Warm, cheerful and perennially popular--yellow has always been a classic color choice for walls.
In the '80s, Crayola-bright yellows plucked from English country houses and flowery chintzes were all the vogue. In the past few years, the color seems to have moved south to France and the warmer climes of Provence--softened with a touch of ocher into a tawny shade of straw.
While yellows can look good in virtually any setting, these paler shades are easier to work with than the more-vivid brights, says veteran paint consultant Jens Steensen of Steensen's Colortec in Silver Spring, Md.
If you use the equivalent of "a very bright ray of sunshine on your walls, it can overwhelm you," Steensen says. Tone the color down, he advises, and you can use it almost like a neutral: "You can intersperse the lighter yellows with green, blue, purple, taupe--almost any color." For a quiet yellow that's easy to live with, he recommends Pratt & Lambert's Minuet (No. 1801) or Italian Straw (No. 1752).
Yellow is a favorite of Kaki Hockersmith, the Little Rock, Ark., designer who helped Hillary Rodham Clinton redo the White House. "It's a happy, yummy kind of palette," she said, "running from deep golds . . . to the pales you see in flowers and fruit."
The Yellow Oval Room in the family quarters of the White House is a custom mix, but Hockersmith says that Pratt & Lambert Colonial Cream (No. 1747), a warm, medium yellow bordering on maize, is similar.
Now busy with the Clintons' new house in Chappaqua, N.Y., Hockersmith wouldn't reveal the decorating plans of the first lady--now Senate candidate. But this much she would say: "You would expect someone to repeat colors they like, and that is one she is very fond of."
Some other designer picks in a field of yellow:
Washington decorator Darryl Carter says Provence yellow has a rich mustardy tone, but it should look more like Grey Poupon than French's. For the breakfast room in his own home, formerly the Chancery of the Embassy of Oman, Carter is using a greenish Pommery mustard color by M.A.B Paints--King's Crown (No. 5039). "It's mellower and a more sophisticated shade than buttercup yellow," he says, "and a nice foil for antiques." M.A.B Paints is based in Broomall, Pa.
Bethesda, Md., interior designer Larry Horne likes his Provence yellows in small doses, in throw pillows or as part of a fabric pattern. "I prefer clear bright yellows on the walls," he says. One of his favorites is from Benjamin Moore's Historic Colors collection, Hawthorne (HC No. 4).
Yellow does wonders for dark rooms and rooms with a northern exposure, says Alexandria, Va., designer Dee Thornton of Houseworks Interiors. "Mahogany looks great against a strong yellow like Duron's Pineapple (No. 2572), a real English country-house color," she says.
Duron's Sun Shimmer (No. 7241W) is a wonderful medium yellow, and Benjamin Moore's Lemon Glow (No. 2025-60), a cooler shade, "looks pretty with floral prints and lots of white around it." For a Provence yellow, she suggests Benjamin Moore York Harbor (No. 2154-40), but adds, "It's not for the faint of heart." To make the color seem less intense, says Thornton, thin the paint and use it as a glaze over a light yellow.
"For a fun look in a small space," try Benjamin Moore's Mellow Yellow (No. 2020-50), says Joanne Zwally of Ashton Design Group in Ashton, Md. She likes it with black or gold accents or, for an even-crisper look, with white and cobalt blue.
Duron's Light Honey (No. 7721W) and Benjamin Moore's Lighthouse (No. 2018-60) are great background colors for pastel carpets as well as blue toiles and dark woods, she says. For a bow to Provence, she likes Duron's "Cane" (No. 7734M)--a subtle ocher mustard.
For a guest room awash in floral prints in her own home, McLean, Va.-based designer Carol Lascaris used "a warm, happy yellow"--Benjamin Moore No. 311--and a yellowish white--Benjamin Moore No. 932--for the ceiling trim to keep it from becoming too intense.
In actress Lynda Carter's Potomac, Md., living room, she used a soft cream, Sherwin Williams Buttercream (No. 1659). A slightly lighter version, Lascaris says, is Sherwin Williams Pristine Yellow (No. 1660).
And for people still cautious about yellow, Lascaris recommends a shade so pale it doesn't even look like yellow on the paint chip: Benjamin Moore's ready-mixed Linen White.