I was born in the 1970s, the era of yellow shag carpet, avocado refrigerators, and deep brown kitchen cupboards. From this must remain my aversion to olive-green and mustard-colored accessories!
This era then shifted into the dusty pinks and country-blues of the 1980s, the earth-tones, and the pastels. Our kitchen was blue-and-off-white checked wallpaper, and my bedroom curtains were the same but in dusty pink. My childhood home was done up country-style, with faux-brick linoleum floors and mid-tone wood cupboards. Our main bathroom was off-white with ivy-green accents. In fact, all of our walls were beige with accents of the classic blues, pinks, and hunter green.
My mom had a book that circulated throughout her women’s group: Color Me Beautiful. The book allowed a woman to figure out which “season” she was in terms of skin tone and hair color, and which colors would flatter her most and least. My mom was an autumn, therefore best suited in peach tones, oranges, browns, and olive greens. I remember her coral toenail polish to this day! Other women were winters, best flattered in whites and blacks, and the only season that could wear red well.
As a child, my favorite color was yellow. Informed as above by the Color Me Beautiful book, I could not likely wear it well, but that did not hinder me from trying to! It was the color of sunshine and brightness, and I associated it with being happy. To this day, I continue to try to wear it, though the colors of these recent years tend to be a bit mustard for my complexion. I am still determined to find the perfect yellow purse…but I digress.
I got a new bedroom my senior year of high school, and was excited to paint it a lovely light green. Unfortunately, my color choice ended up being the color of off-brand mint chocolate chip ice cream. Not quite the relaxing, soft green of my imagination. The room was so big that re-painting it was not an option within our budget, so I was stuck with it.
I remember the first time I recognized the real vibrance and joy of color. At the end of my senior year of high school, I traveled to Nicaragua to visit family. It was my first time out of the USA (not including trips to or through neighboring Canada on occasion) and my first introduction to a culture that embraced bright and diverse colors on buildings and in homes. I thought it was absolutely beautiful to see these multi-colored facades as we drove down the streets. On subsequent trips, we ambled down block after block, sneaking peeks inside the walls through the small windows and beholding amazing open courtyards within homes. The textiles were also lively and colorful, as were painted ceramics and souvenirs. The flowers that were normally extremely expensive in the States, such as Bird of Paradise, grew natively and added to the depth of the spectrum. I was fascinated!
In each of the Caribbean and Central American countries I have visited, I have felt that color is a strong part of the experience. I lived in Haiti for two years, and in the midst of the chaos and poverty, brightness stood out. It stood out in the school uniforms the children wore, in the impeccable Sunday dresses of the women and children, and the halls of the hospital painted greens and dark oranges. Our first homes were white pre-fab cottages donated by non-governmental organizations based in Korea. We added color with our own souvenirs and posters. We then moved into homes painted in a light yellow, surrounded by greenery. We were again responsible for injecting color where we saw fit.
I remember looking up some meanings and effects of certain colors. Yellow remained (and remains) a favorite of mine, and one friend informed me that it meant I like change. Now, I can say that I adapt fairly well to change in general, but not too many at once, please! I also know that red and orange can be very stress-inducing colors, and not to put those on walls in kitchens or bathrooms. But, man! I have seen some spectacular red kitchens, too!
Depending on the website, one can find differing meanings and implications of colors. Cultural context is also important to remember when choosing colors, in travel dress and décor. I try not to get so deep as to examine my conscience when choosing a room color. And yes, I have made some grievous color mistakes which necessitated re-painting an entire room. What looks right in the light of the paint store may not reflect at all well on the amount of light or the number of windows (or lack thereof) in a room once you get that paint home.
I do not feel comfortable with an all-white color pallet. I have seen stunning images and walked into rooms that are all white, and I feel tense, not relaxed. It is a crisp, clean look, but for me, not welcoming. I need spots of color, even accents, to experience some depth in the room and a sense of belonging. I also depend on a mix of furniture pieces, from vintage to modern. This must stem from growing up with second-hand furniture filling our house. I loved the lack of matching and the variety. I’ve taken my childhood dresser, painted the wood (gasp!) a warm yellow (surprise!), and put new pulls on the drawers to give it new life.
Yellow is an optimistic color and stimulates the left brain. That may be why I’m drawn to it, being a left-handed lady and thinking with my right-brain so often. It is known as joyous, cheerful, and confident.
I used to gravitate toward yellow for all walls, living room to bedroom, but have grown out of that phase, preferring calmer colors such as a Caribbean blue, which has been my go-to for the last 10 years. Blue induces a feeling of calm and stability, and is the color of trust. It symbolizes piety and sincerity. I think of the beach, one of my absolute favorite places to be. Looking out on the aqua-turquoise water, I relax and visualize peace. That is where I experience tranquility. I have had an accent wall painted in that blue in every place I’ve lived.
Green is a color representing life, renewal, growth, and harmony. Yes, I know it’s also the color of money in the US. One of my all-time favorite rooms was a green kitchen I had in one of my first apartments. I guessed at the color, but it turned out to be the perfect grassy-green, making the kitchen homey and bright.
Red means passion, energy, and being noticed. It is assertive and confident and is unmistakable when seen. In Indian culture, it is the color worn by brides at weddings. It does have negative connotations, such as “seeing red” when very angry or of caution such as stop signs, stoplights and sirens. I find that bright colors such as reds and oranges work better as accent colors than the main color in a room or scene. Red is a stimulating, not relaxing, color.
Orange is a color of excitement, encouragement and enthusiasm. It is “the color of the extrovert,” so perhaps that is why I have not been drawn to it! I did use it as an accent in a room and loved it, as it combined with the blues and greys and muted tones of whites and off-whites. It is a social color, warm and inviting. It is used often in sports and transportation, and draws attention as red does. Orange construction barrels, anyone? It’s an easy color to get wrong with décor, particularly with painting. But the right one will be a stunner!
Purple combines the qualities of blue and red, with stability and energy colliding in its color pallet. It can also symbolize wealth, position, dignity, mystery, peace and wisdom.
White is a color of purity, cleanliness and successful beginnings. The hotel industry always uses white sheets and towels to inform of safety and hygiene. White generally brings a positive connotation, versus black’s often negative implications. Black symbolizes power, darkness, authority, formality, and elegance. It is a very tricky color to use on the walls, and can envelop rooms if too present. But it is also a sophisticated silhouette and is the go-to for any girl who can’t find something to wear to a party. It used to be that wearing black to a wedding was considered bad luck, but I am pretty sure we have moved past those days. I’ve seen numerous wedding parties where black was the color of the dresses!
I think of the ways color has influenced my life and style, moving from the muted neutrals of the 1980s with the khaki and navy and mauve and gray – all of which are now very much back in the color schemes of these days – to the bright, unafraid colors. I also think of how I want color to be present in my home, my haven, and the art and details I want around me. As mentioned above, I cannot live in an all-white home. I need pops of strong, fun patterns and reminders of the international travel I have enjoyed so much.
I have my grandma’s old leaded bright-orange cookie jar, the one from which we stole a seemingly endless supply of cookies at each visit. I also have rustic driftwood wreaths and a sturdy Caribbean-style whitewashed wood bed frame. Nothing matches in my apartment – my furniture is neutral, but my accent colors are not! I think of the colors that make up our world and how our experiences influence which of those are comfortable and comforting to us. The colors on a map or the colors of a business logo, the color of the food we prepare and the colors on a plate during a meal. We interact with color thousands, if not millions, of times in a single day.
Notice the colors that excite you, bring you peace, give you a sense of safety, and make you uncomfortable. Think about those the next time you are planting a garden or renovating, rearranging or painting a space. Spring is upon us, and now is the perfect time to sprinkle fresh color into your life!