Making the Color Connection

I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns. ~ Winston Churchill

Its January (sigh). The anticipation and planning of the holidays is over and many of us are staring at a few dull months of brown, grey or white landscape ahead. What better time to start dreaming of color.

Color has been missing from the interior design landscape for quite some time. Pick up any shelter magazine from the last 5 years and you would think color was taboo.
While I am a big fan of the clean aesthetic and peacefulness that neutrals (grays, ivories, creams) have to offer, I’ve actually been missing the rest of the color wheel. That’s because color plays such an important role in our world. From the colors we wear to the colors we bathe our homes in, color resonates with us all differently. It can have tremendous impact on our sense of connection to our homes and our possessions.

Every color, from the sunniest of yellows to the palest whispers of blues, vibrates at its own unique energetic frequency. The trick is to tune in to the color vibration – that you and your room needs – until you get a match. You can think of this like tuning in a station on a car radio. Perhaps you have your “presets” that are your go-to colors. But sometimes you need to try another station and explore options outside of your usual comfort zone. Even if this is all new color territory, just tune slowly until you calibrate to a shade or color family that piques your interest. Color has a visceral reaction in the body so when you make the right match you will know it. Paint is the backdrop for everything that will be layered into a space, from carpet, to artwork – to you! If the backdrop isn’t right then anything you do will feel as unsettling as static.

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The beauty about color is that it can be experienced at whatever comfort level is desired. Some people need more stimulation in their environments and are comfortable with the presence of intense color. Whether used repetitively or meted out in bright bursts, the use of intense color requires skill to execute. Done correctly, it can be a stunning space filled with playfulness or sophistication. In the wrong hands, a room can look garish, or worse – the scene of a paint-splattered massacre.
If you are cant get enough of a color and opt for repetition, then I recommend exploring the shade gradations in that particular color family. For example, a room that is painted and furnished in the same blue can be a blunderous bore, but a blue room with punches of turquoise, blue greens or blue grays gives depth and diversity for the eyes to sense. Varying fabric textures done in the same palette can offer depth and interest as well. So can the zing of another intense color that plays off the other.

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For those needing their intense color fix in more of a burst then a bomb, consider using a bolder color as an accent on a wall, a piece of furniture or even popping in your artwork. This burst approach works best if the intense color is played against a larger swathe of neutral backdrop. The eyes then dance right to the things that delight you, rather than stumbling through unnecessary distractions. Repeating an intense color throughout a room in varying scales and textures (i.e. a large painting, a smooth vase and a textured pillow) also helps to make a space more cohesive and visually interesting. It can also make changing an intense color easier if one tires of it and wants to do some other color exploration.

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Living with color in its cleanest, most concentrated form is certainly not for everyone. Most people prefer their colors’ energetic frequency to range somewhere between a roller coaster and a rocking chair. For them, there is the majority of the paint deck and a myriad of options. To simplify where to start consider the colors you typically gravitate toward. That gives you your first clues about what color family matches your general frequency. For example, if you are a blue lover you can explore the whole gamut – from baby to navy – to find the right shade. Paint color decks are set up to offer a range from light to dark so you can fine tune in to a comfortable level of intensity.

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But, if definable color is not really for you, don’t fret. While reds, blues and yellows (along with their offspring of greens, purples and oranges) make more noise, there is a quiet legion of “neutrals” waiting to play the role of the strong silent type. Neutrals are commonly mistaken as an absence of color. Yet anyone who has tried to pick a shade of white or a simple gray knows there is mind-blowing number to choose from. Neutrals set a calming tone to a room and work best when there is a wider range of neutrals and textures to hold our interest. Many in the design community would agree that a neutral room is the hardest to pull off well, having to avoid the dangers of becoming too monotonous or sterile. Done right, the neutral room can be welcomed exile from an outside world that can be over-stimulating and exhausting.

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But, without taking the time to dream and explore, color can become dreary habit. I once had a new client tell me that it wouldn’t be necessary to select paint colors for her home, as she always used a particular shade of green. Assuming it must be a favored color, she explained that she had seen it in her sister’s house and thought it was just easier to keep repeating the color than take a look at another option. It sure explained why that color felt so incongruent to her and her home.

Color can also be something we hold opinions on or make declarations about, without taking the time to see if its really true or not. Take the color blue for example.
I love working with all of its different incarnations in my professional life. Yet in my personal life, I always identified as “not a blue person” – that is until a couple of years ago. I was strolling through a shop in New York when a gorgeous throw pillow caught my eye. It was made from an antique piece of fabric with the most stunning shade of cobalt blue in the pattern. I couldn’t stop looking at it and I kept wondering why. After all, I was not a blue person. I went back to my hotel and couldn’t get that pillow out of my mind. I went home and sat in my living room wondering why I had so much trepidation over a throw pillow! I realized it was because I had believed that I wasn’t a blue person so I never really explored the possibility of having it in my life. Turns out I like blue. I even surprised myself by having a blue dining table made last month! Who knew?

Regardless of what you gravitate toward, color offers us so much more than a decorative coating for walls and ceilings. It unselfishly radiates it energy to us in so many frequencies that there is a literally a vibratory match for everyone on the planet. It is a construct like no other. It is found in nature and can be synthesized on demand to our specifications. It can be applied to just about every textile or surface in the world or hang as refracted light in a post-rain sky. It can conjured up a memory or elicit an emotion. It can feed us emotionally or change our outlook. And when we take the time to dream in it, we find the place we feel most at home.

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