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Color theory: How to create the ribboning effect in your home

Color theory: How to create the ribboning effect in your home
Adams' favorite color palette features white, oyster and charcoal gray. (Jennifer Adams Home)

You know when you walk into a room and everything just feels right — attractive, pulled together and welcoming?

It’s an effect Jennifer Adams, San Diego-based interior designer and author of the new, tip-filled book “Love Coming Home,” attributes to “ribboning,” a strategically balanced use of color and furnishings that will forever change the way you look at your home, or any room for that matter.

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To describe the concept, Adams uses the analogy of whale watchers on a boat. Upon sighting a whale, everyone rushes to one side and the boat tips — the same goes with color. “If you put all the color in a room on the sofa, which many people do, it’s a one-color shot. It’s like being on a boat that is tipping over… It just feels heavy and odd and you don’t know why.”

To right the ship, Adams said the trick is to deliberately place color in a circular pattern around the room while also paying attention to vertical space.

Here’s how to do it:

Set the tone
An outside room is ribboned with serene neutrals and features patterned fireplace tiles that are complemented by the pillows and accessories.
An outside room is ribboned with serene neutrals and features patterned fireplace tiles that are complemented by the pillows and accessories. (Jennifer Adams Home)

“I encourage people to begin by setting an intention for the room,” said Adams.

“How do you want it to feel? That will determine color palette.” For a calming, tranquil space choose fewer, more calming colors. For vibrant, high-energy spaces, go for more saturated or contrasting shades.

Magic of three
Three chandeliers on top of the dining table are black and there is ribboned greenery, including exterior landscaping and interior plants to provide cohesiveness.
Three chandeliers on top of the dining table are black and there is ribboned greenery, including exterior landscaping and interior plants to provide cohesiveness. (Jennifer Adams Home)

Use each color choice at least three times. “For example, if white is in the room, bring it in in three different places; if you’re using greenery put it in three different places,” said Adams.

The color of the cabinetry, wood and metal finishes, walls, plants, flooring and fixtures all count when it comes to including color.

Circle time
A thoughtfully ribboned color palette of white, oyster and charcoal gray create an easy flow from room to room.
A thoughtfully ribboned color palette of white, oyster and charcoal gray create an easy flow from room to room. (Jennifer Adams Home)

Balance your colors by “ribboning” them throughout the room in a circle.

Adams recently helped a friend makeover an open concept living room and kitchen space. “She had all these white pots sitting up on top of her cabinets in the kitchen,” said Adams.

“So we took most of them down and put some on the center of the [kitchen] island and brought some into the family room. Then I brought in white-toned pillows, throws and an area rug and it lightened the whole room up.”

Use the vertical space
Darkly stained baseboards, dining table and window frames illustrate the idea of vertical ribboning.
Darkly stained baseboards, dining table and window frames illustrate the idea of vertical ribboning. (Jennifer Adams Home)

Placing color, or “ribboning,” around the room at ground level, midlevel and eye level is equally as important.

First, ground the core color in a room. This can be done using an area rug, a basket or a throw blanket inside of a basket on the floor. Adams said without providing a visual representation of each color at floor level, the room can feel “leggy, almost like a waiting room.”

Decorative pillows on the couch, throw blankets, lamp shades and accessories on a console table or coffee table provide color at the midlevel.

At eye level, color can be represented through artwork, picture frames, draperies or even a tall tree or plant, “otherwise the room won’t feel finished,” Adams said.

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Don’t forget the coffee table

Colored coffee-table books are one of Adams’ designer secrets. “Oftentimes people treat coffee tables as this separate object and just throw books on there, but when you take some of your core colors and have them on your books as well, it’s amazing how it pulls it together.” Adams said she was recently adding forest green into a room, but the space wasn’t working.

“I changed out the coffee-table books, and it actually changed the tone of the room,” said Adams, “and it really came to life.”

Seasonal style

The concept of ribboning also makes it easy to inject trends or holiday themes into decor.

“Sometimes pops of color can be kind of trendy,” said Adams, “so go for inexpensive pieces: coffee-table books, coasters, a throw blanket or scarf. You can do that without spending a ton of money, and then you can change it up.”

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