Better red instead

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Color trends come and go, but certain hues are perennial hangers-on. Take red, for example.

Chicago interior designer Alessandra Branca is a known red lover. When she designed a collection of fabrics for Schumacher, red played a starring role. Sometimes her approach is playful, like pairing red-and-white ticking stripe lampshades with antique gilt bronze candlestick lamps. Google her work, and the rooms that pop up are laced with the fiery hue that seems to explode in every shot. She mostly likes it on the coral side, and the fact that she's pretty passionate about Pompeian shades speaks to her Italian heritage.

New York-based designer Alexa Hampton knows how to shake things up with red. While most of the furnishings she designs for Hickory Chair are classic, quiet neutrals with occasional bursts of color, she wowed High Point, North Carolina, furniture marketgoers when she rolled out several entire spaces in ravishing red. On the walls, in upholstery, as accessories — and, for ultra drama, as a kind of racing ribbon stripe down the backside of a zebra-patterned chair.

"Red wakes you up," says Hampton. "When you paint a room red, you have a point of view, so don't use it if you want to hedge."

Like red lipstick, we love the stroke of sass. It's bold. It's sexy. Like a lightning bolt, it instantly grabs your attention. It's loaded with energy. It evokes passion and love, which is why it will be much talked about this month, with all those cliches of hearts and red roses, the color of valentines. But perhaps especially because the Pantone Color of the Year for 2015 is not red, but Marsala.

Pantone describes the color as a "robust and earthy wine red" and says Marsala "enriches our minds, bodies and souls."

While the chip appears to be a milky, chocolatey rose, interpretations run from maroon to burgundy, dusty to dark. There are subtle differences in all reds from wine-y to bright, and designers seem to be tap dancing to find the part of the spectrum that works for them.

"I've seen way too many burgundy dining rooms ... to love this color again anytime soon," said Maria Killam, author of the Color Me Happy blog.

Designer and TV personality Courtney Cachet was even more blunt. "I am not feeling this year's color at all. It's a little confining as it relates to coordinating (elements) ... and kind of blah. Marsala feels like Oxblood's sister who's late to the party wearing the same — on sale — outfit. Maybe in fashion — for home it kind of sucks."

Ouch. But she goes on to explain: "Red is so much richer, prettier. It's a color you can work with," she says, noting that in her own dining room, which has navy walls and white moldings, she chose cranberry red velvet chairs for pop. "You don't have to perk up red with gold or metallic," she says.

Actually, Hampton likes a "more fun cousin" to Marsala: Farrow and Ball's Brinjal. "It is a wonderful reddish-purple. I just used it in a room that has purple, pale blue, red accents and mahogany doors. It really rocked."

Often a favorite on runways, red again made a splash with fall and winter fashions from Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.

As the tartan plaids at J. Crew attest, it can be sporty or elegant and luxurious, as in Oscar de la Renta taffeta.

And it's a hue that is well-suited for the most traditional to the most modern furniture. But a little goes a long way. Going monochromatic, changing up an all-white or all-beige bland to all-crimson could be way over the top spicy for most.

The power of red is immediately apparent. Consider a brown leather wing chair. Then imagine the same piece in red leather. Pow. A star in a neutral room, still not overpowering, though — and still with a masculine enough edge to appeal to guys.

More sleek, contemporary silhouettes positively pop in scarlet (think red Ferrari). Its directness takes shape well. Sculptural sofas, for example, such as one designed by Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec for Ligne Roset are brilliant in red. Sinuous forms speak volumes in red. And tables and chests of drawers assume a new level of gravitas in red.

Designer John Strauss was floored when he made a seemingly simple change to a mid-century styled night table from a collection called Green Bay Road, which he had specified in walnut with contemporary stainless steel bar pulls. At the fall High Point furniture market, he showed the retro-look piece in red lacquer with black button knobs and it was a revelation.

"It has pop," says Strauss, whose company, JS Home, is located in Canton, Ohio, where he works with an Amish community in sustainable materials. "It is sophisticated. It has depth and a mystique."

"I think everyone understands the power of red lacquer," says Hampton. "A red lacquer screen, for example, can be so elegant. A bright red lacquer coffee table can be very youthful and edgy."

An area rug with a touch of red lifts a gray or beige setting. Also grounding is wall color — paint or wallcovering in red, which can serve as a warm backdrop. Some designers are fond of playing up red in a powder room, as it's a small space that you're not in for a very long time. Other designers have used red drapery or Roman shades in a creamy interior, accenting with matching pillows, throws, accessories or flowers. Or, more quietly, as a red banding on window treatments.

You can dial down the drama with smaller-scale accents that still make strong statements. Lighting is one way to go. Choose an all-red lamp, like the mini globe Eclisse from Artemide. Or one with just a touch of red — like a jewel inset in the Gem lamp, a cagey burnished gold piece with black shade from Koket.

Designers even have played with reds in acrylic and Lucite — quite fetching, especially in a traditional style Chinese stool, where it looks as fresh as the iconic transparent polycarbonate Ghost chair by Philippe Starck for Kartell.

Hampton does caution that red — especially when it envelops a space — can feel too hot. "I have often taken a nail polish to my painter to color match because there are so many great sharp reds for nails that don't have too much yellow.

"A great way to use red is with a bunch of whites and neutrals," says Hampton. "It can make the room feel modern, in spite of the use of such a traditional jewel tone. The designer also loves the combination of black and red. "It makes me think of my father," she says. Her late father, decorator Mark Hampton, was an icon of classic American style. "Red with orange and pink makes me think of David Hicks and his great, playful geometrics. I love red and plum for sheer sexiness. It would be a perfect dining room."

Red is known to stimulate the appetite. Just watch the calories.


■ Alessi, through Bloomingdales, 800-777-0000,;

■ Artemide, 312-475-0100,

■ CB2, 800-606-6252,

■ Hastings Tile & Bath, 631-285-3330,

■ Hickory Chair, 800-349-4579,

■ Hooker Furniture, 276-656-3335,

■ JS Home, 330-456-0300.

■ Kelly Hoppen, the company is London-based, but you can order online at

■ Koket, 703-369-3324,

■ Ligne Roset, 212-375-1036,

■ Pagoda Red, 773-235-1188,