Find Your Perfect Shade of Blue With These Designer-Approved Color Palettes
Meet the Master of Coastal Blues
In her third book—Coastal Blues: Mrs. Howard's Guide to Decorating with the Colors of Sea and Sky—the Jacksonville-based designer shares a breathtaking roundup of rooms inspired by the coast's most beloved hue. The 270- page tome features more than two dozen of Howard's treasured blue color schemes, along with plentiful pearls of decorating wisdom.
I fell in love with blue long before I became a decorator. Growing up on the beach in Florida, I spent my days a stone's throw from the ocean, with wide-open skies above. When I was 5, my mother gave in to my pleas and let me paint the walls of my room a pale aqua. I couldn't have been happier. Decades later, as I started a design career specializing in waterfront homes, I found I wasn't alone. But my clients didn't just like blue. They were obsessed with it, especially for the interiors of their coastal properties. Very quickly, I came to understand why. Blue connects us to nature more than any other color. But it also connects us to worlds of possibility. Blue knows no bounds. Its variations and versatility are what make it so attractive to so many. Did you know that, statistically speaking, blue is the world's favorite color? The hue can range from almost-white ice to nearly black midnight, sliding along a spectrum from turquoise to sapphire, powder to peacock. Unlike other colors, blue never runs out of ways to express itself, and in all these variations, it remains true.
"Blue is the only color that maintains its own character in all its tones," the French Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy wisely noted. "It will always stay blue." It's also forgiving: You can't make a mistake with blue.
Psychologists say blue calms us and puts us in an open-minded mood. There's even research suggesting it lowers blood pressure and heart rate. So it turns out blue doesn't just look good; it makes us feel good, too. I take advantage of this constantly, often using blue through an entire waterfront house. I bring on blue, especially in lighter shades, to craft a quiet, reserved atmosphere of serenity. Stronger blues encourage reflection and stimulate clear thinking. Regardless of shade, blue feels reliable and responsible, sincere and loyal. There's a reason the expression is "true blue."
Classic and timeless, blue transcends trend, and its popularity never fades. Over the years, I've never decorated a waterfront house whose owner didn't ask for blue. I've seen how happy it makes clients in their homes, and it has been my great joy to share in that happiness.
Here, we share seven of Howard's ocean-going palettes. Scroll down to see which is your favorite.
This palette always entertains, invigorating any atmosphere. Pairing intense blues with these other hot hues stimulates the senses and makes any space feel like it's ready for a party, maybe even a boisterous one.
Temper Strong Shades
Pairing bright coral with gray blue relaxes the sharp contrast between them.
Coral Reef: Take 2
To make a red, white, and blue scheme sophisticated, use tomato instead of red and ivory instead of white. It’s chic and cheerful.
While not quite a color scheme you'd find on a coral reef, combining red with blue affords a similar dose of high-contrast vigor.
Enliven Your Art
A painting of a boat's hull is a vibrant, graphic alternative to more traditional nautical art.
Indigo's broad range of hues—between pure blue and pure violet on the color spectrum—is wonderfully suggestive of the sea. The variegated feel, finish, and often faded look of indigo-dyed fabrics recalls waves and whitecaps, as well as the variety of blue shades you see when you look across the ocean or gaze into the water.
Hit the Slopes
Indigo hues can unify an oddly shaped room's quirky angles and dimensions.
Indigo Bay: Take 2
Different shades of indigo-dyed denim always go well together, and they look great with a variety of other blues and neutrals, too.
Give It the Star Treatment
Think beyond wallpaper: A decorative painter created this blue star print by hand, directly onto the wall.
Bring in the Ocean
Antique wicker and a vintage-inspired slipper chair get a modern makeover with brightly hued indigo fabrics. A mix of nautical paintings and dioramas displayed in a grid with lots of white space completes the old-meets-new look.
To me, and to so many homeowners, a blue-and-green palette is the most natural of choices: Every blue flower has a green leaf, after all. Sapphire waters meet verdant shores, and the sky meets the Earth at the horizon.
Stripe It Right
Similarly hued blues soften bold stripes, while cream-painted trim provides crisp contrast. Yellow-green is a fresh complement.
Sea Glass: Take 2
Calming and tranquil colors are ideal in a bedroom. Pairing them with ivory helps highlight the nuances of the different shades.
Dream in Color
Design a charming seaside bedroom with a shutter headboard, maritime charts, and turquoise linens.
Sea Glass: Take 3
Blue doesn’t just look good; it makes us feel good, too.
Use Plenty of Woven Woods
Try contrasting textures, pairing wicker chairs and woven sea grass shades with mirrors, glass, and other smooth surfaces.
Reprinted with permission from Coastal Blues by Phoebe Howard (ABRAMS, spring 2018). All paint colors by Benjamin Moore.