Home furnishing catalogs and decor magazines tell us that purple is all the rage, and top designers have been filling clients’ homes with everything from purple wallpaper and furniture to purple lampshades and throw pillows.
It can be a tough sell, says Betsy Burnham, founder of Burnham Design in Los Angeles, who has used purple frequently this year. Clients sometimes blanch when they hear “purple,” envisioning garish, overpowering hues, she says.
“Sometimes it takes putting the color up on the wall or buying a couple of yards of the fabric to convince them,” she says. They’re usually thrilled with the elegant results.
“I’ve done walls in a gray-purple and it’s super-sophisticated,” Burnham says.
It is true that purple has to be used wisely.
“Too much purple can seem Austin Powers-ish or way too juvenile,” says Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of decordemon.com.
So how can you choose the right shades of purple and use them well? Burnham, Flynn and Sandra Espinet (who decorated actress Alison Sweeney’s home entirely in purple for an HGTV’s “Celebrity Holiday Homes” special this month) offer their ideas and advice:
• START SLOWLY: No need to invest much if you’re not sure whether purple is for you. Buy several purple candles for your dining room or a purple throw blanket to drape over your sofa.
Espinet suggests bringing in some purple items like these during the holiday season, and then keeping them around after holiday decorations have been put away.
Another low-commitment approach is to bring in a lamp with a lavender lampshade to add a subtle purple hue to a room.
• CHOOSE SHADES WISELY: “My rule of thumb is to use vibrant or bold purples strictly as accents, whereas muted purples or ones with lots of gray undertones can be used more generously,” Flynn says. “If you get your purples right, they can be warm and cool at the same time. My favorite shade is violet.”
Soft lilacs and grayish lavenders can be easier to work with, Burnham agrees. She advises homeowners to stay with very pale purples or dark, regal shades.
Save the boldest shades of purple for one important piece, she says, such as a “beautiful vintage chair in your hallway. Or do just the seats of your dining chairs in a great purple fabric.”
• NOT JUST A GIRL THING: All three designers point out that purple isn’t just for young girls’ bedrooms.
“Purples can take on masculine or feminine styles, depending on how they’re used,” Flynn says. “Plummy tones are usually my go-to shade for women. Blue-violets or dark purples are my first choice for men. A good number of my clients are bachelors. Tired of seeing the same old thing again and again, I often use purples instead of blues. There’s a sense of regality to it.”
Pale lilac sheets with a white down comforter can look softly feminine. But pair those same sheets with a chocolate brown bedspread and the look is perfect for a bachelor’s apartment.
• PURPLE IN PATTERNS: A solid purple wall can be overpowering, but Flynn points out that wallpaper in shades of purple can have a much different impact.
“Sometimes I will go ahead and do an entire room in a dark violet, but with fabric or textured wall covering, not paint,” he says. “Purple textiles seem to immediately evoke a sense of luxury, whereas purple paints can sometimes just be too much saturation with no texture to help warm it up and give it depth.”
Burnham says there’s a growing selection of beautiful wallpaper and textile patterns that feature shades of purple.
• PROPER PAIRINGS: In the ’80s, purple was mixed with other strong colors such as teal and gold, Espinet says. Today, you’re more likely to see it combined with neutral shades, or see several shades of purple used together.
Flynn often pairs purple with grays and silvers for a modern feel. “I often use brown-grays with plum to create a moody, earthy feeling,” he says. “For modern homes, I love to play up charcoal, gray-beige and lavender.”
Burnham likes to balance lavender with taupe, and says it looks great with Army green and, in some cases, Navy blue.
• GET METALS: An excellent way to use purples effectively is to pair them with metallic accents. Flynn often pairs shades of purple with silver or bronze.
Purple also works well with gold, he says, but it’s important to choose the right shades: “Sometimes a yellow gold that’s too yellow can really clash with the purple, whereas brown golds seem to work effortlessly.”
• WHERE TO PUT IT? “Purple is a relaxing color,” says Espinet, and can work well in just about any room — especially bedrooms and living rooms. But she does suggest limiting its use in the kitchen: Food, she says, just doesn’t look good with purple.
With that one warning in mind, Espinet encourages people to have fun and experiment with purple. Every home is different, she says, and purple can bring glamour to each in a different way.