Architecture and Color

Every city has treasured monuments; beautiful old buildings that are either crumbling messes, or lovingly restored. I am always fascinated by what the original designers planned for a site or structure, and how their designs are interpreted today. Were all marble-clab facades white? Certainly not.
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The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), is currently undergoing a lengthy facelift that started back in 2004. When it was rebuilt in concrete in the 1960's, the roof was all gray concrete. The re-roofing project (the first phase of the restoration of the rotunda, colonnades, lagoon and landscape), returned the dome to a color similar to its original hue.

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This is the part that really strikes me:
The PPIE color palette was designed by Jules Guerin, who said that color was
“...the magic quality our public buildings have missed so long. For color, like music, is the language of emotion...With it, we may bring to the inanimate surface the joy of the warmth of sunlight and vibration, and borrowing inspiration from the painter’s palette, help our architecture at last to find its soul.” (source)
Isn't that a wonderful philosophy?
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All previous world fairs has all but lacked any color. Chicago acquired the name "The White City" for the coloring of its buildings and its broad use of "staff," a temporary, marble-looking plaster coating on each of the exhibit halls. A pure marble white produced a harsh glare, something Guerin found particularly hard on the eyes in the California sunlight as well as interrupting the harmony of the walled city. Guerin further believed that pure white had a certain "new effect" which he considered deadly to art. (source)

Interesting! I totally agree about pure white being too harsh in most environments, but many gallery owners would disagree with me...So where did he come up with the palette? Here's an artist's rendering of what the site used to look like, in all it's glory.
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Jules Guerin chose colors he saw in San Francisco and the surrounding area: deep cerulean from the ocean and the sky, greens and gold from the hills of Marin and the East Bay, and subdued hues found in the clay and sand hills of San Francisco. Guerin’s color accents recalled the Orient: rich bronze and copper patina, terra cotta, and above all, the mellow tones of travertine marble, an ivory pink color.(source)

French Green
Oxidized Copper Green
Blue Green
Deep Cerulean Blue
Oriental Blue
Yellow Golden Orange
Pinkish Red Gold
Terra Cotta
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Everyone, from the architects and gardeners, were required to work within the predetermined palette of nine colors. No detail was ignored: statues, guard uniforms, flowers, even the color of the gravel on paths had to fit within this color scheme. To enhance the colors, they employed tricks like tinting the bottom of the lagoon with blue paint. Here are some more examples:
  • French green for garden lattices
  • Deep cerulean blue in recessed panels and ceiling vaults
  • Pink-orange for flagpoles
  • Pinkish-red flecked with brown for the background of colonnades
  • Golden-burnt-orange for moldings and small domes
  • Terra cotta for other domes
  • Gold for statuary
  • Antique green for urns and vases.
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So, there's your crash course in history for the day. Don't you feel more well-rounded now?
If you're interested in more details, the book The Jewel City is a great source.

Art imitating life? I don't think so

Metropolitan Home magazine and Showtime cable television have teamed up to bring us a Designer Showcase house inspired by Showtime series. "The House that Hollywood Built"
They might look striking and beautiful in the glossy pages of a magazine photo shoot, but seriously, would anyone be able to live in some of these spaces?

I think the way to approach these crazy designs is to to take one or two elements and work them into your own designs. Drama and high impact is key here...For instance, I love this glowing "grenadine hue" as they refer to it. A bit over the top if used too generously, but a great pop of color for an accent wall, throw pillow, piece of art, etc. Snazzy and decadent, paired with rich browns and sparkly golds.

They say that "luscious raspberry, fuchsia and rosy tones are perfectly paired with buttoned-up grey and charcoal hues" in this room, but IMO, the balance is WAY off. To stand spending any amount of time in this lounge, you'd need a heavy dose of neutrals for balance. The tiny bits of white and charcoal give you some respite, but not nearly enough to be realistic.

I think one of the major problems with spaces that are designed specifically to be photographed is that they don't take into account the visual ergonomics of how it will feel to actually spend time living in a room.

Case in point. The Showtime Media Room. As the description so aptly states, "Clearly a room where no one will be in the dark"(source). Obviously, the designer of this room thought nothing of visual ergonomics associated with extreme contrasts.

Here's another way to think about it: Think about going into a movie theater-the walls are always dark. The movie screen is often surrounded by dark curtains, and the lighting is low. This is all designed to give you the best viewing experience-low contrast between the screen and the walls prevents eye strain while adjusting from one area to the next. It keeps the attention firmly fixed on the brightest object in the room- the screen.

The show appears to be quite successful, as it certainly has stirred up conversation. I dare you to look at these rooms without having a strong opinion about at least one of them!

You can check out this showhouse for yourself if you live in NYC: September 13-October 26, 2008.

Thanks to Catherine from The Color Council for the tip!
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Love him, hate his kitchen

Kitchen dilemmas appear to be quite popular these days. This reader design dilemma comes from Erin in Virginia with an itsy bitsy galley kitchen (only 32” from the handle on the oven door to the opposite counter top!) For this challenge, I enlisted the help of Susan Serra, a professional kitchen designer and fellow blogger, to add her thoughts.
"I am at my wits' end with this kitchen. Believe it or not, I have done a lot of kitchen renovating since I moved into my boyfriend's bachelor pad two years ago. I still find the room claustrophobic and unpleasant, but it was a tremendous help to remove the tacky wooden paneling (!) and replace the horrific light fixtures. Now, six ugly paint samples later, I am at a loss as to how to paint this thing. The cabinets are SO dark and outdated that they really should be painted, I suppose, but there are so many of them and it'll be tough to get a smooth finish on those beveled doors.

Is there any way to make this room livable by choosing a good wall paint color? Above all, I just want to make the place look clean and bright."
Looking towards the front of the kitchen, first from the view of the pantry you see when entering, and then looking back and the front of the kitchen from the back. The dark wood certainly appears to be closing in the space.
These shelves, to the left of the stove, had a door but they had to remove it because if the door was open, the drawers on the opposite wall couldn't be opened! I would hang a nice heavy upholstery fabric across this opening. Maybe something to coordinate with shades across the window above the sink. You can have some fun here, choosing a bright, cheerful pattern to add some character. But Susan warns, "Be careful of too much pattern. In a small kitchen, it's the kiss of death!"
First of all, a word of friendly advice to all who are trying out paint samples on their walls.
DON'T do it! Color is viewed in context, so if you put a light yellow against a stark white wall, it's going to look a lot darker than if you are painting that same yellow on a charcoal gray wall. Additionally, if there is any color on the walls, that will affect how your paint sample appears.

Better to paint a 2x2' board with your paint sample, then you can move it around the room, and hold it up against existing items, like the counter tops, floor, and cabinets. Since those colors will be staying, it's safe to compare your swatches to those elements.
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Secondly, I would suggest giving cabinet refinishing a shot. You might even try to find a local paint contractor to do them for you. Get a few quotes- you might be surprised to find some are quite reasonable. They'll apply the paint with a spray gun for a smooth, even surface. Ooh, another good option is to try an auto body detailing shop. I've seen shellacked cabinet faces that are soooo slick. Alternatively, there's no reason why you can't do this project yourself. Yeah, they are challenging, but I've seen it done, and the results are quite nice.

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Why not try something fun, like a distressed finish in a lively color? Darker for the bottom cabinets, lighter for the uppers.

But what does Erin like? Inspiration images are always really useful when you are trying to define your design goals, or communicate your vision to others.
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Fresh, clean, wholesome, nurturing, inviting. Sort of country, sort of provincial, but no ridiculous tole painted ducks or cows and no fleur de lis. Kind of like my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen
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I love how light and airy and “green” this kitchen feels, both in terms of the plants used as decoration and the soothing cabin-like feel of the wood. I have a white Aerogarden and I’m happy to get another one—maybe they could be used somehow as decoration like the plants here? Is ivy above the cabinets too cheesy/80s?
Because the kitchen is so cramped already, I would edit, edit, edit, instead of adding elements. The ceiling height is another issue. Since Erin's are not lofty, attention shouldn't be drawn up too much unless the cabinets can be extended to the ceiling somehow (perhaps thick moulding to bridge the gap like below?)

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Lovely all-white kitchen. Due to landlord concerns, I’m not sure we can go as far as using open-front cabinet doors, though, even if they’re frosted glass or something. The bead board is a nice touch, but I’m not sure where we’d put it or if it would be practical. Maybe we add simple nickel fixtures to the cabinets?
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The open glass uppers would be a great solution, to lighten things up a bit, but if that's not an option, what about removing the doors above altogether? This buttery yellow would look pretty with the yellow undertones of the counter-tops, and certainly brighten things up.
Or remove the uppers and install open floating shelves instead. They would be less heavy than the cabinets.

Susan agrees:
"If you can, remove the cabinet to the right of the window and install shelving across the rear wall, possibly glass shelving to blend in. Again, be careful of clutter, don't put too much on the shelving, even one shelf would be sufficient to equate the storage that is presently in the cabinet.

If you are not keen on shelving, note the cabinets above your hood. Get a few cabinets in that height and put them across the back in a color that matches the countertop and put a few decorative items on top of these cabinets. (The cabinet to the right of the window is assumed to be removed.)"
But, if Erin opts to forgo repainting the cabinets, what can she do?
Dealing with the existing colors in the kitchen, you can see there is a lot going on already. It's easy to accidentally group all wood under the category "brown". But if you look at each material, and examine the undertone, you'll see that this kitchen has three wood colors going on already: reddish brown cabinets, yellowish brown counter-tops, and orangy brown floors. I would say this palette has enough existing warm tones, so we won't add others.

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One of the reasons this tight galley kitchen works is the consistency in value and limited color palette. (not to mention really great photographic lighting) There aren't too many colors going on here, and the undertones in everything are similar. When you are dealing with small spaces, it's important to keep extreme contrast down, as this breaks up the space too much, and calls attention to how small it is.

Susan had a similar thought. She says,
"It may sound odd, and I rarely hear of this solution, but, embrace your counter-top color. If you cannot change it, embrace the color AND pick up that color or a color close to it but a bit lighter and use that for your paint. That's right, I'm recommending a color that is quite a bit darker than white. What you want to achieve is a "flow" which will enlarge the space. What you want to eliminate is "choppy." What you then might need is sufficient, or a bit extra, lighting."
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Proof? Susan's very own galley kitchen before and after shots; she picked up the counter-top and back-splash color and moved it on to the wall. The "after" is solely through extra lighting, paint and flooring, nothing else. Pretty amazing, right?

Susan adds,
"If you go that route, why not paint very wide stripes, say 12" in height across the back wall that go in a horizontal direction. Perhaps you can add some words, a quote, in paint or vinyl stick on letters, enhancing the horizontal line."
Along those same lines, she also suggests,
"Put molding across the back wall just above the height of the countertop backsplash. Paint the lower half the color of the countertop. Paint the higher section a color that blends with the other walls. You may have to add that lower color and molding around the right doorway, I'm not 100% sure about that, that would have to be an on-site judgment, but it would enhance the horizontal line as you look into the kitchen."
Great ideas!

Shades of colors past. Erin felt the green was too institutional, the yellow too bright, and the peach too blendy with the counter tops and cabinets…. Sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except nothing was really over the top.

I'm thinking that's where the issue lies- the selected colors are just too pale and timid to balance against the value of the dark cabinets. Light and dark is fine when you are going for contrast, but the intensity of the palette should be the same ballpark.

Susan concurs,"Clean and bright? In my mind, clean does not have to mean "light" it can mean "flow". And bright, to me, relates to ample lighting. A light color, as I'll bet Rachel would agree with, is not always the answer to enlarging a space"
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Take, for example, these two options for cheerful paint color with darker cabinets (gray-blue SW Moody Blue or medium green SW Melange Green)

Some parting thoughts by Susan, for those who are doing larger renovations:
"I will assume the flooring cannot be changed, but others should note that the lines of the flooring enhance the galley feel. A different, or non-directional type of flooring is a much better option."
Phew! That turned into quite a lengthy, packed post. Now I hand things over to you all. What would you suggest for Erin's kitchen? Let's help her out here!

Special thanks to Susan Serra for her insightful, creative ideas.

Emotion and color pairings

There's a new kid on the block, and the site is making strides to build a database of word associations linked to colors. Here's how they sum it up:
Color is the ultimate tool a designer has at his or her disposal to communicate feeling and mood. Cymbolism is a new website that attempts to quantify the association between colors and words, making it simple for designers to choose the best colors for the desired emotional effect.
Hmm, intriguing! So I had to check it out to see if there was anything behind this ambitious goal...
It's still in baby-phase at this point (launched in July '08), but the nice thing about the site is that anyone can vote on what color they associate with a particular word, thereby adding his or her own impressions. In techie terminology, it's called a "crowd sourcing application".
Future versions promise to track user demographics for each vote, as well. That would be really interesting to see- how does someone in Africa perceive the word/color pairing for "authority" versus someone in Italy, for instance?

They've got a long way to go, as their dictionary is still quite sparse, but you can submit word suggestions for voting in the future.
And view previous voting history for a particular word, tracking the changes over time.

My main concern is consistency- everyone's monitor is calibrated differently, and so there is no way to be certain we're all looking at the same colors. What appears neon green to me may seem like a forest green to someone else. As the site so astutely states in a blog post, "the hue, the saturation, and the brightness of the color all have to be evaluated when it comes to what kind of effect color has on mood." So at least they are aware of the complexity involved in tagging a color with words. I guess the compromise is that people must look at the color in its most general term.

Check it out; I'm curious to hear your reactions. As designers, would you find this site useful? What would you add to it to make it better?

via Haft2Know

Coloring Contest 2008

Get your virtual crayons ready, it's time for some serious coloring!
Take this lovely, all-white house exterior, and give it a distinct personality, using only color.Please include a short written description of your color palette, describing the location/environment where you image the house would reside, and any inspiration or theme from which you are working.

For example, you could put the house on a tree-lined, residential street surrounded by craftsman and Victorian houses. Or, you could relocate the house to sunny Miami, Florida for a dramatically different look and feel. Maybe the owners are very into southwestern art, or prefer Scandinavian design. Or go crazy: perhaps the house is straight out of your imagination, residing in a Candy Land board game. The sky is the limit!Email me at rachel.perls [@] (remove spaces and brackets) and I will send you a layered Photoshop file with channels. Or, click on the drawing above for a larger version you can print out and color with pencils, crayons, or paint. Whatever works best for you. But remember, use only color to give this house a fresh look.You have a month and a half, 'til October 31st, to complete your color make-over. Feel free to enter as many submissions as you'd like. When you are done, email me the flattened file or scanned artwork and your written description. I'll post them as they come in so we can enjoy the amazing work you all did.How well did your color palette come together?
Does it compliment and accentuate the architecture of the house?
Does it fit into your chosen environment/scenario?
Were you creative in your solution?The prize for the winner of this contest will be a fabulous design book on color (there are so many great ones out there, I have to settle on one!)

My house rejuvination project

As promised, here are some more before and after shots of our house painting project. Colors were selected to be complimentary and appropriate for the Mediterranean architectural style of the house.
The first room I tackled was the entry foyer. Going for that classic Frank Lloyd Wright approach to movement through spaces, I liked the idea of entering into a small, richly-colored darker space that opens out into a bright, open, airy one. It makes for a dramatic entry.
Here is our living room, before the paint make-over. The room gets wonderful light flooding the space, but with the stark white walls against the wood floors and dark brown beams, it just was too contrasty. This room was screaming for a color infusion. So after much taping, we got to work.
We chose a golden tone called Bryant Gold (with just a smidge more white than the normal formula). The room changes its character depending upon the time of day: bright cheerful golden yellow during the daytime, and more subdued, rich, cozy yellow ochre in the evening. The change reflects how the space is used, and the atmosphere desired, kind of like a chameleon.
Here's a peek into the room after our furniture finally came.
I need to take a better shot of this when the lighting is better, but here's how the colors transition from our entry into the dining room and back into the kitchen. We keep this foyer door closed so guests move through the spaces more organically. Don't want to give away all the surprises at once, you know?
This is our dining room, before we made it all warm and cozy with color. A nice space, but lacking in personality with bland white walls.We went with a lovely pumpkin tone called Amber. Now, if only we could figure out a way to hang artwork on those fragile stucco walls! They just crumble when you try to put screws or nails in them. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Moving onto the kitchen with the rather dark cabinets, and totally inadequate lighting. The windows certainly helped open up the space, but this kitchen doesn't get much light throughout the day. If it had been my kitchen, I would have torn it out and started from scratch, or at the very least refinished the cabinet faces. But since we are renting, we had to make due with paint alone.
The yellow certainly helped brighten it up (especially since there is no direct sunlight through the greenhouse windows).

Moving onto the hallway....
Here's our hallway leading to the upstairs rooms. The white appeared gray and dismal in the shadows, and really needed a change.
Just to show you that sometimes it takes a couple of tried before you really nail a color. I started out with my vision of a neutral brown tone to transition from the warm brights downstairs to the softer tones upstairs. What I had hoped would be a warm brown (called Roxbury Caramel) turned out way too pinky, and in certain lights, looked rather mauve. Even though it was the hardest room in the house to paint, I absolutely couldn't stand how it looked, and resigned myself to repainting the stairwell. I opted for what appeared, on the paint chip, to be a grayer brown (Wilmington Tan). Bingo! Once it was up on the wall, we got the desired effect of a soft brown. In this photo, it looks yellow, but it's really a neutral brown. It's amazing how much lighting can affect a color.
Here's another shot of the hallway, peaking into the study (on the left) and the bedroom (on the right). (After shots of these rooms to come once I clean up a little!)
Most people assume that painting a space white will open it up, make it feel bigger and light. Here's proof that this theory doesn't always work. This narrow, dark little basement guest bedroom space was dingy and depressing, even painted white.

My husband (and toughest client ever!) liked my suggestion of a soft, glowing apricot color and took it quite literally, fighting very hard for Seville Orange (all Benjamin Moore Aura paint). A lovely shade of orange, but way too bright. I warned him that colors look MUCH brighter once you get them up on the walls, but he was insistent. So, I let him learn the hard way:
I give you, orange so bright the walls made the carpet glow orange at night. Yikes! Might be hard to see in this picture, but take my word for it.
When hubbie finally understood what I was trying to explain, we repainted it Tuscon Tan, a light brown with a significantly peachy undertone, and came out with a much more successful effect. When in doubt over the brightness factor, go for a tone more subdued.

Oh, here's a really useful tip for touch-ups. Take your left-over paint, fill small canning jars with each color, and label the lids with a dab of the color, name or code for the paint, and location of where you used it. Voila, instant touch-up access without the hassle of unidentifiable, messy gallon cans!