The Scarlet Letter. The Love/Hate Relationship with Red

The scarlet letter as we know it is novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s considered to be his masterpiece and most famous work. It tells a story of a woman in the 17th century who commits adultery. She then wears “a rag of scarlet cloth” on the breast of her gown with a scarlet letter “A” sewn on it to let all who see her know she’s committed adultery.

It’s interesting the letter “A” was chosen to be red. This very symbolic color represents so much from the obvious love, poison and passion to be a color of luck, life and fortune for various cultures. How does one color have so much power?

Red is also an intriguing color choice for many people. We would love to use it in our home but we’d hate to make the wrong choice. Ah yes, our scarlet red. The color we love to hate.

Red. Our guilty pleasure of color choice. Oh you color of power! How do we select the right red? With so many choices, shades, tones, tints, hues – what? See what I mean? For some, the confusion has already started.

Go where no other has dared to tread. You want this very powerful color for a room in your home. Your desire to have this very symbolic color but you are worried what other people will think. Will my family like it? Will red be too much color for my small room? Will it make my room look like the secret red room in the basement of the Amityville Horror? How do I choose the right red?????

OK, all rhetorical excursions set aside, how do you pick the right red? The approach to selecting the right red for your home can be daunting but I’m here to make it a little easier for you. Whew right?

We already know that you would like red in a room for your home. Have you decided on which room? Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen or dining room? For the most part, I’ve seen this scarlet beauty mostly in dining rooms. The rumor mill has it that red will increase your appetite so I guess the dining room would be the appropriate choice. Don’t have dining room? Red might be a bit much to see first thing in the morning before your cup of coffee so I don’t think that I myself would have a red kitchen. Now red in the bedroom would be the second choice where this full bodied color would look great. It’s romantic, hot, exciting, lively and full of passion. All excellent adjectives one would expect to find in the bedroom – for color choice for course!

I am going to list for you the names of the best reds that I’ve chosen for my clients over the years. This will at least get you started in the right direction. Here we go and in no particular order or preference:

Cabin Red **
Tomato **
Paradise Red
Berry Cobbler

Red Tomato**
Cherry Wine
Frosted Pomegranate
Cherry Cobbler
California Poppy
Ruby Ring

** popular choices

Now these are all great reds. Without getting too technical, the undertones of these reds are all very different. Some have blue undertones which make the red appear to look more purple and some have a yellow undertone which make it look closer to orange. (see graphic)

The red on the left has a blue or cool undertone and the red on the right has a yellow or warmer undertone.

I can tell you this. If you want a true or primary red for a child’s room, you’d want to go with the warmer reds. In that case, I can suggest Valspar’s Tomato and Behr’s Red Tomato. For an accent wall the popular choice has been Cabin Red and Crimson by Valspar. I’ve chosen these hues time and time again. In my option, these are some of the best reds I’ve come across. There are so many to choose from and it’s like splitting hairs but hands down, these are the most used in my book of clients. It’s a start at least.

Without giving you red overload, at this point I would go to Lowe’s and pick the Valspar chips of all the reds I listed here. Do the same at Home Depot for the Behr colors. Take these chips home and hang them a wall in the room of your choice. Remember this though, as the light changes in your room throughout the day, these color chips will also look different. For instance, Cabin Red will look redder in bright sunlight but as the sun sets, this colors will suddenly changes to a fairly dark hue. Keep these colors up for a few days and in different light situations.

TIP: In the case of red, looking at and deciding on a color by staring at little paint chips is difficult. I would highly recommend using color test boards. Here you can paint a large sample, up to 24″ x 12″ or as small as 6″ x 6″. It’s so much easier to choose any color this way once you have it narrowed down to your favorite one or two colors.

As if all this is not challenging enough, now comes for the most vital part of painting a room red – PRIMING. This is an absolute must! There is to yin with yang. No cookies without milk. No peanut butter without jelly. You get the gist – primer and paint just go hand in hand. You cannot skip this step.

To make this step very simple, in a nutshell, use a gray primer. That’s what I said! Use a medium tone gray primer when painting your wall red. If you don’t use a gray tinted primer, you will definitely be applying up to 4 coats of paint to get the true red. This paint tip – PRICELESS!

Choose the red you love, in the room you love and don’t be afraid to love the red you choose!

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