Guest Post: What are Modern Colors?

Kelly Berg is an Interior Designer, Color Consultant and Writer/Blogger. Established in 2003, her business, Arte Styling, focuses on Interior Design and Color Psychology with the mission to inspire individuals and organizations to express their authenticity and truest design visions. Kelly holds a B.F.A. in Interior Design from the Design Institute of San Diego, a B.A in Communication from U.C. San Diego and is a member of the IIDA and IACC-NA. Her blog was born out a desire to learn and share unique color and design perspectives and to (hopefully) encourage others to do the same.

What are “Modern” Colors?
By Kelly Berg

Donʼt know? Letʼs do a little Google image search.

Hereʼs what Google image pulls for the term “Modern Colors”.

And hereʼs what pops up when we enter the search term “Modern Interior Colors”. Relatively colorful, right?

Now look what happens when we eliminate the word “color” and enter a term like “Modern Living Room”. Notice anything different?

Here, letʼs look a little closer...

What colors do you see?

Pretty achromatic.

Iʼm confused. Shouldnʼt a search for “Modern Living Room” bring up similar images to “Modern Interior Colors?” Why is it that by eliminating the word “color” we are left with no color at all? That might seem like a strange question with an obvious answer - I didnʼt ask for color, so Iʼm not going to get it. But think about that for a minute. Basically, whatʼs being communicated is that a modern living room is most often described, at least through Google images, as a room with no color.

Google images isnʼt the only place youʼll find this theory.

Check out some of these homes from Dwell, the shelter magazine with the tagline “At Home in the Modern World.”

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Overall, weʼre not getting much color here, are we? Itʼs pretty much white, wood, and steel with an occasional pop of red and black. In looking at these images, I canʼt help but wonder if Dwell is defining a color palette for the “modern” home? Or is that giving the publication too much credit?

Who decides whatʼs “modern” anyway?

The dictionary defines modern as:
mod·ern  [mod-ern] –adjective
  1. of or pertaining to present and recent time; not ancient or remote: modern city life.
  2. characteristic of present and recent time; contemporary; not antiquated or obsolete: modern viewpoints.
  3. of or pertaining to the historical period following the Middle Ages: modern European history.
  4. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, music, etc., that reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms and emphasize individual experimentation and sensibility.

Not sure if that helps us with color too much. Maybe the idea of achromatic living spaces came from the Modernist architectural movement of the 1920s to 1940s? We generally think of this movement as producing streamlined designs with minimal decorative properties - color being one of those properties.

Although, it is a bit of a misnomer that color wasn’t used during the Modernist movement. Curiously enough, Josef Albers, famous for his color studies book “Interaction of Color”, was a student of the famous Bauhaus school. And early on, Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus, hired color legend Johannes Itten to teach at the school! (Great article at AT , “The History of Bauhaus and Its Influence”)

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And if that’s not enough, KT Color recently unveiled a collection of paint colors that are based on hues commonly used by Le Corbusier...and they aren’t just shades of grey.

So where does that leave us with “Modern” colors? I actually found my answer by looking into the past. (Ironic, huh?) I have this amazing book, Space for Living: Creative Interior Decoration and Design, written by Paul T Frankl in 1938. Mr. Frankl was an architect-turned-designer who embraced American Modernism. He explains the relationship between modern design and color so eloquently:
“To be modern is to feel young, to be full of vigor and freshness, to be exciting to ourselves and to others, to enjoy life, to enjoy what we do and to have our work communicate to others the joy and pleasure that went into doing it. What part of our job would be better fitted to express our moods, our joys and our sorrows than the color scheme in its liveliness, its animation, its fragrancy, freshness and vividness? To be successful we must have complete confidence in ourselves.”
So, what do “Modern” colors mean to you? Are they like Dwell, with a focus on “natural” materials such as steel, concrete, wood, etc? Or are they anything you want them to be, representing vigor and freshness and excitement?