Property: Be brave, splash out on a little colour

Bright and beautiful - but not if you stick with magnolia. Rosalind Russell looks at the multi-hued alternatives
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The Independent Online
Despite determined efforts to jolly up the British approach to colour in home decor, we remain, it seems, resolutely wedded to Magnolia. Only a few adventurous souls break ranks and choose Lemon Zing or Tobago Green for the living room walls. As the DIY store Homebase reports, twice as much magnolia is sold as the next most popular colour... safe, dependable Primrose Yellow. And Homebase should know: last year they sold enough own-brand emulsion to paint an area the size of Greater London.

Annabel Alton, a colour consultant, is one of those trying to nudge us into deeper waters, decoratively speaking. A member of the Chartered Society of Designers, Annabel has worked her way through the spectrum in a variety of industries, from American knitting firms, through paint and textiles, to furnishings and carpets. Annabel says the next year will see homeowners choosing ice pastels, like minty green, powder blue, soft lilac and pistachio. Our brief, reckless affair with Mediterranean earthy tones is cooling (too bad if you've just re-tiled the kitchen in terracotta and red) and we'll soon be seduced by what she describes as liquid blues. Indigo, hyacinth, aqua and watery greens are recommended.

Whether or not both parties in a couple will agree on this is debatable. According to Dulux, more than half the women questioned in a survey said they made the decisions on colour schemes for the living room. Men claimed they made 19 per cent of the decisions, but their partners disputed this, saying the figure was closer to 5 per cent. So while some chaps believed it really was their clever choice to have China Rose on the walls, they were plainly manoeuvred into position.

Most women, according to Dulux, think they are better at colour schemes than men... which is obviously why 21 per cent of those questioned admitted they had arguments over the decorating.

Colour shouldn't be the first decision when decorating a room anyway, says Annabel Hall, an interior designer. Furniture and lighting should come first.

"Colour is the tip of the pyramid, but of course it's vitally important because that's what you see at the end of the job... like new clothes at the end of a long slimming campaign."

In Ms Hall's experience, suggesting unexpected colour combinations - like amethyst with mint green and yellow - can lead to a revolt, which is hardly surprising.

"People are often surprised that I know, the moment I meet them, what colour and style they will like. But that's my job."

Where striking colours have had more success with consumers is in the kitchen.

Bold scarlet fridges and blue cookers have become quite acceptable - although it's harder to prise buyers' fingers from tried-and-tested white washing machines. The Waring professional blender - first introduced in 1935 - has just been launched in chilli red. It also comes in chrome, burgundy, blue, green and white and costs around pounds 149.

Kitchen design companies are moving away from conservative pine, limed oak and white and offering more confident colours. Roundhouse Design, based in north London, say their customers' favourite colours are citrus orange, lime green, cornflower blue and hot pink, but that's trendy Camden for you. They suggest mixing and matching colours, which are painted inside the cupboards and shelves as well as outside and are hand-finished on site. If the fashion changes, you can have the units repainted. And as Homebase is about to launch a new One-Coat range, it might not be such a boring job.

In the way of all paint companies, which give their products names like Dublin Moss instead of green, the One-Coat comes in shades of viola, lime and canary.

Prices start at pounds 9.99 for a 2.5-litre tin, rising to pounds 11.99 in May at the end of the introductory offer. Their own brand of "historic" colours is expected to rival the popularity of the Farrow and Ball and National Trust ranges, perceived by some to be more up-market. Edinburgh Sandstone and Winchester Red sound suitably intellectual and expensive. Dulux, which also sells a "heritage" range covering Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco colours, can advise on what would look most authentic in your home. They are a little more riotous in their Indian Summer range, which seeks to persuade us we can import some Indian magic into grey British homes with Tikka red, Maharajah blue and Rajasthan pink. But beware of pink. Dulux says a fifth of customers in its survey saw it as the colour actress Jane Seymour would have in her bedroom. And Homebase admits its own Pink Clover was the most unpopular colour of last year.

If you persist in being a stick-in-the-mud brownie, at least try rich camel, burgundy brown and leather tan, suggests Annabel Alton. And accent it with deep grey and navy.

All 1,674 Dulux colours can be mixed at most Homebase stores. Homebase also offers its own 72 colours, in four finishes and six types of paint. Really, it's amazing only 21 per cent admitted to arguing over it.

Dulux Trade Advice Centre, 01753 691690 or on the Internet http://www.dulux.com/. Roundhouse Design, 0171 428 9955. For stockists of Waring blenders, Robert Coupe (UK), 0181 232 8171. Homebase paints, 0645 801 800.

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