Hint of Red
By Karen Parr-Moody
A "hint of red" may sound like a lipstick color, but for many interior designers it's a décor directive. New York designer Miles Redd, a heir to Dorothy Draper, recently told Elle Decor magazine: “Red, for me, is a great clarifier. It makes light colors look sharper. The perfect example is a lady wearing red lipstick — she can have no other makeup on, and suddenly her features pop.”
Red is enticing and intriguing. It can envelop a room with a scarlet glow, and it is certainly full of drama and passion. It can be painted on a wall (think of the most glamorous dining rooms), or sprinkled with a handful of accessories to make any room positively vibrate.
Diana Vreeland, the late editrix of Vogue, was no wallflower about anything visual — much less the color red, her favorite shade. When she put together her New York apartment at 550 Park Avenue, she directed Billy Baldwin to decorate it like "a garden in hell." To that end, Baldwin worked up scarlet "fleurs du mal" chintz covering everything in the living room from walls to curtains to pillows. There was wall-to-wall red carpet, solid red upholstery on chairs, even a white pillow scattered with red hearts.
In the famous photo of Vreeland, right, she lounges like a sultan on her red chintz sofa. One of her famous quotes, about red, was, "I can't imagine becoming bored with red — it would be like becoming bored with the person you love." Another bon mot she tossed off about red was this specific description: “All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want rococo with a spot of gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple.’ They have no idea what I’m talking about. About the best red is to copy the color of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait.”
GasLamp's dealers and designers are currently hot for the color red, and are peppering their booths with items lacquered up in the dramatic shade. Home decorators can choose from these items, and then decide on the saturation. They may choose a room slathered in red, or they may place a dash here and there to draw attention to other items one might not normally notice.
The Chinese cabinet, left, is done up in a sexy red leather, and would add a strong contrast to any number of wall colors, from a cobalt blue lacquer to a chocolate stain ($245; Booth B-317). In this way it could be used very much in the Vreeland vein, in that happy exhilaration of total color saturation. It could also be used to offset a paler color, such as cream or pale slate gray; in this case, the red tone could be echoed lightly in other parts of the room, such as with the fabric of a pillow or a trim on a lampshade.
With this painting at right, "Posies," in a whitewashed milk paint frame, one gets into folksy version of design via Coco Chanel — another lover of red ($285; Booth B-218). Chanel favored earthy neutral tones of tobacco and beige with hints of red. Her style was like adding a spicy paprika to a hearty stew, and she did so with occasional items, such as a rust-toned painting of camellias or books bound in red leather. This painting, with its diminutive red posies, could be added to a lightly-colored room where a variety of reds is the subtle unifier.
The photo, left, from ElleDecor.com, shows a library with a red sofa. It is upholstered in a crushed linen-velvet fabric to bring out the colors in the vintage 1930s wallpaper, and it is the very picture of warmth. Blended with the floral wallpaper, and its cinnamon-colored flowers, there’s something energizing about it, but cozy at the same time.
Currently at GasLamp, there are many items available to put together a room such as this, one that would work with autumnal colors, cherry reds, and other one-off reds to create a country cottage look. For example, take the photo at right; here is a mix of red items that would fit in an eclectic setting. There's a red display cabinet ($89; Booth B-306), a red metal star ($30; W-403), one of a pair of red wicker and cane chairs (pair, $79; Booth B-103B), and wall hangings made from red-and-white enamel shelf tops ($24; Booth B-309). It all pops so perfectly against the graphic black-and-white curtain panel.
The photo, left, offers another vignette of red items at GasLamp with which one might put in a room for a subtle red alert. These are the country reds, those that are chalkier and softer. Think of the color of an old barn, and you've got it. This color, like that of a ripening apple, goes well toward bringing comfort to a room. There's a charming red bird house ($60; Booth B-125), a red rolling table with pull-out shelf ($85, Booth B-232), a rustic red basket ($18; Booth B-2025), and even a vintage bird cage ($126; Booth B-306).
Red makes colors around it more interesting and perks everything up. It can run the gamut of emotions, from exciting and glamorous to cozy and warm. Whatever the mood, red is a favorite color choice of designers looking to make a statement. It truly is amazing that one color can convey so much more than other tones. So use it today to add dynamism and life to a room, whether it's on upholstery, curtains, objects, or lampshades. And go boldly.