As a painter, my clients depend on me to help them select just the right colors, which I’ve done countless times during my career. Why does it seem so difficult to choose a color? Why do we have to rely on huge color charts that seem to change as new color trends emerge in the world of decorating?
I often get calls from clients who are desperate for help with color selection. When I arrive I find them holding a paint brush in front of a wall covered with swatches of colors… does this sound familiar? This is often the result of trying to fit a “foreign color” – a color you might have seen at a friend’s house, in a magazine, in a hotel lobby while on a trip, on a paint store’s color palette, etc. – into your “home” space, your world.
Paint manufacturers spend a lot of time and energy (and money!) creating the perfect color palette. These palettes are wonderful tools, to a degree. In a coordinated order they present colors you can use together; for example, a main wall color, an accent color, and a trim color for the woodwork. Like most homeowners, you’ve probably bought sample size quantities of these colors and brought them home, excited to paint them on your walls and transform your space.
However, as many clients have told me, as soon as you’ve done that the excitement can turn into doubt and disappointment. It might be darker than you had thought, or it’s too blue or too green; it takes on a yellow cast in the afternoon; it’s too dark at night; or maybe it turns out it’s simply the wrong color. You go back to the paint store for another sample, maybe a lighter one, or a little less blue… a few days later you’ve painted so many samples on the walls that you’re lost, confused and, ready to quit.
Why is it that these great colors, which looked so good on the palette, do not work in your space? What is a color? Why is it so hard to express the qualities of the color you’re looking for? Why do the perfect colors seem to elude us?
One definition of the word color says that it’s a “visual attribute of things that results from the light they emit or transmit or reflect”. Another states that “color is a vibration of light,” and another associates color with “the sensation produced by the effect of light waves striking the retina of the eye.” Do these definitions help you understand what a color is? Is it an “attribute,” a “vibration,” or a “sensation?”
Not to get too metaphysical, but – do colors have their own reality or are they caught up between the world of the objects they define and how we in turn experience these objects? The philosopher in me would love to ponder the notion of color and its mysterious elusive nature into the dawn (and I have!), but at this time I’d rather resolve the problem of its selection and identify a method that will serve this purpose.
Selecting a color is indeed a journey, but it does not start in a magazine, or in a paint store. In my long experience, it’s not an invention or a creation – it’s a discovery!
Looking for a color to paint on your dining room walls starts right in your dining room, not away from it. It requires some detective work and examination of small but important details.
For example, the wood the furniture is made of: is it a shiny, modern lacquer finish? Or is it a deep-veined old-world rich walnut? Other thoughts: notice the shades of grey in the natural stone of your floor, or the wavy amber streak in the buffet marble top. Acknowledge the pale burnt hue of the grout that ties the bricks together on your fireplace hearth. Embrace the colors of your hand-made rug and stretch your comfort zone in perhaps choosing the silvery blue whose presence is ever so slight, and yet so powerful.
Also, look at your world by day and again at night. Where does the light enter your room when at its brightest, where does it die away at the end of the day, and how does the changing light affect the colors that exist in your room?
Selecting a color is also about recognizing that the leaves and flowers and landscape outside your windows are as much in the room as a sofa or a rug, and understanding that your eye already knows this. Your eye’s perception of colors really has no artificial boundary like a window – it goes as far as it can see. Capturing the gentle green of a new leaf by the window, the ashy grey bark of the oak tree in your yard, the earthy tones of brown and sienna of the ground…the eye makes them part of your inside color world.
Now you know why the “foreign color” swatches on your walls might’ve driven you to near-insanity. They just did not quite belong there – they looked good in the magazine or at your friend’s house, but that’s because they were already integrated and in harmony with the colors in those worlds…not in yours!
You’ve found your color, or colors. They were there all along, for you to find and put in the paint, which is merely the vehicle that reveals the color to our senses.
As an added benefit, selecting a color in this manner will ensure that you’re in keeping with the existing style and flair of your home, and while you’ve enhanced your space you’re not in a completely foreign world, imported from a picture in that month’s trendy magazine. It pleases your eyes and everyone else’s because it’s in harmony with the surroundings. By the way, this is true for the selection of colors for inside your home as well as for the outside. The perfect color for the front door that you’ve been looking for in magazines and brochures is surely already right in your front yard!
The rest is technique, knowledge of chemistry, the art of pigments, and tints mixing.
Now, it’s time to go to the color wheel and the paint store. As your painter, I try to find in the charts this color that you love or at least one as close to it as possible to use it as a base. I add, I mix, I take away… The good news is that we no longer need to hunt for pigments and minerals to grind and pulverize to prepare a color. We do not need Lapis Lazuli to make blue and the color purple is no longer reserved for royalty who alone could afford it. You can have it all!
I am not a colorist; I am a hunter of colors, a thief of lights – and to select just the right color for your own world, you, too, should put yourself in that role to experience, explore, and analyze your own home’s world of colors in order to discover that perfect new color you’ve been seeking.
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