For pure drama, nothing quite rivals the color of red. It commands attention. It jumps off a page, explodes on a TV or movie screen and electrifies a room.
More than mere punctuation, red spices up an interior, adding a surprising jolt to otherwise bland, safe neutrals.
Red has the power to energize, to get adrenaline flowing. For some, the passion for red knows no trend boundaries. Its legion of fans is loyal throughout the history of design, with the late Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland one of its biggest champions, taking lacquer red from her office walls to her Park Avenue apartment.
In a range of shades from the blue side’s rich raspberry to the more yellowed coral, there’s a wide appeal to red. But in the last couple of years, the design industry has been on red alert.
It was clear last year at the April and October furniture markets in High Point, N.C., traditionally the bastion of vanilla and its cousins, that manufacturers are no longer shy about showing off new frames in red.
Last spring, Palecek’s Hudson chair was a stunner in lipstick red leather. The slim, armless side chair, topstitched in white, stood on black legs for additional oomph.
Murray Feiss’ eye-popping Cherry Bombshell lamp, from the company’s Super Models Collection, can’t even be fathomed in another hue. Its round body and tall, slender neck rise into a matching shade, a seamless, graphic transition.
Della Robbia, a Californiabased company whose slogan is "bold environments not for the timid," is known for sinuous shapes. Its collection was red-hot, with slinky chaises and asymmetrical sofas such as the sculptural Pilvi, its taut upholstery interrupted with a pair of giant cushions and angular chrome legs.
Red isn’t confined to living and dining areas. It’s shaking up bedding, tableware, accessories such as throws and vases and even appliances, with KitchenAid mixers, coffeemakers, vacuum cleaners and step stools stepping out in tomato red. Should you be so bold, you can purchase vivid red kitchen cabinets from SieMatic and even red ranges by such manufacturers as Chambers, Aga, Viking and Lacanche.
Some attribute the newly kindled interest in red to a climate of American flagwaving. Patriotic red still speaks to us, says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. Eiseman says red is the color of optimism.
Global warming is another reason the palette is heating up. Many decorators embrace ethnic cultures from India, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin countries, which all include red in its fabrics, architecture and furnishings.
"The colors of 2004 have a definite Eastern influence," says Stephen Saint-Onge, home and style designer for Behr paints. "People are getting braver and more confident with color." In a feature in Home Depot’s styleideas magazine, Ralph Lauren spoke of the fashion connection and how geographic boundaries have fallen.
"Many people associate bright colors with warm climates, when really there are no geographic or seasonal boundaries," Lauren says. "This holds true in fashion, too. I design cashmere cable sweaters in the same vibrant colors as classic Polo shirts." Lauren’s paint palette, Island Brights, is vibrant with deeply saturated colors, including red.
Margaret Russell, vice president and editor in chief of Elle Decor, acknowledges that red is a perennial favorite of design magazines.
"Red (seems) part of our favorite rooms," Russell says. "A touch of red is something we see more than any other color — painting behind bookshelves, artwork, a throw or cushions. A small red tray on a coffee table. Even red flowers like amaryllis in a vase can make a room come alive.
"Most people are more comfortable with red in small doses," Russell says. "You wouldn’t want everything upholstered in red. But a wing chair in red wool is fabulous. Red can really change the flavor of a room. Like a cardinal, your eyes just go to it. It takes somebody really confident to use it big — somebody who takes great joy in his space." So Russell flipped for a library with lacquered red walls and moldings that she published in November’s issue.
"The room is incredibly dramatic," Russell says. "It’s painted with several layers of paint. It just glows. A lipstick-red room can be garish, but this room is not overpowering in the least. It envelops you."
Brooklyn, N.Y., designer Ellen Hamilton says her clients fell in love with a red room in a book about Italian villas. They’d originally discussed leather upholstery, but it was "extraordinarily expensive and limiting." So Hamilton, who loves Schreuder’s brilliant paints, chose a carriage red for the walls and embellished it. She had an artist paint a faux leather finish, with subtle mottling in umber, and topped it with six coats of high-gloss glaze. Then she had the artist go back and apply gold leaf to resemble the gold filigree of bookbinding edges.
"The color is rich," Hamilton says, "because it started with a metaphor that is rich. If it’s rich in metaphor, it has a chance of standing on its own and becoming more interesting than a paint chip." Hamilton says that red’s imperial nature is appealing.
"This particular room has high ceilings. The red counters the height and makes this cocooning thing happen. The room is womblike," she says.
"Red is an invigorating color that warms any room," agrees designer Laura Orsborn. When Orsborn designed a Louis XVI-style sofa for the Antiques Roadshow Collection for Southern Furniture Co., she went against the grain to show it in red.
"The fabric actually is a replica of a quilt found in a French flea market," Orsborn says. "The rose red seemed to be the most complementary design. Normally, with a neoclassical sofa such as this, in satinwood and ebony, we’d go with a basic traditional beige. But the red really makes it sing."
Some manufacturers such as Maine Cottage Furniture have developed a niche for vibrant colors, and red is always a part of the lineup. When Saloom Furniture recently launched its Living With Color paint program, the casual dining manufacturer introduced 30 new paint colors, with red leading the pack.
The more hip people are to its feel-good qualities, the less likely it is that red will ever go out of style. But if it loses its current vogue as a staple in home design, there’s always the holidays.