Warming Up Winter

Vibrant shades of red bring energy and warmth to a stately Squirrel Hill home.

Photo by Laura Petrilla

Ellen Kander and husband, Gregg, wanted their upstairs family room to be warm and inviting, even on the grayest winter days. And they wanted their master bedroom, which is right next door to the family room, to be calm and relaxing but still colorful.

As they pondered the best way to redecorate, the answer for both rooms turned out to be adding the color red.

Red is Ellen’s favorite color, and it’s a wonderful way to bring a burst of energy to any room. But using red can be tricky: The room can feel overpowering if you bring in too much of it or use the wrong shades.

So Ellen combined her design knowledge with help from family members to choose the perfect pieces for these rooms. Getting advice from your family about how to decorate your house may sound like a risky proposition, but Ellen’s family owns the design store Weisshouse (a place she worked for many years). So she had a team of experts ready to share their thoughts on creating cozy, colorful rooms that are perfect for play and rest.

Everyone’s Favorite Room

“When we originally decided to do our family room over, we thought it would mostly be used by our four children,” Ellen says. “But in the end, it’s a room we all gravitate toward.”

When it comes to design, the key to this room is the sprawling patchwork rug made from several antique Sumac rugs sewn together.

Rich shades of cinnamon are balanced by warm golds, and the casual style contrasts with the architectural lines of the modern Tufty-Time sofa from B&B Italia.

Furthermore, the sofa’s modern lines “work well against the natural organic chunk of wood coffee table,” Ellen says.

Ellen and her sister, Stacy Weiss, spent hours debating on the perfect color for the family-room walls. Green and red are natural opposites on the color wheel, so they balance each other. But rather than using a bold green, the sisters decided to soften the look with a warm, golden green, one that Weiss calls “pea soup with a little cumin.”

The family room has more red in it than the bedroom because it’s meant to be a more vibrant space. But the color is used sparingly so that energizing doesn’t tip toward exhausting.

The Kanders chose an eclectic mix of pieces to make the atmosphere inviting, combining rustic pieces like an antique farmhouse table with sleek Italian designs and a classic Eames chair. That also allows for a lot of flexibility: “You can slide in things to change it up when you want to,” says Weisshouse designer Ron Reinheimer, “and borrow from one room to reinvent another.”

Cooler Reds for the Bedroom

Besides having fewer red pieces, the bedroom leans toward slightly cooler shades of red—more berry than cinnamon. The walls are a deep taupe, and the huge windows give a striking view of berries on the branches outside.

Again, contrast is key for achieving a harmonious effect: A pair of Ralph Lauren chairs covered in pinstriped charcoal wool bring in formality and masculinity, while the vintage desk chair and rustic accessories help to keep the space from feeling too formal or traditional. “It’s all about layering an interesting mix of pieces that do not conflict with each other,” says Reinheimer.

Placing red accessories throughout the room adds bursts of color amid peaceful neutrals.

“It just makes me feel good,” Ellen says. “During these Pittsburgh winters, it makes me happy.”

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