Patricia has been an architect in Wallingford for over 30 years. Her Wallyhood role is to provide a forum about Wallingford architecture. Questions, musings, rants and raves about design may be addressed to her. The queries may be pragmatic or theoretical. Energetic blog discussion will, hopefully, follow. She looks forward to hearing from you!
Are you thinking about a color change for your house? Perhaps not the exterior, maybe just a room or two? In our neighborhood, you’ve seen strong house colors appearing here and there, but you’re not quite sure what to think of them? Color choice can be challenging, even when it’s the “right” white.
A few years ago a client wrote the following in her workbook for a new house (printed with her permission):
I’m not a fan of the ubiquitous “grown-up” color palette of beige and eggshell. Unless that’s what homeowners really like. But I suspect that most people paint their houses out of fear…In general, I think the inside colors should reflect or form a counterpoint to the colors outside. They should enhance the mood of the people in the room, and the should tie the elements together in a way that makes sense, without requiring explanation. (‘We used mirrors and white paint to make the room feel more spacious.’ Bleaah.
Reading this I was not only moved, but excited. Here was a client after my own heart!
Over the past century, western-trained architects have been versed to avoid color. Strong colors are risky. Paint all spaces white, and if you must, sue saturated colors as “accents.” If you want to assert yourself, use grey or beige, but be careful!
I have to admit, it was a relief. Even though I had a fine arts background in painting, there were too many other things to worry about with architectural design. If I could eliminate color from the endless list of things to do, that would be ok.
But then I started traveling. Places such as Copenhagen, Rajasthan, San Francisco, Portofino, and Cape Town opened my eyes to how much more exciting the architecture could be made by the use of color. My membership to the “whites” camp bit the dust.
The most famous champion of the whites movement is architect Richard Meier. Meier has elegantly detailed buildings throughout the world, and they are always bright white, inside and out. When working on the Getty Museum in LA, the museum board insisted that the museum interior should not be entirely white. Richly colored walls were anathema to Meier. But the interior designer insisted on it. And for good reason: artwork is made richer and more vibrant against a deeply colored wall. The next time you visit Seattle Art Museum, take note: almost all of their exhibits are hung on deeply-hued walls. Both art and people come alive in front of jewel-like colors such as ruby-red, dark teal green and lapis blue.
In my architectural practice, I’ve had a missionary zeal for educating clients about the wonder of having a full palette of colors in the spaces they inhabit. I’ve encountered much fear about color, and it does require study to use it most effectively. A color is a reflection, literally and figuratively, of its surroundings. One should consider light sources, times of day, seasons, textures, context, and use of a space when trying to determine a color’s potential effect.
To use color effectively is to borrow from nature’s habit of mixing many colors with another, so that each is distinct while none seem out of place. The human eye can read over 2 ½ million colors. Most people are familiar with the color wheel, which starts with the three primary colors, red, blue and yellow. The colors between the primaries are secondary colors, which are created by mixing pairs of the primaries, red + blue = purple, blue + yellow = green, and yellow + red = orange. Colors adjacent to one another, such as green, yellow and orange, are called analogous colors. Analogous colors can be soothing and easy on the eye. A bolder approach is to use a triad scheme, which are 3 colors equidistant from one another on the wheel, such as red, blue, and yellow. Colors opposite one another on the color wheel, such as yellow and purple, are called complementary colors.
Complementary colors are magical. Stare intently at a bright red apple, then look away. You will see a ghost green apple. This is true for all complements. Complements work well together. Think of warm wood trim with a rich, blue/purple wall. It inspires. Or outside, green/grey trim with a red/rust windows and doors. I painted my kitchen a deep apricot/orange because I have lots of blue crockery and cooking equipment. My stuff never looked so good!
Color has been empirically proven to affect mood and work performance. Red stimulates a person more to be more accurate, give more attention to detail, and prompts better memory. Blue inspires greater creativity and imagination and stimulates brainstorming.
Throughout history various colors have been associated with different meanings. Purple has been called regal, calming, artsy, and more recently, gay. During the Middle Ages, blue was the color of the Virgin Mary and purity. Now it is considered a symbol of loyalty, peacefulness, and intellect. In Asian cultures, red is good luck. A red door on a house is auspicious. Red can also be considered a symbol of both love and anger. Color psychology is complex and much has been written about it. But it can be relevant for house color if one wishes for a home to reflect one’s personality and encourage a good mood.
My own home is a place of many colors. The exterior was inspired by a Monet palette of bluish lavender with green trim and rust-red doors and windows (a color wheel triad). These colors look good in the sunshine, but luminous in the grey Seattle drizzle. Beige looks staid (dull) in any light. Vibrant colors sing in the rain!
Also when considering exterior colors, the home owner should look at the hues of the adjacent houses and at the plants and other things that may be within view of the house. It is best not to be too close in color to the next door neighbor so as to set both houses apart as unique, but compatible entities. Also, if you have a lot of planting, you should again, try to highlight both the garden and the house with contrast.
Inside my home, my architecture office began with a warm fir floor and hemlock ceiling, both having a soft orange shade in their hues. Also the furnishings are different warm shades of wood. In turn, I painted the walls a deep indigo blue. Of course, blue inspires great creativity! The room, and for that matter, the entire house is tied together with a warm white trim, doors and windows. As a transition from my office to an adjacent art studio, I painted the studio walls an umber-shaded yellow, and it appears to glow past the blue walls of the architecture office. From the yellow art studio, one sees a stair with a violet (complement to yellow) wall and landing. Beyond the landing is a violet bedroom. The violet changes dramatically with the natural light’s time of day and with artificial light in the evening. Once again, I used complimentary colors for an overall effect: the violet makes the wood cathedral ceiling look like a golden canopy as the two colors intermarry in perfect, calm harmony.
Over the past years I have seen an attitude shift in clients. More and more want color from the outset and more are eager to embrace my colorist’s point of view. With the enthusiasm of converts, I have found that clients are thrilled with the results of a strong palette. Wallingford is evolving into richly colored place to live. “Grown-up” colors are leaving the ‘hood