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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Black Dining Rooms and Why I Took the Plunge

 Back when we moved to Oakland 12 years ago this month, I was 7 months pregnant with a 2 year old underfoot.  After getting outbid on house after house, we purchased our adorable cottage style home here in Montclair Village.

 Montclair Village during weekly farmer's market

I'm convinced that the only reason we got this home during the bidding wars, towards the end of the tech boom, was the fact that it was not staged (very unusual for this area) and did not present well. It was filled with pinch pleat curtains, very dark rooms and the older, outdated furniture of the elderly couple that once lived there. 

The dining room and entry was adorned with busy wallpaper that, in my late pregnancy state, made me cranky.  Vines and flowers snaked along the whole area. Hand painted brown waterfalls on wallpaper, that probably cost a mint back in the day, looked depressing. Along with lime green shag carpeting over the gorgeous hardwood floors, the master bedroom had flocked wallpaper which required expensive removal.  I was faced with the task of quickly deciding paint colors for the entire interior.  The previous owners were deceased and had built the home for their family with much love and it showed in it's beautiful bones. I wanted to do right by this home.

 I had not only given up my profession in respiratory therapy the previous year, I had left my much loved interior design and architecture program at West Valley College in Saratoga.  One of my favorite classes had been a semester of color theory. 

Armed with my basic knowledge and trusty eye for color, I picked a whole house full of colors in 3 days.  Back then, I knew nothing of testing colors, contrast, light reflective values, etc.  I just had a decent eye for color and some basic color theory knowledge.  My painter was furious that I chose different colors for each and every room.  I guess he thought I'd pick a nice beige and white and be done with it! At the end of painting he told me he was quite impressed with the colors and asked if I would be his color consultant.  I had never heard of a color consultant! What do they do?

 He explained his clients really needed help choosing colors and he thought I had a talent for it.  I was quite flattered, but the new baby and toddler were going to be filling up the days. No more design school and certainly no new career.

The dining room was a special challenge.  I did pick up from my class the difference in yellow based red and blue based red.  I spent most of my time on this room looking for a slightly bluer based lacquer looking red and eventually chose Benjamin Moore Heritage red in high gloss.  Because our painting budget had run out, my poor father-in-law took over the challenge of painting this room.  High gloss can be very tricky because it does not self level well and shows brush strokes.

Fast forward many years and an article I read in Real Simple led me to the IACC (International Association for Color Consultants) color education program for color professionals.  Working in color consulting over the last 5 years, my dining room color started to get on my nerves. It was just wrong for the space. The red, while truly gorgeous, was in sharp contrast with the white ceiling.  What really looked off was the wood paneling with it's heavy orange undertone, most likely due to the aging clear coating from decades ago.  I had taken off one of the storage doors for display space but it was still all wrong.  Add to that the passing phase of red dining rooms that had once been so popular. I've found that the biggest protesters of color changes are often children.  My kids, now 14 and 11, were not happy about getting rid of the red.  It was all they ever knew!

I finally decided on painting it black.  Kinda like the Rolling Stones song.

  I had seen a few black dining rooms in shelter magazines over the years that stuck in my mind. But not just any black. Not all blacks are the same, believe it or not.  There are ink blacks, chalky blacks, charcoal blacks and so on. 

I ended up deciding on Black Iron by Benjamin Moore.  I got a few giggles from my friends who told me it sound like another Marie choice I would somehow make work!

 My wonderful painter, Carlos, raised his eyebrows like he often does at my own home color choices and said, "Ok, lady!"  It was done very quickly and even he was surprised at how nice it came out.  He remarked that he had never painted a black dining room and just loved it.

 What keeps it from getting overwhelming and cave-like is  1. the abundance of natural light. This room gets south light most of the day and western light in the evening 2. large amounts of wood break up the wall space 3. mirrors and other decorative accents.

 The black is kept in check by these details and stays in harmony with the other room elements instead of taking over the whole room.  A co-star instead of the star.

Here's the room about two months after painting and dressed up for the holidays.

Here are some of the dining rooms that helped influence my decision:

 Domino Magazine

 Elle Decor

  Cindy Gallop's Apartment in Manhattan

 Elle Decor

Metropolitan Home

Now onto our home's exterior this summer. Decisions, decisions!  More on that to come!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Beige Buildings Make Me Cry

  Source: Cecil Castelucci

This post has been rattling around in my head for so long, I thought it was about time to commit it to my blog.  Obviously beige gets a hard knock as being boring and bland. This is not original news. In all fairness, it certainly has it's place in architectural color and I use it often to bridge or hold hands with other colors.  Beige can be a fickle friend to work with and can broadcast green, yellow or even pink undertones that can wreck havoc on an entire color palette.

My main peeve is when it's used on large exteriors en masse either as a lazy, quick decision or in a misguided notion of trying to choose the least offensive color to the public. From a maintenance point of view, it's somewhat cheaper to maintain buildings with less of an assortment of colors.

But what is saved in maintenace cost is lost in public perception.  It can end up sending the message of "rental" to the observer. It often looks cheap or even an eyesore to the public.  Beige buildings can also be overlooked or under appreciated as they fade into their surroundings but are not enhancing their surroundings.

Source: House Beautiful

I see two sorts of overlooked opportunities.  The first one is using beige on an entire building that otherwise doesn't have a lot of architectural interest.  The other is "beiging" a building that has quite a few architectural and historic qualities.  Color should be used both to give some character to a bland building or hide some of it's more glaring flaws.  Color should also be used to highlight wonderful elements on great architecture.

Now, keep in mind that setting is everything and each of these buildings is located in neighborhoods that boast vibrant architectural color as well as buildings from many different eras.

I see this above building virtually everyday when I drive my older son to high school.  It's in a wonderful neighborhood which is home to two art schools and residential homes of many inspiring, unique exterior color palettes.  While not actually a terrible beige, it's just missing out on something better. It's an interesting building that would lend itself to separating out some of it's layers.

It could stay relatively monochromatic or have a little more contrast and color.  Since this is one of the taller buildings on this street, I'd probably not go nuts with the levels of color which could overwhelm the rest of the area.

This next building is not far from my office.  It's contains rental properties and boasts great Victorian architecture.  Why not celebrate that and highlight it's elements?

 This apartment building is one of the few mid-century buildings down a long street of residential and rental properties.  It has some great stone and woodwork that deserve a more playful hand.

 This last building is also on the same street as the previous one and I've probably driven by it hundreds of times without really noticing it.  It has some great International Style architecture that I'd love to see highlighted.

 Although I'm not a huge fan of cooler white with the lighting situation here in the Bay Area, it's interesting and appropriate to add into the mix sometimes.

Taking the easy or more inexpensive way out of coloring a building can not only end up sending the wrong message to the public, it can broadcast negative feelings to many who encounter it. Thoughtful color is the best gift you can give to not only the inhabitants of your building but to those of us who encounter it on a frequent basis. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Office After Pictures

Back in March I made the bold step of signing the lease on a small office out at the Alameda waterfront.  It had a lot going for it which won me over, including low price, flexibility and location.  While most colorists only work on site with clients, I wanted a space where I could potentially meet with clients as well.  This little office also works double duty housing my little fledgling clothing business. 

Sandwiched between a marina and the ocean is pretty sweet (though I not so secretly yearn for the larger nearby corner office with a view of San Francisco).

My lovely landlady even allowed me to paint the office. Almost unheard of these days!   I immediately thought about a dark gray and settled on Rocky Coast by Benjamin Moore (1595) in Aura. It was deep gray without unwanted undertones.

 As I mentioned in my March post, most of my office items came from Craigslist, Etsy, thrift stores and good 'ol Homegoods.  It's a fun challenge to outfit an office on a budget AND to be able to do it completely in the style you want. My poor husband had to help me haul the heavy items up to my second floor office under the vow that I was going to stay put here for awhile!  While I'm always looking for little items to add here and there, but this is how it looks so far:




The white dresser was found nearby on Craigslist and is from Lane furniture perhaps 1960's era. Very heavy! Drexyl lamp and chair is from Homegoods.

 My favorite item-the antique coral velvet chaise lounge was also a find on Craiglist from a storage liquidator.

It's been wonderful to move most of my color "stuff" out of my home and into it's own space.  I never fail to smile when I open the door and know that this is my own little corner of the waterfront.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Color as a Super Power?

Art by Jimmy Turrell 

The science of how we see color is a truly fascinating and essential part of understanding color. We are still discovering so much about the vision of not only humans, but animals and insects as well. Humans are technically trichromatic, meaning we have three cones in the retina of our eyes; red, green and blue. They allow us to see 3 color ranges which equal about 10 million different hues.

 While we've known about color blindness in the human eye for decades, there appears to be research that some humans have the ability to see more colors than the average person. I guess you can say they have super human color powers! Sorry guys, this looks like it's mainly a superpower for the ladies.

Those with super color vision are called tetrachromats and may be able to see as many as 100 million colors with an extra cone believed to be in the orange range.

This color vision superpower is related to our X chromosomes. Because men only have one of these, colorblindness is most common in men. The genes for the pigments in green and red cones lie on the X chromosome, and because women have 2 X chromosomes, this creates the chance for one type of red cone to be activated on one X chromosome and the other type of red cone on the other one. Women may also have two distinct green cones on either X chromosome. 

Many researchers think this might be connected to women who are genetically linked to men with color blindness. While true color blindness (achromatopsia) is very rare, there is more commonly a deficiency in one of the cones spectral sensitivity:

Protanomaly is a mild color vision defect in which an altered spectral sensitivity of red retinal receptors (closer to green receptor response) results in poor red–green hue discrimination. It is hereditary, sex-linked, and present in 1% of males. 

Deuteranomaly, caused by a shift in the green retinal receptors, is by far the most common type of color vision deficiency, mildly affecting red–green hue discrimination in 5% of males. It is hereditary and sex-linked.   

Tritanomaly is a rare, hereditary color vision deficiency affecting blue–yellow hue discrimination. It is not sex-linked.  

The below picture illustrates some of the visual difference in the most common types of color blindness.  
This image (when viewed in full size, 1000 pixels wide) contains 1 million pixels, each of a different color. 

 The idea that they're might be tetrachromats among us goes back all the way to 1948 when it was mentioned by Dutch scientist HL de Vries . Over the course of two decades, Newcastle University neuroscientist Gabriele Jordan and her colleagues have been researching this possibility by testing the mothers of sons with color impairment. Initial tests came up empty until they switched methods in 2007.

In the new test each woman would look into an optical device showing her three tiny discs in rapid succession. One of the discs was a nearly identical mixture of red and green, while two of the discs were a pure orange wavelength. The women aren't told which is which. 

Women with two distinct red cones would see the red-green disc differently than the orange discs. One woman, A doctor in northern England, referred to only as cDa29, was able to see the difference and is the first tetrachromat known to science. She is now conducting genetic tests on the woman's saliva to verify whether she has the genes for distinct red cones.  This puts a human more within the range of vision of most birds, reptiles and amphibians who can often see into the Ultraviolet wavelength.

While some women may technically have the fourth cone,  their red cones may be too close together in wavelength to notice a spectral difference.  Researchers differ on what percentage of the population of women this relates to but the most common estimate I've read is 2-3% of all woman are tetrachromats. How different they see from the rest of us is up for debate. Some say they may see a larger range of subtle color and undertones while other researchers muse whether the brain may need to learn to use a fourth cone. This is a superpower I could embrace!