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Baltimore, Maryland interior designer Brad Weesner shares insights on luxury residential design and fine commercial interiors. Read blog.

Rooms I love and why. No. 2 in series – Carlyle Hotel, The Gallery

The Carlyle, where I quite seriously plan to retire, is the very definition of Old New York to me. The 21 Club (the original one) and similar spaces in Manhattan have the strange but wonderful ability to make me feel about as protected from the world as anything could. As a Grande Dame should be, the hotel is a beacon of civility and conviviality right in the middle of the biggest city in America. 

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How light can affect colour in a room

In discussing how color/colour works – and the influence of light with colour, I wanted to show you (as best I can) how some of all this looks in rooms with varied colour and light.

First; a primer on the light entering a room -

One of the first things a designer will do upon assessing a room, is to determine the quality of natural light.  What direction does it come from?  Is it filtered/diffused or is it direct and somewhat harsh?  As you now know from my earlier post – colour is so controlled by light, it’s one of the things a designer will want to control.  Ambient light can be a great thing, or it can be a troublesome thing!!  Here are some basics, but remember these are only general guidelines!!

  A room with full    southern    light. 

A room with full southern light. 

Northern Light is usually a cool colour of light, and direct sunlight in your room might not be available (Unless you are are in the southern hemisphere, and then we need to think of your northern exposure as  lot of direct light!) For those of us in the Americas, it’s good to use warm colors such as red, yellow or orange in our decor to compensate for the coolness of the light. Blues or greens will make the room appear even colder.

  This room appears to already have had it’s morning sun via an    eastern    orientation I question the supplemental light planned for this room. Can you find the multiple sources of light added to the decor?

This room appears to already have had it’s morning sun via an eastern orientation I question the supplemental light planned for this room. Can you find the multiple sources of light added to the decor?

Southern Light is warmer and the “temperature” (or Kelvins) measures more of what we think of “sunny” light.  These rooms will ask us for ways to control this light, and overall you can use darker colors in a room with a southern exposure. Blues and greens will “read” much warmer and “happier” in this kind of light. (see the Floridian rooms below!)

  A room with warm sunny    westerly    light.

A room with warm sunny westerly light.

Eastern Light gives a room sunny mornings, but muted middays.  The morning light is a cooler light compared to the afternoon light, and the afternoon offers no direct light. In this case, I really consider carefully the time(s) of day this room is really being used,but overall, use a mix of warms and cools to balance out the daylight.

  Incomparable Geoffrey Bradfield's elegance. An example of northern light.

Incomparable Geoffrey Bradfield's elegance. An example of northern light.

Western Light is by definition, afternoon light.  Beyond capturing direct light in the afternoon, the light later in the day can read warmer than morning light.  Golds and cream really blossom in this light so feel free to use neutrals in this room.  If this room is really being used during the morning – I would need to consider how to augment with other lighting to bring the colour harmony to the room.  I would tend not to use warm colors that will overpower the room in the afternoon.

Kelvins are used in the measurement of the “temperature” of light, and is a marker of the quality of light that I use most often.  

above; note the use of grays here.  This would seem to fly in the face of the advice above, but here is where the talented eye of an interior designer can make it work by “breaking the rules” so to speak.

I question the supplemental light planned for this room. Can you find the multiple sources of light added to the decor?

There are so many variables in working with light, as  you now know – experience can help you know which side of the box to “push out” so to speak.  The room above has a great deal of white, punched with strong colour.  This is successful only because of the temperature (Kelvins) and the orientation of the light.  The whites can appear warmer directly as result of that light.  But – what about night-time, when this ambient light is not available?  Interior lighting comes to the rescue with the very same principles in mind!

Now, let’s up the ante – and discuss how to bend the rules a little.  We have noted already that with northern light, we might want to stay away from cooler colours, and keep to the red and gold colours to counteract the colour/kelvins of the light coming in.  What if we wanted to actually USE that colour of light to our advantage? 

Again, in the evening, it would be important to choose the interior lighting carefully. Would you place a flourescent bulb in this room? (it's a choice, for sure. Not mine, but a choice!)

I feel that this room shows a good “recipe” for proper lighting of a room.  Many times, the actual lighting might be used a bit more creatively, and concealed in a more sophisticated way.  As lighting fixtures are “jewelry” to a room, one should consider the look you want to achieve.  Here below, notice the hanging light fixture that throws a lot of ambient light,  the lamps with their shades give good general illumination, the wall sconces augment the work of the lamps, and places light at face level – eliminating shadows.  Not easily seen here, are the overhead pinspots used creatively and up-lamps positioned for effect when needed.  The overall balance of light is what is called for, and this room shows that well.

Notice the small lights within the bed for reading, the several different styles of lighting here.  This is shown with some daylight coming in, but can you try to see how well you think this room is lit at night?  Should a bedroom have overhead recessed lights?

Now, let’s talk about some rooms that have NO outside light at all, and rely just on interior lighting alone.  Does this happen?  Yes!    Can it work?   Yes!

I normally would never use this much overhead spot lighting, but we arranged the ultra small halogens in a grid like stars, onto a ceiling plane with Benjamin Moore's "Platinum Pearlescent" sprayed to automobile finish on the ceiling.

Take a look around your home.  Do you feel you have the best colours working with the available daylight?  Do you use the room during the day or the evening? Does your interior lighting plan contain enough sources of light, and is it balanced light?  Most importantly – is it the right colour/temperature of light? 

Rooms I love – and why. No. 1 in series. The Rotunda at the Pierre Hotel

Considered by many to be possibly the most beautiful room in New York, this room is a brilliant testament to the proper, if lavish, way to decorate a room. The trompe l’oeil murals created by American artist Edward Melcarth can only be truly appreciated while within the space proper.  In fact trompe l’oeil is (when done well) best taken in while in person.  It can seem to “move” with you as we have seen a portrait’s eyes do in the best of oils.

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As long as you don’t do Gray and Mauve…

I love to re-frame other’s perceptions about things, and certainly this applies to design!

When I meet new clients, I feel pretty lucky.  I believe that I can quickly read what they are looking for, where they want to be involved and where they don’t care to be involved.  Every so often, I enjoy the concept of “Carte Blanche” from a client who knows my work, and they trust me to execute a look they will love.  Now, mind you, it’s never really carte blanche, I still have to do a lot of homework and study what they would most like – but this was one of those times, it was pretty much a carte blanche situation.

Martha had a beautiful penthouse in Bethesda(at the time, still under construction), and in meeting with her to begin work, we had an easy and quick rapport.  She is a fun person who loves to laugh and we often compete in telling the funnier story to each other!  She is bigger than life, very discerning and views life as something too short to overthink, overmanage or otherwise fret over.  As I have come to know her, I greatly respect her outlook and her gracious acceptance of things she cannot change.  “Which ain’t much,, lemme tell you…..”  In short, she is a really great client of mine.

During construction, when we could, we would walk from room to room, with very high ceilings, and incredible southern views, and she would say; “In this room, I would like to use it for reading, and an occaisional place for me to nap”.  In my attempt to further understand how she would use the room, and what might be most appropriate, she simply closed the subject with “That’s all, it’s just for that, no more.  Just do what you want in here, and if you can use the rocking chair that I have, it would be nice.”  I tried to press for even a sense of colour, and she said, “Brad, I have seen your work, you will do the right colour, you can put it together, let me see what you think, but I know I will love it.  Oh, but,  please don’t use Mauve and Grey.”   I said alright  -  and we went on.

In the next room, a guest bedroom, there was spectacular light, again the tall ceilings, and a wonderful corner of glass windows.  Again, it was pretty simple; “Just for my daughter to spend the night”.  “And you, when you come to stay”.   I half wondered if she was serious and half enjoying the idea of being able to create my own guest room, but I thought of her daughter first and asked about size of bed and other things. “I would like to have a queen sized bed, and if you are ok with it, I would prefer to avoid footboards on the beds.”  And that was it.  She had no more direction for me, except; “Brad, again, please do what you think best here, I trust you”.  “Oh,  but, please do not do Mauve and Grey.  I don’t like Mauve and Grey.”

I was already clear that we were not doing Mauve and Grey.  I get this.  Even I conjure up images of those 1950′s kitchens and baths gone horribly wrong.  But, instinctively I found this strange – and somewhat challenging.  I mean – I am a good designer, I know how to pair colours well.  But, hey – the client is always right most of the time.

We went into the main living room and open dining area.  Again, she was clear that I should do what I thought best.  She clarified that something a little dramatic would work in this room,, but “Really, just do what you want here.”  “I think you get the apartment by now. You will create something wonderful, I know.”  Oh, she said – “please don’t do Grey and Mauve, I really don’t like those colours.”   At this point I felt compelled to do what I love to – and ask a client to go with me “outside of their box” and see what we find.

I said “… you know Martha,,  Grey and Mauve never did anything to you!  I mean they are colours. Colours, in of themselves don’t go in or out of fashion.  WE make them go out of fashion.  But to Grey and Mauve – they are just colours.”   She looked at me right in the eye for a minute, with one of THOSE looks.  And then,, Um,,, like I said – the client is always right. 

We just were “not going to have Grey and Mauve” she said.  “Right.” I said.  It was a short but sweet trip outside that box!

Now, by the end of the project 7 months later,  we ended up doing the most beautiful collection of smoky blues, oyster, mother of pearl, alabaster wool carpeting, black lacquer, antique silver, and magnificent modern crystal and over- the- top silks.  You can imagine a very dramatic penthouse with the evening blue sky, and the rooms to match!

But, our story does not end there.  Just after we started Martha’s penthouse in earnest (she had just gone to settlement on her new sky-high home, and two days later, all kinds of drywall was being torn down, and scaffolding going up!  oh my!) all was going well.  I received a call, that we were invited to be part of a showhouse being done on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  “Of course!” I said.   We were very fortunate to be assigned the corner room looking out on the water.  With 12 foot ceilings, peeling plaster work all around, the room with its gothic windows and stained hardwoods was  desperate for a makeover.  The mood was so pervasive it was uncanny.  This house, this place, was calm. Peaceful.  And it struck me;  I am going to do a Grey and Mauve room!  Yep, I wanted the challenge, and I wanted to show Martha what it could be.  Now -  what would it actually be?  Well to conclude, let’s leave it at this –  the first choice I made for the room was the paint colour from Benjamin Moore for the trim was called “Calm” and after that, it seemed easy, the room came together quite magically. (and THAT is another story involving a $45,000 painting in a UHaul truck and being pulled over by the police!)

Below, the finished room shows you what can be realized, when we just start fresh with no preconceived ideas.  I admit this room has no reference at all to the 1950′s, and that’s just it.  Back then, that colour scheme was part of a fad, and like all fads/trends and splashy –  “this is today’s look” – and when there is this kind of promotion, it’s when we end up with unfortunate memories.   Nope,  for me,  Classic and timeless always gets it right.  The other designer’s rooms next to ours; Fiona Weeks’s (porch), Richard Keith Langham’s (study) and Kelley Proxmire’s (dining room) – all were classic, calming, and remarkable that they will always look good.  It’s nice when the rooms of a design house just come together that way.  And for Colour?  I will say; Mauve and Grey – been there done that! 

What is light? What is colour?

My Definition of Colour -  Is an individual’s perception of refracted light rays from a surface.  A fabric, a wall colour, a diamond, grass and sky,, all show us colour.  The way this happens is that the full spectrum of light falls upon the surface being viewed.

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