Shelly Fletcher loves her house like a member of the family. After all, the Victorian cottage became her newlywed grandmother's home a century ago.
Through three generations, Fletcher's Auburn house has hosted 100 years of family birthday parties and holiday celebrations. Since the 1970s, it has served as Fletcher's personal oasis and cozy nest.
But the years had taken their toll. After so much living had taken place within its walls, the house had started to feel a little tired. Its antique-packed décor looked more dated than treasured.
"I felt like I was becoming my grandmother," quipped Fletcher, "but I wanted to move my 19th century house into the 21st century."
With the help of an insightful interior designer, Fletcher accomplished her makeover, maintaining her home's Victorian grace and family heritage, but with a thoroughly modern twist.
The correct color paint.
"Paint can be the least-expensive way to update your home," said designer Pam Steinberger, "but the labor and time it takes to paint aren't cheap. It pays to choose the right colors before you start."
Painting whether a single room or whole house is one of the most common fall projects. The weather is perfect not too hot, cold or wet.
And company is coming: The holidays are right around the corner.
"October is the No. 1 month for painting," said Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware's national home expert. "Preparation is nearly 90 percent of the job."
That includes surface preparation, masking and protecting flooring and furniture.
But when it comes to choosing paint colors, homeowners easily can be overwhelmed.
"Does anyone really need that many blues?" Fletcher said. "When I started, I couldn't believe how many shades there were just hundreds. And I was looking for the right one."
Fletcher found her perfect blue Polaris, a soft cadet blue with gray undertones and a hint of green via two programs offered by Pittsburgh Paints through her local Warehouse Paint store.
Pittsburgh's Atmospheric Color Collection features 100 shades from Cherokee Red to Purple Dusk that all go together. The hues are cued by mood, creating an individual atmosphere that reflects personal taste.
"Calm that's what Shelly kept telling me she wanted," Steinberger said. "So, that's what we went for. We found colors that feel very calm and soothing."
In decorating, paler or deeper colors tend to create calm; brighter colors bring more energy.
Simplifying color selection for customers has become a priority for paint companies. Several offer online as well as in-store advice with suggested combinations to evoke moods or locales.
Erika Woelfel, Behr paint's director of color, developed combinations that bring summer indoors or a slice of the seashore inland. The results can be seen on the company's design site, www.colorfullybehr.com.
In her beachy palette (a California favorite), turquoise blues mix with sandy beige and a touch of foggy gray. And that beach could be on a mountain lake or the ocean.
"The approach to 'life at the beach' is easy comfort," Woelfel explained. "As you can imagine, colors are inspired by views of the sea, dunes, beach and sky."
And it feels like summer or fall depending on accessories and accent colors. Like a fallen maple leaf, a muted orange contrasts beautifully with the classic tones of Tahoe Blue and Sierra Sand.
When narrowing down a palette, a critical eye and expert advice help.
That's where Pittsburgh's "The Voice of Color" comes in.
"We offer in-home consultation," said Steinberger, who has done about 40 so far this year as part of the Voice of Color program. "It costs $75, but you get $50 back in free paint."
During Steinberger's first visit to Fletcher's house, she helped the homeowner see outside her boxy rooms. Both retired, Shelly and her husband, John, had already started their modest remodeling project, trading the Victorian's cast-iron stove for a fireplace in the living room and adding granite countertops to the kitchen.
The distinctive granite (Mokono Brown from Arizona Tile) almost became a stumbling block. Shelly Fletcher loved its bold-gold colors but had her heart set on a blue kitchen.
"Next to any blue, it just looked blah," she said of the granite.
Steinberger gently guided Fletcher to a complementary shade of buttery yellow Belgian Waffle. Next to that warm and toasty hue, the granite "just popped," Fletcher said.
Fletcher already had a blue-and-yellow color scheme in mind, inspired by a bedroom at a bed-and-breakfast in Santa Cruz.
"I showed Pam this snapshot," she said of a photo, showing the B&B's crisp navy paisley print bedding and upholstery against sunny yellow walls. "It just makes me feel good."
Such visual starting points are invaluable for interior design, Steinberger noted.
"We do in-store consultations, too," she said. "I love it when a client brings in a photo, a page from a magazine, or something that shows what they have in mind. But don't bring 20 different photos that just shows you haven't focused yet."
Other accent colors were pulled from two large Northern California nature photographs (one forest, one beach sunset), printed on canvas and framed as artwork. Both photos had special meaning to the Fletchers and enhanced that sense of peace and place in their home.
"We pulled out more shades of blue (from the forest) in the kitchen and coral (from the sunset) in the bedroom," Fletcher said. "It really clicked."
As a neutral, they added a taupe Summer Suede that could team with the blue and yellow, and unify the whole house with bright-white trim and ceilings throughout.
"I wanted it simple just three colors, plus white," Fletcher said. "In this house, you can see all the rooms from the front door. I wanted it to flow."
The rich tan now covers the living room walls, which had been stripped of several layers of flowered wallpaper. (Some dated from when the house was built in 1895; others were added by Fletcher's grandmother, Elizabeth May Robinson.)
"The great part about this color scheme is they're all neutrals," Steinberger said. "Even though it's blue or yellow or taupe, these colors go with everything."
That makes decorating easy, Fletcher said.
"I love to change with the seasons," she said. "In the fall, I swap out the pillows. This time of year, they're gold, red and brown fall jewel tones. In spring, I use more blues and greens."
The result is distinguished yet casual and inviting. Although the colors are definitely 21st century, they blend beautifully with the Fletchers' antique furnishings.
"I wanted to keep my living room as a tribute to my grandmother it still has so much of her," she said. "But now, it also feels like us."