I’m seeing more and more of my favorite color palette as the Fourth of July weekend approaches. My neighbors are hanging their American flags from their porches, and shops are setting up bright window displays to sell patio furniture and grills. As you may have guessed, the red, white, and blue color combination holds a warm place in my heart. In fact, I’m mad about it, and it never ceases to catch my eye when I see people decorating with red, white, and blue out in the world.
If you’ve been following along with me over the years, you know I’ve been doing my own kind of road trip across the United States to learn more about classic all-American design styles. I can tell you the red, white, and blue color scheme feels most at home along the seashores of Maine and the Hamptons. I think it’s because we associate these three colors with the American flag and idyllic long summer weekends spent hosting clam bakes and lighting fireworks on the beach. Many of us haven’t even experienced this American dream of a July 4th weekend apart from movies and glossy magazine pages selling the preppy ideals of Ralph Lauren and J. Crew. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones planning your summer vacation from a sun-drenched dock and placing an order at a Hamptons bakery for cherry pies. (Save me a slice if you are.)
Many years ago, I did get to live out my July 4th weekend dreams when I stayed with friends at their Glen Lake cottage in Michigan. We lounged on the sleeping porch, took boat rides around the lake, drove into the little town for the most amazing 4th of July parade, and ate sliced watermelon with the neighbors. It made a lasting impression because it was idyllic and quite foreign compared to my other 4th of July celebrations to date, which had been spent in South Austin setting off fireworks in the street (while burning my barefoot feet) and sweltering until I could plunge into our chlorine-infused neighborhood pool, or on a Brooklyn rooftop swilling gin and tonics and watching fireworks over the city.
Regardless of your feelings about the politics of our country, I hope you can take a moment to celebrate some of the audacious adventure associated with being American. I’ve met folks from other countries in my travels. Most recently, in Provence Town, I had a waiter from London tell me that regardless of how frankly messed up our politics are, he loves the American spirit and sense of positivity. He sees us as enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and bold. At that moment, I allowed myself to feel proud and agree with him. Our system of government is flawed and clumsy at times, but the swinging of the political pendulum is, in some ways, a privilege that has not been had very often in history.
No matter where or how you celebrate the biggest weekend of the summer, I recommend you allow yourself to inject some of that all-American style, whether you do it with red, white, and blue color accents or cherry pie or some food from a different culture entirely.
Why I’m Drawn to Designing with Red, White, and Blue Colors and Patterns
I am biased toward the red, white, and blue combination, and there are many reasons for that…
A Classic American Color Palette
When you talk about red, white, and blue, many people immediately conjure up an image of the American flag. However, it’s interesting that many countries use the same colors, including France, the United Kingdom, and many more. Partly, this had to do with available color dyes at the time and also that these colors have been assigned to represent ideas of liberty and equality. Red, white, and blue and meant to symbolize freedom and hope, and I love the idea that those values get carried into people’s homes.
Ties to the Preppy Style
Red, white, and blue interiors are, at least in my mind, forever tied to the preppy style. The color scheme is associated with stately Colonials, Cape Cods, and older humble Hamptons beach houses (before the billionaires came and blue up the landscape) — all just oozing prep. A coastal New England home wouldn’t feel complete without these three colors accenting its interior. That leisurely feel is something many Americans strive to emulate in their wardrobe and interiors, if only to pretend to be of an affluent set.
Dressed Up and Dressed Down
It is important in creating interesting interiors to mix high and low decor. Cheap and cheerful mixes with important “brown” antique furniture are part of the all-American audacious combination. Go ahead and hang that priceless oil painting over a bureau you found discarded on the curb! The red, white, and blue color combination presents the versatility to be dressed up and dressed down. The scheme can be found everywhere, from the modest farmhouse to the Hamptons to even Manhattan penthouses. This high-low mix resonates with a country that collectively loves to wear blue jeans for any occasion.
A Subtle Approach to Red, White, and Blue Interior Design
Bringing red, white, and blue into an interior space doesn’t necessarily mean creating an American flag display and outfitting the room with bold primary color blocks, although that would make for a great July 4th backdrop. Rather, interior applications deviate from the color combination’s purest form. Ralph Lauren did it well in his interiors, and when it’s done well, it has huge appeal. The key is balance, and a good way to achieve a refined look is by layering in the colors through textiles, wallpaper, and stars-and-stripes-free patterns.
Upholstery is one effective way to bring in red, white, and blue, especially in rooms with a neutral base. These fabric examples from Schumacher and St. Frank are some of the best examples of well-done patterns and hues in the palette. Notice that none of them draw an instant connection to the American flag, yet they feel right at home in the all-American design style.
Like textiles, wallpaper presents another opportunity to embrace the red, white, and blue palette. The key is to use stars or stripe patterns sparingly and instead lean into scenic prints or chinoiserie designs.
Popular in the 18th century, chinoiserie is a Western-style motif that draws on Chinese imagery. It’s found in many traditional American interior styles, especially Georgian design. Chinoiserie is identifiable by its flora-and-fauna patterns, many of which heavily rely on red, white, and blue combinations. Today, it is somewhat controversial (which is also a very American quality), and many designers think it’s time to rethink chinoiserie due to its cultural appropriation. We are never afraid to look at ourselves, critique ourselves, and try to be better in how we treat people and cultures. We do not always get it right, but it is a good trait to always be evaluating!
The American (Design) Dream
America has had a short stint in the design world, and we’re really still trying to figure out our signature style. However, we have the color palette locked down. Red, white, and blue emulates everything Americans desire from their homes — creative freedom, relaxed structure, and the feeling of endless summer vacation. I hope you grab a slice of this color palette for yourself because it’s one of the most classic combinations you’ll come across.
And don’t forget whipped cream for that cherry pie, too.