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Bored with beige? Color's in

Bold colors liven modern decor

By Debra O'Connor

Knight Ridder Newspapers

ST. PAUL -- Gretchen Erpelding's dining room is deep burgundy, her den is chocolate brown, and her 3-year-old son's bedroom is chili-pepper red, his favorite color.

"I find white boring, and I find neutral things a little bit boring," Erpelding says. To her, these darker, more intense colors are comforting, dramatic and, in the case of the red bedroom, fun.

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She's among an increasing number of Americans who crave color.

Color, color, color

"As recently as just five or six years ago, everybody was doing beiges and off-white. Now, people are just color, color, color, color, color, big-time color," says Mark Masica, manager of Hirschfield's Decorating Center outside Minneapolis.

Even the staid Martha Stewart, who for years has stuck with that mild-mannered greenish-blue, recently decided dark red is a good thing and drenched the interior of one of her many homes in it.

After years of variations on white, with an occasional dip into mauve, an intense greenish-blue sea change is occurring, says Nancy Asleson, manager of the design center at Lundgren Brothers Construction.

"People are not afraid of color anymore," she says. "The pendulum has swung to very deep, heavily saturated colors like browns and greens on all their walls, not on just an accent wall. Right now, people feel like they need safety and warmth. And all these rich, deep colors feel cozy, they feel like a warm hug instead of a white, medicinal hospital."

So instead of eggshell and marshmallow, there are persimmon peel, spinach leaf, muddy waters, copper nail, iron orange, cottage red, Mediterranean olive and black raspberry.

'Neutral' redefined

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Even the definition of neutral is changing to include deep dark beiges, bronze and moss greens, Asleson says.

People are enjoying the broader palette, although, she says, "For those of us who've lived through the avocado-green and harvest-gold era, it was a little bit scary getting back into those colors again."

Variations of orange -- coral, copper, melon, ocher -- are hot, as are complex purples, says Craig Plekkenpol, who owns a remodeling company and is president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. Faux finishes, such as painting a coat of translucent glaze over a solid color, are popular, too.

Part of this national trend toward more intense color comes from American travel habits, said Ellen Plante, author of "Natural Color Palettes." After returning from abroad, they want to try the lavender and sunflower yellow they found in Provence, or the apricot and ocher they saw in Tuscany.

"Interior design has gone global. We aren't as restricted as we used to be in terms of styles," she says. People can find color ideas from a variety of sources, from nature to a favorite skirt to a piece of pottery.

The colors in Erpelding's home in Hopkins, Minn., were pulled from horse prints and Oriental rugs that are among her personal possessions, says Erika Gulbrandson, who is both Erpelding's sister and her interior designer. The intensity and quantity of color is a matter of personal taste, she says, as some people might consider a roomful of dark red cozy, while others would find it oppressive.

Says Plante: "It's boiling down more and more to what people like."

Outdoors is a different story

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For outdoor color, however, allowable colors may be limited: light brown to medium brown. For the vinyl siding most of her company's homes have on three sides, Asleson offers her home buyers six shades of beige, a white and an off-white. She does not show them the blue the siding dealer carries.

One customer's request for baby-blue stucco with orange trim was refused.

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