Two Little Words That Can Change the Life of Your Interior Design

Recently, I attended Maria Killam’s workshop on color.  I became a certified “True Colour Expert” and I can honestly say, Maria made us walk our talk and even talk our walk!  She has a theory that I agree with. The theory involves two very magical words that can help you in your quest for the perfect color.  The words are “Clean” and “Dirty”.

colour expert

From Maria Killam's, "Colour Me Happy" blog

Now, I am certain you are trying to figure out what clean and dirty have to do with color. However, I am here to tell you that clean vs. dirty is a basic theory that cannot be ignored.  It is also a principle that is often violated in the design world, and even a professional can get it wrong, by simply not knowing any better. Getting clean vs. dirty wrong can lead to huge and frustrating mistakes.  I do admit it is a very subtle “wrong”, but wrong nonetheless.  It’s the kind of wrong in decorating that leaves you thinking “What is wrong with this space? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is just not quite right.”  Ever had that feeling after two coats of shiny new paint?

A clean color is one that is the truest form of a pigment often diluted only by white.  These colors have a pure hue that is often bolder.  In the Benjamin Moore palette these colors are often near the top of a strip and/or can often be found in the front section of the “preview” fan deck.  To keep it simple, think to yourself, “When compared to another color is this color obviously bolder and cleaner… Or is it muted next to another color?”

Here are some examples from Amanda Nisbet‘s NYC home that showcase “clean” colors….

amanda nisbet

As for a dirty color, just as the name implies, these colors are dirtier and softer in relationship to a bolder color. These colors just read muddier.  Many sage greens fall into this category. (See photo example below).

Amanda Nisbet

Sage greens are in the "dirty" category as can be seen in this Amanda Nesbit photo.

Although the difference is often a subtle one, it is recognizable enough to leave you pondering what the problem is.  So, the next time you doubt a color, run the clean vs. dirty test, and see if, perhaps, the issue can be resolved by including only clean colors, or only dirty colors, in the space.  If you try to blend clean and dirty into one room, it often takes so much energy that many people end up “overdecorating” … And things STILL feel a bit “off”.

I pose the question, “Is there a neutral or some other color out there that helps fix the clean and dirty theory in the same space?”  I happen to think so, but not without a very skillful eye. Obviously, when given the opportunity to decide, the safest bet is to keep all clean colors together and/or all dirty colors together.

Have any of you encountered the clean vs. dirty problem in your own decorating?

NOW, GO HAVE AN “It’s So Fabulous!” DAY!




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Stylish, sophisticated and dramatic, Kimberly Grigg brings her unique talents to client’s homes across the country and to her retail boutique, Knotting Hill Interiors. An award winning retail boutique and an award winning full service design firm, Knotting Hill offers luxury interior design, renovation and remodeling services, custom design, childrens rooms and nurseries and accessorizing. The retail boutique sells fabric, home furnishings, retail design, lamps, accessories, art, upscale furniture consignment, gifts, fashion and jewelry. Voted “Best on the Beach” in both retail and design, our customers say that this place and this process is truly “enchanted”! Knotting Hill Interiors is based in Myrtle Beach South Carolina and is located at 7751 North Kings Hwy.