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Tips for Indulging Your Purple Passion


There's a passion for purple going around. From sweaters and suede on fashion runways to PT Cruisers on city streets, the color is having its 15 minutes of fame.

One sure-fire sign of its current cachet: purple M&Ms. In a global vote conducted by candy maker Mars, 10 million people in 200 countries picked purple over pink and aqua as the latest new melt-in-your-mouth color.

"Purple is one of my favorite colors. It goes with almost everything," says Washington, D.C., interior designer Jose Solis Betancourt.

On the other hand:

"With certain shades of purple, you run the risk of looking cheap," says Sarah Wessell, a Washington designer with a Georgetown shop.

Like other assertive new colors that flash in the pan--think of lime green a few years ago and the more recent bright orange--a shot of purple can inject instant energy into a wardrobe or a room.

But there's a downside: When the trend runs its course, you're stuck with it. And while a purple necktie or scarf can be easily ditched, how will you feel about a Barney-colored Barcalounger?

"There are pitfalls with any trend," advises West Coast color guru Leatrice Eiseman, former director of the Pantone Color Institute. "But if you are comfortable with the color, go for it."

Purple is a complex color, a blend of red and blue that ranges from the palest pinks to the inkiest blues. Color professionals think of true purple as an equal mixture of the two, but changing these proportions also changes its personality. "You say 'purple' and most people think of vivid royal purple. But within the purple family, the color range is huge," says Jay de Sibour, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Color Marketing Group, a trade association that forecasts color trends for manufacturers. "Some shift in hue depending on the light. You might fall in love with a rich, dark purple, but if it's other than midday, you'd swear that it's black."

If you're ready to take a purple plunge, design pros have some tips for bringing either a lot or a little of the color into your home.

"If you love a color, really use it. Don't just limit yourself to purple accents," says Washington designer David H. Mitchell. "If you have a great sofa, cover it with purple. If you hate it five years down the road, you can change it."

Mitchell says rich, heavy fabrics do wonders for purple. "You need a fiber that captures the saturation of the color. It's beautiful with velvets, silks or wools." A purple dining room would be a delightful alternative to the ubiquitous red, he says. "Dark, dark purple walls in Benjamin Moore's Exotic Purple (No. 2071-10) would be fabulous with pale pink cashmere curtains." For a slightly lighter shade, he suggests Benjamin Moore Misty Lilac (No. 2071-70).

Purple also profits from a touch of silver, Mitchell says. Silvery throw pillows and a gray rug with stylized purple flowers would be terrific with that sofa.

Eiseman echoes Mitchell's call for gray and silver but also likes deep blues and champagne beiges with quiet purple. To keep that soothing feeling, she suggests using the same low-key intensity for all the colors in the room.

"Think elderberry, aubergine and smoky casts of purple," says Eiseman--Calvin Klein bedding as opposed to Welch's grape juice. "The new purples are restful and beautiful, with blue undertones as opposed to red," she says. "Soothing purples seem appropriate. The softness relates well to these times. Basically, they function just like neutrals."

Bluish purples are well suited for bedrooms and dining rooms, she says. In hot climates and rooms facing south, they can make a room seem cooler.

Solis Betancourt also likes purple for bedrooms. In a guest room in his home, he showed how purple can take on a rainbow of color companions: a warm lavender for the walls, a pale aqua coverlet for the bed and a red chair.

"Color is about emotion, and home is all about expressing who you are," says Eiseman. "If you don't know why you love a color, then you need to try it out. If you have serious doubts, pay attention. And if you still love it, then it deserves to be taken home."

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