top of page

Living in Color

When I was in design school, my favorite class was Color Theory. The psychology of color, using the color wheel, creating color palettes, learning to see undertones, and color mixing. It was fascinating! Ever since I've loved using color - it instantly makes a space feel more special. When it comes to color, who better to learn from that some of the great designers and artists?

Wassily Kandinsky

A Russian abstract painter considered one of the pioneers of modern abstract art. He's known for works that explode with color! He said:

"Color is a power which directly influences the soul."

This has been studied and proven using color psychology for years. What is your favorite color? Read more about the emotions that color evokes below.

  1. Red: Energy, bold, appetite stimulating, strength.

  2. Pink: Fun, playful, warm. The right tones can be very sophisticated.

  3. Orange: Enthusiasm, determination, success, and warmth.

  4. Yellow: Joy, happiness, energy, fresh, welcoming.

  5. Green: Nature, restful, fresh, calm, safe, and harmony.

  6. Blue: Wisdom, intelligence, peace, calming, tranquil, luxurious.

  7. Purple: Rich, luxurious, regal, deep, dramatic.

Kadinsky, 1925.

Josef Albers

He is best known for his Homage to the Square series and his exploration using color in abstract art. He published a book on learning and teaching color theory. He said:

Color "is almost never seen as it really is" and "deceives continually." and he suggested that color is best studied via experience, underpinned by experimentation and observation.

“If one says ‘red’ – the name of color – and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Albers, Homage to the Square

As designers, we've learned that deciding and discussing color has to be visual. When we're proposing a design, we collect samples of fabrics, paint colors, and materials for clients to see in person. You can't describe a color without seeing it! We've seen time and time again that even online photography of a fabric or paint is just not accurate to its true color.

We've also found that if we're pitching a design and suggest a yellow sofa - clients will imagine primary color bright yellow! Learning about hues, tints, shades, and tones will be helpful in understanding nuances between colors. See? There are thousands of variations of every color - including yellow :)

Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper was THE decorator in the United States in the 30s - 60s. She heavily influenced the way homes are decorated today and was called the most influential tastemaker in America. She said:

"The Drab Age is over. Color is coming into its own again. Until very recently, people were literally scared out of their wits by color. Perhaps this was a hangover from our Puritan ancestors. But whatever the reason, brown, grays and neutrals were the only shades considered 'safe.' Now we know that lovely, clear colors have a vital effect on our mental happiness."

Sound familiar?? Is the latest Drab Age coming to an end again? Neutrals have been it in mainstream design for years, and I often find clients hesitant to diverge too far from a neutral. Here are some questions we often get about a neutral color palette:

  1. What colors are considered neutral?

    1. Any color can be a neutral depending on its tone. The tone of a color changes as you add or remove gray, and usually the more gray in a color, the more neutral it becomes. Typically, we think of neutrals as grays, whites, browns & tans, or black. If going with saturated color feels like a big leap for you, maybe choose a really toned down version of blue, green, or red instead - baby steps!

  2. If I have all neutral furniture how can I add color without buying new furniture?

    1. Pillows! Throw blankets, accent pieces, artwork, rugs. Those are all great places to start.

  3. Why do so many people shy away from color?

    1. A neutral color palette has been popular for so long! It's what people are used to seeing - in model or Parade homes, in their neighbor, friend, or family's homes, etc. It can feel scary to commit to a color, but when you find one you love it will really make your space feel really unique.

Dorothy Draper, Greenbrier Hotel

Henri Matisse

He's been called the "greatest colorist of the 20th century." As a leader of the Fauvist art movement, color was the foundation of his most famous works. He said:

"The chief function of color should be to serve expression...My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory; it is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience...It is not enough to place colors, however beautiful, one beside the other; colors must also react on one another. Otherwise, you have cacophony."

When choosing a color palette - think about how you want a space to feel. Look for inspiration everywhere! We've included a few sources below, but don't forget to look through your own photos, your own backyard, or places you love to go. I know native Californians have a love/hate relationship with the purple Jacaranda trees that blossom in the spring. When I was working in Beverly Hills, I was totally obsessed and would drive the slow way home to see them. There was a stretch of road with a line of Jacarandas planted alongside trees with the prettiest sage leaves - and ever since, that purple and sage color combination is one of my favorites.

After you've found some inspiration, what's next? A few tips:

  1. Choose 1-3 main colors for a space. You might just have to play with and adjust the tones/tints/shades until they feel balanced.

    1. If you only choose 1 color, you are probably interested in a monochromatic color scheme, where most items in a room are a variation of only one hue. This can be a really striking look - and is also great for small spaces, it makes them look bigger!

  2. Don't get too hung up on matching colors. This goes for finishes and colors in the artwork vs. the rug vs. the furniture. Your eye won't notice the differences, but it will give an overall space more of a collected and interesting feel if things aren't "just so."

  3. Does it feel like something is still missing? Maybe add a really dark saturated color to your scheme for some contrast. Even if it is just as an accent! White kitchens have been popular for years - but we've found that if we can add in some contrast whether on the range hood or the island or the countertops or backsplash, it's all of a sudden more interesting to look at.

We hope you'll consider exploring color and find ways to use it in your home!

Still feeling lost? Give us a call! Or schedule a free consultation here:

Henri Matisse, Woman in a Purple Coat, 1937

Sources for Inspiration:


bottom of page