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Puzzling over paint - one knowledgeable author offers answers

A new coat of paint is the cheapest, easiest tool for transforming tired rooms, but choosing the perfect color is one of life's ongoing mysteries.

Therefore, I was delighted to find a new book in the Los Altos Library, "Elegant and Easy Rooms: 250 Trade Secrets for Decorating Your Home" (Dell Trade Paperback, 1997) by design writer Dylan Landis.

The book's first chapter names specific paint brands and shades for achieving today's most popular effects - how to make ceilings look like the sky, how to pick the perfect off-white, how to obtain a flawless high-gloss black, deep-blue or Chinese red.

Some mysteries of paint selection might never be solved, like how to find the perfect green (Landis says that artists consider green the greatest color challenge) - but this is a sensible guide for avoiding major painting disasters. For nostalgia buffs, there are directions for creating authentic 1940s or 1950s color palettes and for traditionalists, information about purchasing authentic Early American paint colors.

Here's a sampling of Landis' tips, gleaned from interviews with top interior designers from around the country:

The New Orleans design firm Holden & Dupuy, renowned for its crisp use of white, uses three different whites per room - usually one for walls, one for ceiling, and one for trim, thus creating a much richer effect. Their three whites are Linen White, China White and Navajo White, all made by Benjamin Moore.

To create a living room with warmth but without strong color, paint the walls the familiar yellow-beige of a manila file folder, using Benjamin Moore No. 141, recommended by C& J Katz, a Boston design consulting firm.

Landis believes in setting one room apart from all your other rooms by painting it a very rich color, such as Chinese Red by Sherwin-Williams (the color of an Oriental lacquered tray) or Pratt & Lambert's No. 1013, a rich dark red which Landis uses in her own dining room. My own Chinese red powder room still looks great - in my opinion - after 20 years.

Alexandra Stoddard, the New York designer and author often paints bedrooms light pink, which she claims even male clients find refreshing and relaxing. Her pink, which she says is natural and clear rather than cloying or sweet, is Fuller O'Brien's Beauty no. C-23. To create a pale blue ceiling, suggesting the sky, she uses Fuller O'Brien's Fulcolor Atmosphere Blue.

Wellborn paint, made in the Southwest, offers vivid colors in ultra-deep hues - super-intense purples, greens, and blues, all saturated with pigment. On request, the company will mail free five-color strips in the color family of your choice, such as green or blue. Alternatively, for $15 plus $3 shipping, you can order a fan deck, a hinged collection of swatches showing a thousand Wellborn hues, including the 80 ultra deep shades. For information, call (800) 228-0883.

Truly savvy amateur painters save leftover paint in a glass jar with a tightly closed lid so they can touch up scuffs with an identical hue.

Barnes is a freelance writer for the monthly "Your Home" section.

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