacks a formal background. Where was she educated? What accreditations does she hold? The due-diligence part is your responsibility, of course. Consult the International Association of Color Consultants for a list of accredited members in your area.

The Process
As it turns out, color angst is quite natural. “There’s a lot going on when we process color,” says. “Our emotional responses are driven by science as well as logic: Psychological reactions are based on memories we’ve stored, and cultural reactions to color exist, too. They’re intrinsic to certain areas and belief systems.” The glut of options and the slightest subtleties among shades (Is there really a difference between White Cotton and Linen White?) don’t help, either. And let’s face it, who hasn’t had a run-in with a particularly hideous shade?

The professional colorist’s process is not unlike the architect’s or interior designer’s; she interviews the client, visits a home, collects and analyzes data, and gauges client feedback. “On site visits, I observe and take notes,” says Pilaroscia. “Say someone gravitates toward a particular red—I know of more than 30 different reds that can be successful. So, I hang up different red chips with drafting dots and listen to the client’s responses.”

Once colors have been narrowed down, paint is applied on the wall. “Clients observe colors over the course of several days, under natural and artificial light. If it’s currently sunny, they wait for a cloudy day. They also need to like the color of the dining room walls after dark, while eating under the lit chandelier,” Kling says. So, contrary to what you may’ve heard, there’s ample time to change things up before taking the plunge. (Not that you’d need it.)

Though comparisons to interior designers aren’t lost on Kling, they do make her cringe. “I’m the anti-interior designer,” she says. “Many of my clients say designers come in, take over, and charge a lot.”

Photo: Jill Pilarosca


Hiring a color consultant isn’t as difficult, or as expensive, as you’d imagine. Many color consultants operate strictly by word of mouth, and charge by the hour or via flat fee. Seasoned pros may charge $75 to $150 hourly, while flat rates for interiors and exteriors can be $150 to $300 on average. Keep in mind; what you invest on a pro up-front can save you loads of time, cash, and heartache in the end. Just ask Powell, who paid spent more on paint samples than a professional color consolation. “Not only was my consultation hundreds less than the $400 I spent on wasted paint samples, the pro nudged me to be a bit more creative and helped me gain confidence,” says Powell.

And it’s not just Powell who sees value in the process, either. “I have regular clients who appreciate the return on their investment. They don’t have to repaint, and they can always count on their solutions being attractive and well-received,” adds Pilaroscia. “They understand that color influences how they feel and how others experience the environment.”