Mary Roper shivers a bit when she recalls the feeling she got after the walls in every room in her house were painted white.
“We were just moving in, and we thought white would make everything feel fresh and neutral,” she recalls. “Instead, it was cold. Even worse, it was boring.”
Thirteen years and four renovations later, her home is warm and vibrant. Walls are swaddled in chamois, buffed in bronze and cheered by the palest yellow, all hues that might have been distilled from the earth.
“The variations in tone feel good, not jarring, as you pass from room to room,” says Roper, a color and design consultant.
Since the day they bought their circa 1963 brick Cape Cod home in a lovely, leafy neighborhood in Brandywine Hundred, Roper and her husband, Roy, have been improving it. They’ve worked in stages, prioritizing by need and budget, starting with an overdue kitchen update and the structural stabilization of a first-floor laundry room that had been added in the 1970s.
In addition to cosmetic improvements—such as freeing hardwood floors trapped beneath shag carpet—the couple also enclosed a screen porch to create an airy, light-filled home office and installed a tranquil master bath with an angular, raised ceiling and lots of storage.
But before they launched their fourth and most ambitious renovation, the Ropers shopped for houses.
“It makes sense to find out if you would be better off buying something else before you put yourself through the inconvenience of a project,” she says.
After a thorough search of both new and existing houses from Pennsylvania to Newark, the Ropers decided staying put would work best for them.
“We realized that we would have to put money into whatever house we bought to make it the way we want it,” she recalls.
To carry out their long to-do list, the couple turned to Gary Munch of Boss Enterprises Inc. in Wilmington.
“Our initial plan was to open up the living room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor,” Roper says. “But Gary helped us to see that we might be asking the house to be something it was never intended to be.”
So instead of knocking down walls, the couple decided to build on the firm foundation they already had, subliminally creating an open feeling via a comprehensive color scheme that would draw the eye through the house.
Color My World continues on page 2
The plan also included upgrading finishes throughout the public spaces, adding such niceties as crown molding and custom built-in cabinetry for audio-visual equipment. Outdated paneling in a den was replaced with sheet rock. The plain Jane door to the garage was out. In came a door detailed with beadboard, an instant architectural feature.
“Mary and Roy have very distinct ideas and had done a tremendous amount of homework, putting together a book with pictures and images,” Munch recalls. “By changing the colors and finishes, they gave their whole house a fresh new look.”
The largest part of the project was transforming the laundry room into a visually exciting and highly practical patio kitchen. The Ropers are accomplished hosts, so they envisioned a space that would both augment the main kitchen and facilitate outdoor entertaining.
To accomplish the goal, they installed Shaker-style cabinets in a mellow stain that complements the maple cabinetry in the adjoining kitchen. The upper cupboards on one wall are set in steps in both height and depth. The doors were left unstained to contrast with the frames and lower cupboards.
Counters are topped in black granite with a brushed finish and a raw edge reminiscent of a rock face. Rustic rather than polished, the stone enhances the arts-and-craft feel of the space and complements the Ropers’ collection of artisan pottery. There’s a curved stainless steel track overhead, a functional piece of sculpture that provides the infrastructure for a ceramic pendant light over a stainless steel sink.
The washer and dryer are still there, but now hidden behind cabinet doors. A mini fridge is also tucked under the counter, providing ready access to cool drinks for guests on the patio.
As for the existing kitchen, it received a new mosaic tile backsplash, a companion pattern to the running subway tile in the patio kitchen. The pulls on the cabinets, chunky art pieces that might have been inspired by handmade jewelry, were crafted in a deep, rich rubbed oil finish in the patio kitchen and handsome pewter in the main kitchen. Roper further unified the spaces by painting both rooms in a sophisticated honeyed hue, known as “blonde.”
“My sense of color, style and design comes from my mom,” Roper says. She grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, once the furniture-making capital of the United States. “She was in the furniture business all her life, and at the age of 61, she bought the interior design firm she had worked in for years.”
The design principles her mother recommended to her clients are similar to the elements Roper focuses on in her work. Her philosophy emphasizes de-cluttering, balancing the size of room with the size of furniture, and integrating quality details such as lighting, rugs, pillows and hardware.
To choose a wall color, Roper recommends starting with five different colors, hues that might be plucked from a favorite painting or the fringe on a rug.
“Then narrow it down to three and live with those colors for a while,” she says.
An easy way to accomplish that is to tape 8-by-11 inch paint squares to the walls. The squares are available at Sherwin-Williams. (Paint suppliers also offer samples in small jars and pouches.)
“The way light reflects off walls varies quite a bit,” she says. “So I always work in daylight first and then see how artificial light plays off the ceiling.”
Roper painted the walls in her dining room a soft pumpkin, an appetizing shade that visually warms the room on the coldest winter day.
She recently updated the master bedroom with a toasty tan known as bagel. “Years ago, we had someone come in and faux the walls—and I was ready to see the faux go,” she says. “Change is good.”
From a practical perspective, Roper was intent on choosing a color that would visually connect the bedroom with the master bath. It also would compliment the mahogany tones of the furniture and create an aura of peace and serenity.
“I wanted the room to feel warm, elegant and cozy,” she says. “That’s what the right color can do for you.”
Page 3: Bang a Gong
Then hang it on the wall. Musical instruments not only sound great. They’ll add something special to your rooms.
Inside many of us lurks a barely restrained wannabe musician. But just because you can’t actually play doesn’t mean musical instruments don’t have a place in home decor.
Guitars, violins, mandolins and banjos naturally come to mind. Any music store worth its strings will sell sturdy and attractive wall hangers, some with handsome wood accents.
Thrift and pawn shops, flea markets, antique stores, eBay and Craigslist can all be gold mines for working instruments that may not stand up to play, but are perfect to display. For collectible or high-dollar instruments, Jason Martz of Accent Music in Wilmington stresses that limiting moisture and temperature fluctuations is important to prevent cracking or bowing, so consider buying a specially designed case with built-in humidity control.
Instruments that will be seen rather than heard require less maintenance, says Carol Boncelet, owner of Village Imports in Newark. Indigenous or ethnic instruments from places like Africa or Australia often combine musicality with intricate handiwork, she says. A large drum from Ghana combined with a custom glass top can serve as a standout end table, for instance, and an object like the Vietnamese gong her store carries can take the place of large pieces of wall art.
“They’re all hand made, they’re interesting looking and they’re not plastic,” Boncelet says. “And when you need to jam, you just pick them up.” —Scott Pruden
Page 4: Flying Colors
No more neutral. When it comes to interior paints, roll with rich, vibrant colors.
Want to see the hottest colors in interior paint? Stick your head in the closet. “Home follows fashion,” says Carol Gain of Mammele’s Paints and Coatings in Wilmington. “The colors in fashion right now will be the hot colors several years down the road.”
Voila. The chocolate and sky blue combo of your Vera Bradley purse is now sprucing up your parlor.
Gain reports that, locally, this year’s hot hues are orange, coral and turquoise. “A warm, Mediterranean type of feel is where everybody wants to go,” she says. “Yellows and reds are sunshine warm colors. Turquoise cools it down a bit.”
Byron McElderry of B. Frank Shinn’s Paint Co. in Wilmington, has noticed customers abandoning traditional neutrals. Browns, greens, yellows, mocha, even gray, are the trendiest of tints, McElderry says. Reds lean toward brown, rust and cinnamon.
He links the color revolution to a sagging real estate market. “Up until the past year or so, people were selling every two years,” he says. “Realtors would have them paint everything neutral so it would sell faster. Now, people are fixing their houses up to look like model homes.”
Still, Gain cautions that color is truly in the eye of the beholder. “Color is an emotional thing,” she says. “I tell people to work with what makes them comfortable. A trend isn’t any good if it doesn’t work for you.”
Incorporating the latest, greatest shades into your home may require patience. “Color is determined by furniture and carpeting,” she says. “It can take several years to work the hot colors into your house.”
McElderry says why wait. “Don’t be afraid of color,” he says. “Come on with it.” —Drew Ostroski