The Hue and Cry Myth
Or, Why Decorating with Colour is Not a Crime Against Humanity
I frequently tell people that life is too short to be lived in a beige box. Fortunately this topic rarely comes up with clients as most know of my predilection for colour and seek me out because of it. I came by this honestly, having as I did a mother who knew the value of a delicious palette (pun intended). I remember being about eight or nine years old and switching hotels while on a trip with my parents—due to an unfortunate scheme. “I feel colour,” I remember mum telling my ever-patient father, “and this room is really quite unsettling.” So off we went.
Although some might find that anecdote odd, to me it speaks to my mother’s keen eye and need for harmony. It is one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me. In some cases it can be a bit of a cross to bear, as not everyone operates at the same level of comfort when it comes to colour, even if they feel they actually do want to embrace it. I always laugh when people talk about its use in hushed tones, as if it were a taboo subject—although I suppose in some ways it can be.
What’s interesting to me is the progression (or regression) from childhood to adulthood, where we trade irrational fears (the boogeyman) for rational ones (the economy)… except when it comes to colour. Children use it with abandon and harness the power it has to create joy on an almost daily basis. At some point we lose that as we ‘mature’, turning harmless hues into a legion of boogeymen that haunt our decorating dreams.
In some ways, adults view the banishment of colour as a means of establishing an air of sophistication or elegance in their environments. I’m not saying that subtle or neutral-based palettes are not inherently sophisticated and/or elegant—they can be (more on that in a later post)—but making that a default position seems to me a bit of a cop-out. It should be pointed out that I’m not on a mission to turn everyone’s home into a residential version of Pee Wee’s Playhouse; I just like to encourage people to dip their toe in the water (or paint) at some point to see if it makes them happy.
Perhaps the biggest misconception people have about colour is the idea that it must always be bright; garish, even. Nothing could be further from the truth. So many things go into the selection of a palette—not to mention the qualities of the colours themselves—and I have yet to experience a client dissatisfied with their choices. Notice I said their choices. As with anything in my practice, the client informs the process when it comes to selection—of colour, of fabric, of finishes, of furniture, of art. After all, it’s not my home it’s theirs and, as such, needs to work for them. I just happen to be a 5’-11” walking permission slip with a satchel full of fan-decks and an armload of fabric swatches…
But back to colour. One of the things I like most about it is the power to enhance mood in a positive way. (It should be pointed out that this quality is present in every value of the chromatic scale, not just the bold end.) I recently painted a client’s home office a beautiful (and productive) shade of Tiffany blue. I say productive because according to colour theory soft, cooler options (greens, blues, aquas) are most conducive to focused thought and enterprise.
Despite being approved pre-application, there was a minor hiccup when the client called to say it was “too much”. Fast-forward to roughly 90 minutes later and the message had changed: “I love it,” she declared, “We don’t need to touch a thing”. I am pleased to report that, since then, it has turned out to be one of the most favoured—and happy—places in her home.
While I appreciate that working with colour can be a daunting prospect if not handled correctly, when embraced properly it can be a joyful and transformative thing. Of course, the possibilities are literally endless but that makes the realm of possibility that much more exciting and wonderful. Choosing the right hue(s) can be as maddening as pushing a peanut uphill with your nose but the first step is always a willingness to engage fully in the process. So why not give it a try? Look to nature, a favourite painting, an exquisite rug, fashion—you’re bound to find inspiration somewhere. However, if you find your eyes overwhelmed and all else fails, contact me…