Alex Papachristidis’ Guide To The Best Way To Style Tropical Colors
“Livin’ la vida loca” when it comes to home décor brings to mind the lush tropical colors found in places like Miami Beach’s Art Deco district or island getaways such as Bermuda and the Bahamas. While such colors lend themselves to sandy beaches and palm trees, using them in a home is another story altogether. Nest Casa tapped star decorator Alex Papachristidis, whose fresh decorating approach has made him a highly sought-after talent across the US and as far away as Saudi Arabia, for advice on styling these bright hues.
The born-and-bred New York decorator, who landed his first job while still a student at Parsons School of Design, says he has “never met a color I didn’t like, not even one.” The designer maintains, “In the right context, any color is beautiful. It’s getting the right shade that is another story.”
Papachristidis attributes his color sensibilities to his fondness for classicism. “18th-century classicist design is my reference because it’s what I love,” he explains. “I like the way they used color then; it was happy and cheery.” He notes that when viewing those colors today, they look faded — which is the effect he aims to achieve.
His color preferences read like this: gray with a bit of brown in it; ditto for green. “I love a tropical coral, but only shaded down with a bit of gray,” he describes. Accordingly, canary yellow should contain orange to subdue it; pink benefits from a red or gray touch to yield a raspberry or blush color. He also divulges a trade tip: “Blue is the trickiest color to match. Same with gray.”
According to Papachristidis, the French are pretty much the “masters of everything,” especially regarding color sense in décor. He looks to the Gallic culture for one of his favorite color combinations: dark turquoise and mossy green, maybe a touch of Prussian blue. Side note: This shade is the first purely synthetic pigment created when an oxidation project went awry. Recently he finished a townhouse for his niece and her husband in downtown New York. He riffed on the French influence of green and blue, and added lavender accented with cream and white.
Papachristidis has a few golden rules of color use. He asks his clients what their favorite colors are in the home, what they wear, and what is flattering on them. He also says it’s important to love the color you are using. “Don’t talk yourself into it,” he warns.
For jewel tones or tropical colors, he suggests a touch of gray. “Primary color values date easier,” he explains. “To achieve a more timeless shade that ages well, I recommend toning color down a bit.”
Letting go of the fear of color is also Papachristidis’ sage advice. “There are few things that I am afraid to try, so I encourage clients not to be fearful,” he says. If a homeowner is afraid, he suggests starting with neutrals and adding color as an accent as they grow into a comfort zone. Strong colors can be added over time via paint or additional décor. “Don’t go out of your comfort level,” he advises, citing an example of a client whose extensive art collection brings pops of color to their gray-and-white home palette.
Of course, the designer doesn’t speak from personal experience when it comes to color gone awry. He maintains he hasn’t had this issue. “It’s about the value and the shades used. You can use any color when done properly, in this sense,” says Papachristidis. “Besides, it can be good when it is a tiny bit clash-y.”
He further suggests looking to Mother Nature when it comes to finding comfort with color. “Look at a tree — the trunk is brown and gray, but the leaves and grass below are bright green.”
When it comes to finding comfort with color, “look at a tree — the trunk is brown and gray, but the leaves and grass below are bright green.”
How color is used is also a key factor in styling tropical colors. “I love layers and layers. It looks loose-handed, but there is a method to the madness,” Papachristidis affirms. Color can come in various forms beyond paint, fabrics on furnishings, or drapes or rugs. “Unusual painted furniture and collections of things can also become pops of colors,” he says, noting his own penchant for ceramics, gilding, lacquer, and other decorative arts inspired by history as vehicles for color.
He also lets it slip that oftentimes his color combination starts with a multicolor print, though he never uses a print twice.
“Unusual painted furniture and collections of things can also become pops of colors.”