Go-to San Antonio color consultant Jim Smith says the right hues can create the perfect mood for a home


Jim Smith rails against the house designs so prevalent on websites like Pinterest and Houzz and in magazines like Architectural Digest and Dwell. In particular, his anger is directed at the pure whites these style arbiters present to homeowners, usually to the exclusion of other colors.

“These days, especially among young people, they don’t want any color at all,” said Smith, the go-to color consultant among residents of some of San Antonio’s loudest neighborhoods. “It must be what I call ‘white writing paper’ or there’s the door.”

To show what he means, he pulls out a photo of an austere, almost entirely white room with little or no ornamentation.

“I can’t feel the pulse here,” he said dismissively.

Smith, 72, has been called a “house whisperer” because of his knack for finding the right colors, alone or in combination, to meet his clients’ design goals – even if they don’t initially know what those colors are. Goals.

To show what he loves, he pulls out a magazine page showing a French living room type bedroom that is the antithesis of minimalism.

“I love all the artwork on the walls, the plants and those red lampshades,” he said. “There are books on the coffee table, an African sculpture and a French sofa. The walls are cream colored so they are not all white and sterile. We’re not going to operate here, you know what I mean?

In addition to working in neighborhoods such as Monte Vista, Alamo Heights, and Terrell Hills, Smith has also done color consulting for Market Square, Blue Star Contemporary in the 1990s, an apartment complex in San Marcos, even a hotel. Local Radisson.

Working with clients, Smith develops extensive color charts specifying multiple shades for everything from a single room to an entire home.

When he did a chart for the home of Katherine Nelson Hall and Bruce Shackelford in Alamo Farmsteads north of the medical center, for example, he specified 15 colors, from a plant-based escape for the lower kitchen cabinets to a gray will-o’-the-wisp for the master suite bedroom and as an accent in the Shackelford study. And he highlighted the light muslin on most of the walls with darker beiges for the west wall of the living room and the east wall of the entrance.

“We had a wonderful first visit with him and talked about a lot of things,” said Hall, curator of Texas heritage at the Witte Museum. “So it seemed almost magical to receive a handwritten two-page paint scheme that combined our wishes with a subtlety and finesse that we both appreciate.”

Although the couple deviated from some of Smith’s original choices, she said they loved the results and the colors chosen.

Born in Houston, Smith grew up in St. Louis, where he attended an exclusive boys’ school. After graduating, he attended the University of Texas at Austin where, after dropping out of architecture school, he changed his major to art.

“Once I did that, I just thought, ‘Well, I’m going to be an artist and that’s all there is to it,'” he said.

His journey to becoming a color consultant included side trips as a sculptor, time spent in a rural Oregon township, and separate gigs as a private chef and lifestyle model in San Antonio.

He also fulfilled a longtime dream of living in New York’s Greenwich Village.

“It was 1971, and I had decided it was time for me to come out of the closet,” he said. “And Greenwich Village was the gayest place in the world. You could walk down the street and I can promise you that anyone you pass was gay, unless they were cleaning apartments.

After Smith returned to San Antonio, a friend asked him for help choosing colors for a preschool he was opening just north of downtown.

“I suggested doing something like the colorful Victorian houses of the Painted Ladies in San Francisco,” he said. “Only toned down a bit for San Antonio.”

When people started asking school officials who picked the colors, Smith soon realized he had found a career through word of mouth.

For Smith, color is like music in the way it affects a person’s emotional tone.

“I do the exact same thing with people’s lives,” he said. “I add this beautiful background music that sets the mood of someone’s house.”

He also likes to do what he calls “toning down” a color if a client wants something too out of tune, like a fire engine red. It’s about adding a bit of ecru or beige, gray or taupe to the color to shift it.

“It’s like turning the volume down a bit,” he said. “It’s still red but it’s more nuanced.”

For Phyllis Voltz-Creamer, who lives north of Leon Springs, that mood is one of happiness.

“That’s how I feel every time I come home,” said Voltz-Creamer, a semi-retired veterinarian. “Everything, every key is as I expected when I hired Jim.”

Smith gets a lot of his ideas from magazines. He has folders full of photos of rooms and color combinations he likes. After meeting a client and seeing his home and how he lives, he pulls out one of these folders, perhaps marked Contemporary or Traditional, and flips through it for ideas and inspiration.

“It turns the cogs,” he said. “It also helps to have something to show a client. If you just say “We’re going with fuchsia” it might not mean anything to someone. But if you show them a photo, they’ll get it.

Smith doesn’t just think about colors. He tries to make everything work together, from furniture to art to how light enters a room at different times of the day.

He recounts how, in the 1980s, he was called in to help choose the colors for the large Victorian house Charles Butt of HE-B was renovating on King William Street.

Smith knew that Butt had an impressive collection of contemporary art, but rather than making the entire art gallery white to show off the works, he instead painted the walls a series of pastels – pale yellows, light blues, etc. .

“And then I thought, ‘You can’t have just that; it would be too boring,” he said. “So I did something really eye-catching and painted the dining room ceiling coral.”

Smith recently received a note from Butt that read, in part, “Hi, Jim. Today I’m sitting in the dining room… with a friend for lunch. She and I just admired the colors you chose nearly 40 years ago. They are as fresh and wonderful today as they were then.

Smith charges a minimum of $100 an hour for his consulting work, but clients say he’s quick and efficient, so the final bill is usually very reasonable.

Pat Semmes, a retired Trinity University professor, contacted Smith shortly after moving into his new home in Olmos Park several years ago. The exterior was an unflattering mix of brown wood trim and what she calls “Pepto-Bismol pink brick.”

Smith therefore recommended painting the trim a taupe color. The new contrast has toned down the harsh pink of the brick like Pepto-Bismol eases an upset stomach.

“He charges less per hour than my usual decorator,” Semmes said. “His final bill was so low that I gave him a little extra.”

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