So this is a teeny, tiny rant. However, I would really love it if a reporter writing an article about colour, for residential design, would want to interview me about ANYTHING other than the following, which is a very common request I often receive:
Hi, I am working on a piece for our upcoming November issue and I would love to chat with Maria about colour and its affect on mood. What colours make us happy and calm and how to use them in the home. I’m hoping she has about 30 minutes free over the next week or so to chat via phone. I look forward to hearing from her!
This was my reply:
“Colour is not that simple. . . what makes people happy is having a look and a feel in their home. Not just because they’ve painted the walls green because it’s calming or blue because it makes you more productive or orange because it will help you be more social.
What makes people happy is choosing the right backsplash tile, for example, not just sticking in a charcoal one because it’s trendy and now they have a kitchen that looks like “new backsplash, oops, OLD dated cabinets.
I’m really not the one to ask about the psychological impact colours have on people. That story has been done and dusted and it’s not as useful for residential design as it is for other industries.
If you want to have a conversation with me about ANYTHING other than, ‘How colours make you feel’, then I’m the right person and I’m available next week.”
She did not reply.
However, sometimes, I will have a great conversation with a reporter who is happy they decided to change the focus of their story because they thought the conversation with me was quite fascinating.
So let’s dive into what I said about the charcoal backsplash shall we?
I received a lovely Ask Maria email from a reader who is helping her Mom decorate her house and this was her question:
My mother installed this backsplash (see photos) and now wants to change the paint, cabinet hardware, light fixtures and textile colors – as per my suggestion. We’ve been deliberating this for over a year – since my last visit to her home.
I spent days and days on your blog, purchased and read (multiple times) your undertones e-book and ordered your big color boards – which I’ll have with me when we get down to the big choices in my mom’s kitchen in a couple weeks.
To balance her severely modern, steel gray backsplash with her maple cabinets, wall color, flooring and dated decor, I suggested the warmest neutral I could think of – BM’s Manchester Tan for the walls. Then, since I’m a pro at making my muddy colors rhyme with “light and airy,” I suggested she change the upholstery, light fixtures and carpeting within the space – and here is what I was thinking:
The blue cushion coverings changed to a neutral beige textured fabric. Then bring rusty oranges in as accents. An oriental carpet with rusts, deep blues and greens under the rattan chair seating area, deep orange art glass pendants over the bar and a real statement fixture over the dinette. (Art glass collections above the cabinets as well.)
That’s basically it. Can you tell me if I’m on the right track?
The fundamental issue here is that the charcoal backsplash now screams brand new while EVERYTHING else looks old. It’s a common and very easy mistake to make if you don’t understand the impact that installing a brand new trendy finish will have, into an older more dated space.
But back to colour psychology for a second:
If someone were to approach this problem from a ‘How colours make us feel?’ perspective, what could we conclude?
First, here are some definitions and descriptions of the colour GREY:
Gray is solid and stable, creating a sense of calm and composure, relief from a chaotic world. The color gray is subdued, quiet and reserved. It does not stimulate, energize, rejuvenate or excite.
In the meaning of colors, gray is conservative, boring, drab and depressing on the one hand and elegant and formal on the other, yet never glamorous.
Too much of the color gray creates sadness and depression and a tendency to loneliness and isolation. Add some color to change this. source
source (Grey goes with COLOUR. That’s the point)
Okay, so the problem my lovely reader has is that she thinks her Mom’s backsplash tile suddenly looks ultra-modern with her more dated kitchen and countrified decor. But it’s not that the tile is soooo modern, (Although it is longer than a more traditional 3″x 6″), however, if it had been off-white, we wouldn’t suddenly be feeling compelled to switch out all the decor.
Do we blame the charcoal shade here? Would it make sense to say, “My grey backsplash makes me feel sad and depressed, is that why I don’t like it?”
However, it’s not that simple is it? And that’s not the real issue here.
There are lots of gorgeous grey rooms out there (below), but it’s all context in the world of decorating, and heck even styling.
Therefore, for reporters to continue to write fluffy articles about “How colour creates a mood and how colour makes you feel” in the world of residential design, is kind of pointless don’t you think?
The best advice I give in my Specify Colour with Confidence workshops is, “If all else fails and you screwed up the undertones, or bought something in the wrong colour, start styling. Distract the eye. Great designers do this all the time.”
Here the problem is not even that the wrong colour was chosen. If you scroll up and look closely, the tile appears to match her Mom’s existing granite nicely.
However, it’s a 90s kitchen. And a charcoal backsplash is 2010s. The first thing you’d have to do, to eliminate the look of ‘Yesterday and Today‘ that’s been created here, is to paint the cabinets the best off-white shade that works with the granite.
Something like this:
But it sounds like her Mom is not open to painting the cabinets, so instead, she is about to make a lot of other expensive changes to re-decorate to try and make her new modern, updated backsplash work with her decor.
And even if the kitchen were to be painted white, re-decorating would still be required, even though the kitchen would now look current. Because you’d still need to repeat the charcoal in your decorating in the kitchen and adjoining rooms to pull it all together.
She talked about adding beige and rust, here’s a room that also picks up the grey tile:
So if you’re still with me, the bottom line is, the solution to this problem has nothing to do colour psychology.
And unless you are building a house from scratch, most people don’t have the total luxury of just asking themselves how a colour makes them feel before they choose one. It has much more to do with “Will it clash with my existing decor?” If you love fresh, minty greens but you have a taupe floor-to-ceiling stacked stone fireplace in your great room, mint green will look very bad in that room. . . unless of course you find a magical fabric or area rug to make that colour look fabulous.
When does colour psychology become necessary and important? If you are choosing colours for a new branding package, for example. Or you’re planning a new colour scheme for a pediatric wing in a hospital, that’s when you’d want to hire a colourist who specializes in ‘How colour makes you feel’.
The example I just gave you is the primary reason why colour psychology is not an area I focus on. It’s interesting, fun to read, kind of like today’s horoscope, but not that helpful when you start trying to navigate the world of colour in a residential setting.
So if you are a reporter reading this and you’d like to write a really useful article about my Understanding Undertones System because that’s where everyone screws up to begin with? I’m the one. You can reach me here.
And if you have made a mistake like this with a recent installation. Instead of letting it completely boss you around before you throw more money at it, get my help through our eDesign department
Get colour to do what you want at a Specify Colour with Confidence workshop this Fall.