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Color transformations

I have said it before and I’m not exaggerating: Fresh paint can turn cold into warm and cozy, old and dirty into fresh and clean, drab into interesting, and turn darkness into light. These days, it is particularly useful as we try to stretch every dollar further. If you don’t like your surroundings but don’t have much money for improvements – PAINT!

Take for example a pro-bono job I did last year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County. As a non-profit organization, their goal is to maximize resources that help children and to do that with minimal expenses. So when they moved into new office space that was a bit “tired,” they asked me to assist with a budget-friendly facelift.

If there is something specific you don’t like in your space, the best thing to do is over-power it. Beat it with something that is stronger, don’t retreat from it with weak choices.



In the Big Brothers Big Sisters office, the most challenging thing was the carpet. The space had probably been divided up different ways over the years so the suite now had three or four different types of carpet and there was no budget to change it.

Many people might assume that with multiple colors and textures, the best thing to do is select a white or some type of neutral that goes with everything. I call this retreating because light walls would be less strong than the flooring, therefore the flooring (the negative) would dominate and win your attention. To win in a battle against something bad, you have to add something as strong or stronger than it is: De-emphasize it! This space needed strong and interesting color combinations to take the focus away from the floors.




The first carpet color upon entering the space was the most challenging because it is taste specific and it is bold. So I had to be as bold. I grabbed my paint fan decks and found a color that matches the carpet almost exactly. And that plum type color became the beginning of my palette.

I looked through several fan decks and selected a whole fall color / wine country palette. It included strong gold and green tones as the neutrals to cover most of the walls while purples, reds and copper colors could be accents and draw attention away from unwanted features. I pulled out color cards to show the clients the overall concept and then, working in each space, we chose the exact colors that worked best given the natural light and carpet color in each room.

When you work in a space many hours each day, neutral colors like the earthy greens and golds in our palette work well. They aren’t too powerful or distracting. But I’m a big believer in adding stimulating, interesting items in work places as well. So every person at Big Brothers Big Sisters decided that they wanted an accent color in their office. Several chose deeply saturated purple tones and others chose wine colored burgundy tones. Both of these bold choices pair perfectly with our strong neutrals.

The transformation in this office is stunning, even to me. The newly painted walls make the space feel fresh and clean and nothing looks dated or like it doesn’t belong. It all works together and looks intentional. And equally important is how warm and professional it feels for the hard-working staff and volunteers and the children who visit frequently. The space is cheerful, interesting, inspiring and professional – all since it was painted.

Local stores donated and discounted all of the paint and materials for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Many thanks to Moule Paint and Glass in Grass Valley and Hills Flat Lumber in Grass Valley. Without their donations, this transformation would not have been possible.

If you are struggling with a small budget and a need for significant improvements in your surroundings, try paint.

• Paint walls, and moldings in a contrasting color

• Paint ceilings. If your ceiling is architecturally interesting, highlight it with bold color. Or, consider carrying the wall color or a lighter version of the wall color onto the ceiling.

• Paint older furniture and accessories (spray paint is fast and easy).

• If you have an older floor and no funds to put in new flooring, talk to your paint store professional about how to prep it and paint it. It won’t be perfect and it won’t last forever, but it would be an improvement over some really ugly stuff I’ve seen out there and you should be able to live with it for years (I’ve done it).

If you can do nothing else, you can still have a completely transformed space with paint!

Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. Erin can be reached at (530) 477-1401, or at erinmillerdesigns.com.


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