Picking the right color

Colorist Wanda Nicholson in the tangerine venetian bathroom she created for the Allen residence. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

With spring on its way, you may be looking to make some fresh changes to your home. One quick way to make a big difference is to change your wall colors. Wanda Nicholson, a color consultant who lives in High Falls, gives people advice on how to do that. She is a home interior painter who is also an innovative expert in Venetian plaster.

Known for her distinctive color sense and elaborate painting techniques, Nicholson began her painting career as a set painter for the Opera Company of Boston. Though her degrees were in Spanish, Latin studies and engineering, she wanted to be her own boss and work on her own time on something she loved. After working for a while in theater, she moved to the New Paltz area.


Taking notice of the number of new homes being built in the area and using the decorative and artistic skills she learned being in theater, Nicholson decided to make painting interiors her career. Her business has evolved into painting for a loyal group of clients who refer her to other potential customers.

She says that HGTV, the home and garden cable channel, has done a lot to help grow her business. Since home improvement programming has become trendy, people have become less risk-averse. They are adding more color to their homes. “It’s given people the courage to try stuff other than white, and I don’t have to talk them into it,” Nicholson said.

This has given new life to Nicholson’s job. Where she used to help choose colors more, now she does more reinforcing of good choices and provides guidance for colors in specific homes. “People excited about color are too colorful, and those afraid of change aren’t excited enough,” she explained. “So I guide them.”

Jacki Morrison, a resident of New Paltz, has worked with Nicholson and has utilized her expertise numerous times. “I’m clear in the direction I want to go, but Wanda helps solidify it,” Morrison said.

Morrison likes how Nicholson’s interesting paint treatments have given each room of her home a different atmosphere. Her dining room is a Venetian plaster done in a Tuscan style. Her porch is a faded grey that has a beach like feel to it.

“She’s quite terrific,” Morrison said. “She is great to work with, and has a unique sense of style.”

Nicholson’s eclectic style has changed throughout the years. While she was once bext known for her dramatic trompe l’oeil effects, which were popular in the 1980s, that style has become less fashionable. It’s also expensive and difficult to maintain. “It’s impossible to touch up,” Nicholson. “You have to go back to step one.”

Venetian plaster is easier to work in. The base is cheaper, and it is easy to touch up. It is also versatile and can look modern or antique.

It can even look like candy. “I once had a client whose kid went up and licked the wall because it looked so real,” she claimed.

What about those of us who do not quite have the budget for high-end renovations? Nicholson goes to Tru Value in New Paltz. Often, the staff can mix up a richer color or deal with other customer wants.

Nicholson recommends shelling out the cash for test paint. “Sample colors first, it’s worth the money,” she said. The way colors look on your walls at home may not be what you saw in the store. Buying a color without testing it could end up being a bad investment.

Photo by Lauren Thomas

Here’s a tip for getting to test a color. Paint it onto a piece of poster board and hold it against the wall. Move it to different walls. Make sure the color looks the same on all of them. You don’t want walls that look like a patchwork of colors.

Consider what brand of paint you buy. Nicholson recommends not settling for the cheap stuff. While it may cost less, cheaper paint is often of inferior quality and does not cover as much. In making more of an investment you get what you pay for. She uses Benjamin Moore paints and recommends them.

Do not be afraid to try a bold color. It can really add a dynamic look to your home. If you feel the color is getting out of control, however, tone things down and stick with neutrals. Don’t get depressed if your walls do not look how you envisioned them. It’s an easy fix.

“What people don’t realize is that it is just paint, there’s really no such thing as a hideous color and you can just paint over it,” the color consultant said.

Accent walls are a great way to add some pop to your home. Children’s bedrooms are a good place for them. You can do one wall in a color that helps express their personalities. But make sure to paint the accent wall on an inside corner and not the outside. If it is on an outside corner, it can look unfinished or out of place.

Whether you are doing one room or the whole house, it is good to keep in mind the flow of the house layout. Choose colors that carry you through the rooms and do not break them up too much.


Consider also are the more permanent items in your home like textiles. “Don’t use a color that competes with special art or furniture,” advised Nicholson.

Choose a color that suits your objects. Repainting a room is cheaper than buying a whole new living-room set.

Nicholson has foresworn white ceilings. Putting color on your ceiling can change the whole room and tie things together nicely.

You don’t have to visit an art museum to realize that color is subjective. We all see things differently. One color may not look the same to another. Ask some people what they think, but not too many. Never forget that it is your house, not theirs.

Giving your home a fresh paint job is an easy way to clean. It makes dull, drab, dirt-stained walls look fresh and vibrant. If you are looking to give your home a facelift this spring, consider giving some color a try.