The Fine Print: Color Your World

After a blissful honeymoon on the Caribbean isle of St. John, Sarah Besadny moved into the Philadelphia row house she’d be sharing with her new husband, and found her thoughts drifting back to the week they’d spent on white beaches along -crystal-blue seas.

The tropical island “had the most amazing colors I had ever seen,” she says. “Everywhere you turned, there was water, and during the course of the day the water would change colors, and I loved that.” For one of the first remodeling projects in her new home, re-doing a small spare room, Besadny and her husband, Jim Meiers, painted the walls a bright aquamarine that brought to mind St. John’s gentle surf. They installed a speckled Berber carpet with the tones of a sandy beach and hung sheer curtains that let in all the sun Philadelphia’s latitude will allow.

Today, Besadny says their “Beach Room” is the most peaceful in the house, with the same relaxed, rejuvenated vibe that she felt while unwinding on a real beach 1,600 miles away.

Applying the right color is the easiest way to transport yourself back to a place you love. Designers say that bringing far-flung colors into your home is not about creating a Disneyland version of the place you’ve visited—it’s about re-creating the feeling that the environment gave you. “Go with how the color makes you feel,” says Sharne Algotsson, co-owner of Twist, a Center City home furnishings store and design service. “If you’re walking through a castle in Dusseldorf, and you fall in love with it, or you’re on a cruise ship, and the color of the water gives you joy, you have to get out your camera and take a picture.” Back home, there will be a place for you to use those colors that made you happy.

Algotsson, author of African Style: Down to the Details (Clarkson Potter, 2000), has based design palettes on colors that moved her on her travels across the African continent: the ochres and terra cottas of the Kenyan landscape; the bright pastels of Morocco; and the strong, primary colors prevalent in coastal West Africa.
For a Margate homeowner whose heart was really in San Francisco, Jay Leistner, president of Phase II Designs in Jenkintown, recommended an exterior color scheme of yellow with green, white and purple accents, echoing that city’s famed Victorian painted ladies. “They wanted to be the yellow house on the block, surrounded by typical white shore houses,” Leistner says.

Another client, who’d enjoyed a long-running love affair with Mexico, asked Phase II to paint her Penn Valley dining room a bold red. Visible outside the room were the stucco walls of a private patio, with one wall painted deep blue, two others bright yellow. The saturated colors, which are “not always in harmony as much as purposefully clashing,” says Leistner, reminded the client of the intense color schemes she’d loved in Mexican towns, and coordinated perfectly with the artwork she’d bought on her travels.

For a client of Doylestown designer Celeste Callaghan, the travel-inspired decor for a new family room began with artwork—pieces of Italian Deruta pottery spied one afternoon on a cooking show. Struck by the beauty of the pottery, the homeowner eventually traveled to Italy to buy some from the source, and decided to build the room around his collection. For the walls, he chose the deep yellow that has come to be identified with the ancient walls of Tuscan villas. Appropriately enough, the paint color is named Semolina, for the coarsely ground wheat used to make the best pastas.

Wherever you live, the right colors can take you to where you might rather be. For a Philadelphia client who’d hoped in vain to retire to Florida, Narberth-based designer Patricia Crane delivered the Sunshine State, transforming the mostly brown city home with a profusion of pinks and limes.

Crane, a native of London who gravitates to bright colors and warm places, created a breakfast room for a Villanova couple who shared Crane’s love of sun-splashed islands. “Have you been to Greece? Everything is this brilliant white, and a brilliant blue,” she says. Those hues, with red accents that Crane says echo the flowers adorning many island doorways, now remind the home-owners every morning of their moment in the Mediterranean sun.