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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Element of Color ~

I was reading the Home section of the Washington Post last Thursday. They featured a Q&A with the incomparable Jamie Drake ~

I love the picture of him on the right ~ the picture on the left is Mr. Drake now. Just as stylish and handsome.

They asked him, "Is there a popular color combo that needs to go away?" He answered, "As much as I love it, chocolate brown and pale blue has been done to death....." Gulp! Yikes!

My initial reaction was to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. You see my living room is done in hues and chocolate brown and blue; my sunroom is done in ivory and blue ~ the sunroom is an extension of the living room. You have seen these pictures before....

Then I thought about something ~ I have adored those colors for years.... years.

I can quote many studies about color and tell what they allegedly evoke. But I am not going to. You can find that information almost anywhere and many times, you'll find conflicting information. I have read numerous studies about the psychology of color. There is one significant problem in my opinion ~ most of the studies are done in laboratory type environments devoid of usual social interaction. The subject are shown colors and are ask a variety of questions or are asked to do certain tasks and then interpretations and tenuous conclusions are drawn. I applauded one such study that attempted to understand what colors would be good in the work place. They offered a 'caveat' at the end of their report. It basically said that their findings were null and void if the subject was distracted. Their study was done with the subjects in isolation. If something unexpected happened to interfere with the subject, the findings were skued. I don't know about you, but I am a social being at times easily distracted. I don't think I know a person who isn't at home or at work.

The one 'study' that took social interaction into account was one conducted by designers et al, Design: Spatial Color published in Contract . Great! You may read the study for yourself . I still am not going to quote it. Why?

Because color is extremely subjective in my opinion, influenced by things that cannot be studied but absolutely need to be taken into account. Often, colors have associations to them that are so personal and specific to the individual. I was having coffee with my dear friend, Paula Zottoli, on my deck the other day. She needs to select colors for her home and is struggling. We discussed her various associations to colors and what she gravitates towards. She fondly recalled an lilac hued room that her mother designed... "My mom was not afraid of color... I loved that. That room is still there and I still love it." Well then, Jamie Drake may right up her alley.

Perhaps what you truly love will help you decide whom to hire as your designer as some have a specific talent ~ a niche ~ as Mr. Drake does.

If one loves soft colors and neutrals, the marvelous Barbara Barry may be your choice....

But what about my own 'gulp and yikes'.... my living and sunrooms! The blue I used is actually a steel blue. I love steel blue. For me, it is a very soothing color. Every time I walk into these rooms, I immediately have an emotional reaction. I am happy. The steel blue penetrates me like no other color. I am soothed. I always smile. I feel appreciative that I have these rooms. I recall as a young teenager 'designing' my bedroom for the first time by myself. What a liberation that was. Not that I felt harnessed by the colors in my home ~ I liked the colors in my home very much. The colors I chose for my bedroom were derivatives of those very hues. My mom loves grays and greens. I always have enjoyed browns ~ I really don't know why but that is less important than the fact that I have always gravitated towards them. What were the colors of my liberation bedroom ~ steel blue, moss green, chocolate brown, and a smidge of red. The steel blue and moss green were closely associated with the other colors in my home. As I look back at my various apartments, those colors were always represented in the decor. I am currently living in the first home I have ever owned. Another liberation. I struggled to design my own home ~ I have written about that before. I believe in part I struggled because I thought I should do something magnificent ~ meaning something different and dramatic because I am a designer, I should have something that it is a show-stopper. Hog-wash! When I finally got my 'shoulds' in check, I knew exactly what to do. I needed to take into account the loves of my life, my husband and daughter, AND the colors I have always enjoyed and venture forth. My style has changed over the years, but the hues that I have enjoyed have remained the same. My home is filled with neutrals, blues, greens, and reds. I may be a bit backwards on this one but I wanted my public spaces to soothe me since I spend most of my time in them and I wanted my bedroom to be the glamorous and passionate place ~ I think that is fairly self-explanatory. So my bedroom is filled with ivory, browns and reds.

I have to tell you, all that enter my home comment on its beauty. I have a show-stopper after all. All it took was to allow myself what I truly love.

So how do you know what are your colors? You think about it. You review your life and the places that you loved the most. You find pictures and things that represent them (e.g. fabrics, art).

I have been working with a client for a while now. When we began, she showed me a folder she has been keeping for years. The folder contained rooms and objects that she has enjoyed. When looking though them, there was a theme ~ green and orange hues. I pointed that out to her. She already knew. She was concerned though, "should I follow that or do you have ones you like better or that are more in style that I should have?" It is easier for me to address others' should vs. my own. I smiled at her and said, "Am I going to be living with you from now on?" She laughed. "Then I believe we need to do what you love." She liked that answer. We are still working on her home. I will try to take some photos to show you with my little Canon as we are not at professional picture taking time yet. We discussed interpreting them differently in areas of her home. We are using lighter tints in the family room, kitchen, and sunroom and richer shades in the living and dining rooms. We even brought them to her outdoor space and added blue-green to the mix to connect with the sky.

This is not uncommon. Another client fell in love with a fabric swatch of blue and gold. She saw it in one of my books when we were working on her family room. She said, "When I a ready to do my living and dining room, I want to use this fabric." I ordered a memo sample for her to keep. She kept it. Two years later, she was ready to do her rooms. At our first meeting, she presented the memo sample. I asked her if she still loves it. "YES!" All right then. let's get to work. The fabric was used generously in the dining room and interpreted differently n the living room. The dining room was to be her room ~ feminine and pretty. The living room was to be his room ~ a lounge ~ masculine and able to accommodate conversations. The first picture below shows the lush silk fabric she fell in live with.... the rest are the two rooms. You have seen these before too. I always find studying the same pictures helpful when thinking about the different principles and elements. It helps to understand the cohesion of design theory ~ putting it all together.

Feminine dining room....

Masculine lounge....

There is even an interplay between the two rooms. The large mirror in the living room lounge reflects the dining room and the stunning artwork.

As with this client, the former client, and with me, we all did our rooms when the color palette was 'en vogue.' Why? Because when your adored color palette is en vogue, there is a plethora of product to choose from. I don't think it is a coincidence that I received the phone calls from my clients when their favorites were popular. I think it was an conscious plea to have what they adore in their homes.

Am I saying the color research is wrong? Of course not. There are wonderful books written on the theory and psychology of color and are important to read. What needs to be understood is that they produce generalizations. Using these generalizations can be paramount if one isn't captivated by particular colors, at least, not yet. I would hope that with a good design, one would come to love the palette that was rendered for their particular tastes and needs. If not, if a trend was merely used, and eventually outgrown, I pray they developed a neutral canvas and then added pops of the trend such that it is easily changed out.

If you have no idea what you want to do with color, no idea where you want to take your decor but you want to cover the builder's paint..... you'll have to stayed tuned ~ that will be covered tomorrow :)

Here are my color books ~ they are very good reads......


  1. What a great way to start the morning .. reading your blog. I LOVED THIS PIECE! I LOVE COLOR. The effect of color on the body fascinates me. I had an immediate reaction to the lilac rooms. I do not think I would ever use that color .. but the pictures picked me up, brought back memories and put a smile on my face. Every room picture you displayed is fabulous. Your own home .. is so you .. beautiful, sophisticated, intriguing, fun and elegant. Thank you for sharing so much of your insight and you with us!

  2. Color is so personal and should always be what you love, not what is in "vogue". I think what JD meant was the Aqua Blue/Choc Brown with no other colors. That isn't what your house is at all. You have various tones with lots of depth and dimension. I love those chests in your bedroom. I'm back! Kristin

  3. I know one thing. I could happily live in your living room! I love, love, love it. Furthermore, I'm deciding on colors for my new home, which will be finished in December. Our bedroom will be in shades of tans and browns, mixed with white and splashes of blue. Happy Blue Monday.

  4. I am of course drawn to those rooms that have touches of blue, but they all are gorgeous. I hope you are having a wonderful day.

  5. So true: the pop colors are in every store. When the new colors are pop, all the store will have them. I'm weary of the idea that one has life-long color preferences anyway. Maybe some do but I'm more inclined to think that folks' tastes change; that colors and palettes can both get old and also grow on you.


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