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The Color Whisperer

JC Licht’s lead in-home color consultant, Julie Diorio, turns to science to break down the emotional process of deciding which colors work best in a space.

Designer and color consultant Julie Diorio at the JC Licht showroom on Sangamon Street, beside an accent wall in one of her favorite colors, Farrow & Ball Charlotte’s Locks No. 268  


Paint can be overwhelming; just the color blue has 400-plus shades to choose from! How do you help people simplify the process? It’s all about undertones! You can eliminate many shades very quickly because you isolate the color based on certain undertones. And you have to consider the big picture: Everything in your house is part of your color palette—floors, light, furniture. Basically, it’s all about the light; it affects undertones right away. I have my own isolation method, and after that exercise, there are maybe three good options instead of 400.

Why is light so important when it comes to paint color? I think that a room tells you what color it wants to be based on the light. A room with northern exposure needs a warm color or something very bold and dramatic, while southern light can handle almost anything—although you don’t want to go too light because it’ll just look washed out. If you’re someone who has strong opinions about color, almost any hue can work in your space and light; you just have to make sure that the undertones are right. If the undertones don’t mesh with the light and surroundings, the color will be totally off and won’t look like what you wanted or imagined. Look at the room from day to night to see what the light progression does to the color.

What color trends are you seeing for this season? Tough question because one of my mottos is, color works with light, not trends. You can’t just take your neighbor’s color because you loved it in their house; it has to be right in your light. With that being said, I’m really liking the pink-based color trend. Benjamin Moore’s 2018 color of the year is Caliente (AF-290)—a bright, bold red. Bright red is not for everyone, but red-based neutrals are really nice. Colors like Benjamin Moore Muslin (1037) and Farrow & Ball Dimity (No. 2008) are neutrals that capture those red tones very well. Plus, everyone looks good in pink because light reflects nicely off of it.

Benjamin Moore’s Golden Retriever (2165-30) “is lovely in a dark entry,” says Diorio. “It’s rich and makes small and dark spaces warm and interesting.

What’s your background? I’m from Western Springs and moved to the city when I was 18 to go to Columbia College. I knew I wanted to study design. I took a Science of Color class and absolutely loved it. I’d never been a great student, but I was in that class. I just love color; I’m sometimes awake at night thinking about it. It’s a learned skill. I have an eye for it, but I have been studying it for years. After college, I started designing windows for Truefitt & Hill and the 900 North Michigan Shops. One day, I was cruising around the Merchandise Mart and walked into Farrow & Ball. I knew I loved color and wanted to work with it so the next day I applied for a position. I started by working in the stockroom and five years later was a color consultant (with an Employee of the Year nomination). After Farrow & Ball, I moved over to JC Licht, and here I am.

Favorite colors to have in a home? Of course, that’s not a simple answer because… LIGHT. But my favorite whites in general tend to be Benjamin Moore White Dove (OC-17) and Farrow & Ball Wimborne White (No. 239). My current favorite bold colors are Benjamin Moore Blue Heron (832) for a front door or bathroom vanity; Benjamin Moore Regent Green (2136-20)—a moody, handsome color that looks great next to warm wood; Farrow & Ball Yellowcake (No. 279), an eclectic 1950s-inspired yellow that is a perfect pop on interior doors or furniture in a modern home; and Charlotte’s Locks (No. 268) in full gloss.

Words of wisdom? Your house is one color story, starting from the foyer and moving throughout, so it should have a continuous feeling. Spread out all of your colors and see if things flow. Is there a color that breaks the story or seems out of place? Consider the light as you read the story. And keep whites as consistent as possible.

Any colors that should be avoided? Drabs are hard and work best only on exteriors. Drabs are actually a color family—anything muddy is considered drab. Yellow-based greens almost always look putrid, so, yuck. Then again, there are no hard, fast rules. Part of the process is negotiating how color feels to certain people. While light and undertones are superimportant, you can’t ignore how personal color is. $200 per hour