Category: Color and mood

The Art of Addiction

VanGoghBy Guest Blogger Lisa Seward

It isn’t a widely acknowledged fact, but Vincent Van Gogh was a prolific drug user. His mental health battle with depression is well documented, but less so was his battle with addictions to absinthe and the prescription drug Digitalis (used to ease his epilepsy).

In fact, the overuse of the color yellow in his work can be attributed to these addictions: one of the side affects of the overuse of both absinthe and Digitalis is seeing in yellow, or seeing yellow spots in front of your eyes.VanGoghFlowers

Artistic drug use wasn’t just limited to Van Gogh. Jean-Michel Basquiat used several different drugs when he was painting, and he died of a heroin overdose when he was just 27 years old.

Gustave Doré, who created the illustrations for some of Charles Dickens’ works, enjoyed opium and created detailed illustrations depicting opium dens.

And in more recent years, promising artist Dash Snow, whose works were exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery, also died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose in Lafayette House, a hotel in Manhattan. His death was described as a “junkie’s end”.

Gustave Dorés Gustave Doré’s Wentworth Street, Whitechapel (1872). A stark illustration for Charles Dickens’ depiction of the dramatic contrasts between 19th century riches and poverty.

Creative people do tend to turn to drug and alcohol addictions and so these problems are quite common in artists. Much like cancer or depression, recent scientific research has shown that addiction is a disease: and much like those other illnesses, it is one that needs treatment and recovery.

The Addiction and Art Project

Because of this new research, the Addiction and Art Project was started by the former Innovators Combating Substance Abuse, a National Program Office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The aim of the project is to use art to get people talking about addiction.

Because people enjoy and feel comfortable about discussing art, it can be used to start a dialogue about something that people feel considerably less comfortable talking about: addiction. Since the project began, Addiction and Art exhibitions have been held both in local communities and at professional substance abuse conferences.

There is also an Addiction and Art book which discusses the project more extensively. Via the Addiction and Art Project’s website, artists are sharing their work so that anyone can access it, view it, think about and discuss it. The artists then share their personal stories or inspiration for the artwork they have created.

HandThatFeeds600This image of a crow and serpent, entitled “The Hand that Feeds”, is by artist Carrie Napora. She shares that: “This image’s meaning parallels Vendizotti”s “The Crow and the Serpent” fable. The crow, driven by hunger, seized a serpent, who twisted around, sinking venomous fangs into the crows’ leg. The bird shrieked in pain, for the food he hoped would sustain his life had instead caused his death.

My own experience of watching a loved one craze over what he thought he couldn’t live without reminds me of this story, The moral is that when acting in one’s own interest, consider the harm one’s action may cause others, or risk coming to a miserable end…in his case, a suicidal death.

As well as encouraging people to talk about addiction and share their stories of how addiction has touched their lives, there is a new school of thought that art can actually help overcome addiction.

Art Therapy for Recovery Addicts

In local recovery programs across the United States and worldwide, art therapy is being used as a technique to help drug and alcohol addicts overcome their addictions. Art therapy is a recognized form of therapy that encourages people to express themselves through painting and drawing.

Sessions are led by a trained therapist, and often creative sessions are followed by one-on-one counseling sessions. Art therapy is the perfect tool for those who have difficulty expressing how they feel, or feel too ashamed to talk about the negative activity their drug taking has caused. Instead they can express their feelings and vent their frustrations through their art work, and discuss this work with their therapist instead.

The American Art Therapy Association represents more than 5,000 professional art therapists in more than 40 chapters around the world. So it seems that as well as well as being more susceptible to substance abuse in its many forms, artists can also help other addicts to overcome their problems and re-enter society.

The play of light and color

After the color makeover

When I first posted some of the MLS photos of my place near Aspen, one of my designer friends asked, “Were the people who owned it colorblind?”

That made me chuckle. I don’t think that there was anything wrong with their eyes; I could see what they were trying to do with the colors in the house. They were trying to make it lively, but I don’t think that they quite understood how to pull a unified palette together. They didn’t understand that certain colors had cultural roots, or that particular materials evoked places and styles that were also associated with color palettes.

Nor did they know much about light.

Color reflects light of course, and it also changes light. One can learn this via observation, by studying design, and through experimentation.

The room before the color makeover

Before: the chocolate brown half-wall. It's also visible (barely in the dark) in the "before" photo above.

The brown wall repainted with five colors in a dry-brush technique.

Of course, judgement plays a role. As the witty Michael Adams, president of BJ Adams and Company real estate in Aspen asked me a couple months ago, “Do you know where good judgement comes from?”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll bite. Where does good judgement come from?”

“From experience,” he answered. “And do you know where experience comes from?”

“I bet you’re going to tell me.”

“Yes! It comes from bad judgement.”

Oh yeah, that rings true. We all learn by making mistakes. Some years ago, I painted a rather gloomy dining room a coral pink, hoping to warm it up. The color didn’t work as I had hoped. The room did look warmer, but still a bit gloomy. There simply wasn’t enough light in the room, and the place still looked dark.

The room has a lovely, rustic Mexican tile floor. It is a saltillo tile inset with blue Talavera diamonds. I think that those blue tiles were probably what inspired the home’s owners to paint the dining room wall a dark blue — a color that positively sucks the light out of the room.

In the case of this current dining room – which was also somewhat dark as the “before” photos show – the home’s owners hoped to pick up on a color that is prominent in one of the room’s nicer features and play it up.

Vibrant blue can be stunning on walls in the right situation. The Hotel Casa Azul in Antigua, Guatalemala, where I stayed during the wedding of my friends Diana Reid and Terry  Hanold, comes to mind. Amid bougainvillea, palms and tropical light, the hotel’s grotto-like reception area and deep blue walls are soothing.

Detail of the Talavera tile floor with the cobalt blue inset

But in Colorado, where the light may be reflecting off snow on the porch, that blue is chilling. Worse, when the natural light comes from a single source, it’s important to bounce the light as far into the interior as possible.

A mirror or a white wall will do the trick, but that deep blue wall shown in the “before” picture simply sucks the light out of the room. (Interestingly, the reflectance of a white wall is as good as a mirror, both of them having an albedo rating of one.)

In the case of this dining room, the gloom cast by the blue wall was further deepened by painting the half-wall between the dining room and living room a dark, chocolate brown. The interior doors were painted black.

To repair these design mistakes, the room was painted a warm white (the color is Sherwin Williams’ “downey”). New paneled doors replaced the ugly slab doors, which were also painted white. This made quite a difference, as the before and after photos below will show.

The brown half wall, which has a rough, uneven texture was art-painted in five earthtone colors – terracotta, amber, poppy gold, butter gold and ivory – in a dry brush stroke. The colors were chosen to pick up and extend the natural colors of the floor tile.

To pick up on that deep, cobalt blue, I went back to the cultural source of the tile: Mexico. Talavera tile comes in beautiful hues, typically a wine red, poppy yellow and cobalt blue, mixed with other coordinated shades.

Detail of Talavera tile on the mirror showing the typical Talavera palette - Tuscan pottery uses a similar color palette and is used to great effect in kitchens

Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware that dates back to the 16th century. It has a white base glaze, over which patterns are hand painted.  

Authentic Talavera pottery comes from the city of Puebla and the nearby communities of Atlixco, Cholula and Tecali.

A Talavera palette is brought into the room with a large, beaten tin mirror that is ornamented with tile. (The mirror is 33″ in diameter, and was purchased from La Fuente imports in San Diego.)

The Latin theme is further elaborated with Guatemalan textiles; that’s one draped over the golden-hued half wall in the “after” photo above.  Somehow,  the light is now soft and the colors are glowing. When it’s right, you feel it as much as you see it — and I feel very, very good in this room.

Before: Black doors

After: white doors



De colores,
De colores se visten los campos en la primavera.
De colores,
De colores son los pajaritos que vienen de afuera.
De colores,
De colores es el arco iris que vemos lucir.
Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores
Me gustan a mí. 

Through a Glass Brightly: The Iconoclastic Kaleidoscope Table

Kinetic, quixotic, translucent, colorful. Words can scarcely convey what the soon-to-be-famous kaleioscope table is like. I encountered it here in my new hometown when my editor at the Sopris Sun, the Carbondale, Colorado community newspaper, asked me to check it out.

Because the table moves, you would think a video would best convey what it’s like. But a YouTube video that shows the table’s spinning glass plates in action doesn’t fully convey the way that the colors change and that the patterns interact. (You can see the video at the bottom of this post.)

The one-of-a-kind kaleiscope table is a collaborative work of art that took eight artists, engineers and fabricators more than seven years to produce. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find something like this at a gallery in downtown San Francisco. But Carbondale, Colorado?

Detail of jeweled glass

When I moved back to Colorado in the spring of 2011, and new friends suggested that Carbondale was the place for me, I worried about whether they had both oars in the water. I also suspected that they were seeing me in way quite at odds with the way I see myself.

When I knew Carbondale back in the 1970’s, it was a wide place in the road where there was a bait and tackle shop and a potato farmer’s co-op. It was a place you could roll out your sleeping bag for a couple bucks a night during a ski trip to Aspen. But that was about it.

Why would an urbane, artsy sort like me want to go there?

Since then, Carbondale has grown into a wonderful artists’ community. It’s a town of about 6,000 that features not only gorgeous scenery, but also great restaurants, frequent cultural festivals, and delightful art galleries. The Ravenheart Gallery on Weant Boulevard is one of them. Ravenheart has a bit of specialty in glass and when one walks in the front door, the kaleidoscope table takes center stage.

The half-ton table is made of four stacked orbs of glass, each more than six feet in diameter. All four balance on a steel stem, and only the lowest orb, which is made of clear and crackled glass underlit by LEDs, is fixed in place.

Above the lighted plate, everything rotates.  The second-to-the-bottom orb spins around to reveal rainbow-hued peacocks, ravens, rivers, fish, mountains, orchids and symbols. The third-level orb, which is divided into sections by three jeweled scepters; a detail of one of them is shown at the top of this post. This orb rotates across the two below, changing colors and flashing as its facets cross the lights.

The fourth orb, perched at the top of the stack, is composed of clear tempered glass. Although it protects the artwork below it and provides a dining surface, it also has a decorative job: it frames a large lighted dome of crystal that perches at the table’s center.

The table’s three decorated layers contain at least 16 kinds of glass: fused, dichroic, jeweled, stained, rippled, textured, seeded, mirrored, molded, crackled, watered, etched and beveled glass, to name a few.

The idiosyncratic table was the brainchild of Willa Doolin, who opened the Ravenheart Gallery in the spring of 2011. “I thought of this about 20 years ago,” said Doolin, “but it took 14 years to find the right people to make it, and for technology to catch up to my vision.”

Because of the table’s weight, and because three of the four orbs are supported only by the tensile strength of the glass plates themselves, the table required custom-made ball bearings. Two engineers and four different metal shops were involved in making the petal-shaped base to which the orbs are attached.

A sun and a peacock in the table. Doolin's family raised peacocks in Texas. Most of the symbols in the table have autobiographical significance.

Glass artist Mary Matchael, who drew the table’s designs for Doolin and fabricated the glass plates, said, “If anything was so much as 1/16 of an inch out of true, it wouldn’t work. The glass is essentially balanced on a pipe that is nine inches in diameter, and the plates extend out more than six feet. If a 200-pound man were to lean on the edge – and someone will because it’s a dining table – the table can’t tip. The base had to sit on the floor and be very stable. It took a lot of trial and error to get it all to work, to get it to rotate smoothly and quietly.”

Matchael is the owner of the Crystal Glass Studio, located behind the Ravenheart Gallery. Matchael cuts, cooks, and carves glass to create sophisticated architectural lighting, doors, windows and giftware. She has received commissions from all across the US. Despite nearly 40 years of glass-making experience, Matchael had to develop new techniques for adhering and attaching the glass plates in the kaleidoscope.

A school of jeweled fish swimming in the Crystal River; it's the river that flows through Carbondale on its way to the Colorado River.

If you’re looking for a distinctive dining room table, this one is for sale. The asking price: $200,000.

Doolin admits that she’s “rather conflicted” about selling the table. The art in it commemorates her sons, her birth constellation, the peacocks that her family raised in Dallas, and orchids that her scientist brother named after discovering them in the Amazon.

But no matter; now that all the kinks have been worked out, other kaleidoscope tables can be made.

“If a person wanted to commission a table like this, we would know how to do it now,” said Doolin. “We wouldn’t have to have seven or eight people work on it. It wouldn’t have to be as heavy; this one could bow a floor. It would have the buyer’s own symbols in it, rather than mine. Or it could be geometrical, more like a traditional kaleidoscope.”

Composition by Four Women in White

For this post, my designer friend Wendy sent me this white blossom. It's wonderful for two reasons: 1) When Wendy came over for Thanksgiving dinner, she contributed a stunning bouquet of white roses. 2) Whisper, an ARS All-America rose from 2003, was the first rose to bloom in my garden this spring.

I have heard people say “it’s just plain white” – but I beg to differ! As anyone who has ever tried to paint a white flower knows, there’s nothing plain about this sophisticated and nuanced hue. It’s wonderful in interiors.

White comes in many tones and shades. It can take on a wide range of personalities: White adopts pastels into its family, relating in a gentle and romantic manner. With black and deeply hued colors, it can be bold and dramatic. Paired with primary red or blue, or an intense apple green, it can become modern and playful. When used as a backdrop for natural materials and contrasting textures – warm woods, shiny metals, stone and glass – it becomes emblematic of the International style.

You might also be surprised to learn that white – yes, the color white – has environmental advantages as well.

Many of my fellow designers share my enthusiasm for white, and I will be drawing on their wisdom in this post. (Coincidentally, all of the designers featured here today –  Laurie Burke, Jamie Goldberg, and Wendy Hoechstetter – are California white girls like me.)

White Heath Dimensional tile in kitchen installation. Photos courtesy of Heath Ceramics.
Oval dimensional tile from Heath Ceramics
Daltile's Stone a la Mod, random brick-joint 3/8" split face tile. Photographed by the author at Keane Kitchen Showroom.

Why White is “Green”

The reflectivity of a surface, a color, or a material can be calibrated by instruments that measure its “albedo.”  When no light is reflected, a surface looks black and has an albedo of zero. When all of the available light is reflected, the surface looks white and has an albedo of one.

Understanding how albedo works turns out to be important in managing heat and light, and hence, the energy that is used to produce them. For example, when I was redesigning an overly dark dining room, I discovered that painting all of the walls white would brighten the room more than placing an enormous mirror on the room’s largest wall! The reason: both mirrors and white walls have albedos that are near one, but I wouldn’t want mirrors on every surface. An all-white room would be vastly more appealing!

Similarly, white and light-colored roofs deliver huge environmental advantages. A black tar roof can reach 150 degrees F in the summer, and dark roofs in cities collectively create an environmental problem called “urban heat island effect.” The heat generated by the buildings can not only make  a city 3° to 8° warmer than nearby vegetated areas, it also damages air quality.

Three scientists affiliated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – Hashem Akbari, Arthur Rosenfeld, and Surabi Menon – spent nearly 20 years studying how white roofs and surfaces contribute to urban heat islands. In 2004, they investigated the impact that white roofs could have on climate change.

They were stunned by what they found. “‘When we did the calculations, initially we couldn’t believe the results,” Akbari said.  “So we re-checked the numbers in different ways.” The result: Every 100 square feet of roof area that was changed from a dark color to white would be the equivalent to offsetting the emission of one ton of heat-trapping, atmospheric CO2!

Designer Favorites in White

One of my own favorite decorating items is the Barcelona chair in white. I have a special fondness for this chair in part because it was created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was the founder of the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology, where I received my first design education. Of course, the chair was designed in 1929, long before my time.

Barcelona chair

I believe that Mies designed the chair in black – not the white pictured here – for the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. It has been produced by the famed furniture manufacturer Knoll ever since. The Barcelona chair has a pure composition and sleek lines that epitomize modern architecture, and I think that white emphasizes the purity of its design.

Laurie Burke of Los Angeles is a wonderful designer and the author of the Kitchen Design Notes blog. In response to my question about favorite designs in white, she writes:

I love the use of dimensional white tile. Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, produces some of the interesting shapes and patterns in tile. The 3 x 9 oval pattern is one of my favorites. Simply by varying the pattern – staggered or straight, horizontal or vertical – the look changes with each new design. It is really visually pleasing.

Another beautiful use in shades of white is Artistic Tile’s Effervescence Collection. The round shapes and shades of white bianco carrara marble or calacatta gold marble paired with glass is a texturally sophisticated use of white.

Jamie Goldberg, a new San Diego resident, a kitchen design specialist, and the author of Gold Notes, has written a whole blog post – The White Album – about this wonderful color. Here’s some of Jamie’s advice about decorating with white:

Smith and Noble Roman shades in black and white. Photo courtesy of Smith and Noble.

White is a wonderful hue for a kitchen or bath, lending a crisp brightness to those spaces. It’s also a perfect color – and commonly used – for moldings, window trim, shutters and fireplace mantels. White enhances whatever color is put next to it, as sparkling teeth enhance a gloss-lipped smile.

I try to avoid white in kitchen tile grout, as it can be a maintenance headache. I also like to see ceilings painted something other than white, as they so commonly are, so that the room looks more finished, and the crown molding stands out against it better. There are many, many wonderful all-white bedrooms and living rooms. What makes those succeed as welcoming havens, rather than feeling institutional or sterile, is a warm blending of textures and tints.

The Practicality of White

Currently, on weekends, I’m staffing the Keane Kitchen Design Showroom in San Carlos, and I frequently find myself talking to customers about the practicality of white kitchens.

Elemental Spa fixtures from Sieger Design combines with Ritual Architecture by Mike Meiré to give a spa-like ambience to a bathroom in the International Style.

Although you can re-do a kitchen nicely for between $30,000 and $40,000, it’s not at all hard to spend $80,000-plus on a total kitchen remodel. That figure would include appliances, cabinets, counter tops, flooring, tile, lights, plumbing and electrical upgrades.

If you’re laying out that kind of money, you want a kitchen that’s going to last. On that count, white is a good choice, both because of its adaptability (simply by repainting the walls you can entirely change its mood and appearance) and its classic good looks.

When I visit clients, the quickest giveaways to the age of their homes are the kitchens and baths, and it’s usually the color of the flooring, tile, and cabinetry that communicates the loudest. (Espresso colored cabinets? That started in about 2003 and is still going strong.  Ginger-colored, Shaker style cabinets like those in my house are late 1990’s.  Oak is very 1970’s. Then there are those apple green countertops that are so popular now. In a couple of years, they will be screaming, “I’m from 2009! Boy, did we cheer people up during that mean ol’ recession.” ) But white? That could date from anywhere between 1810 and 2010! It’s timeless.
Ektorp slipcovers. Photo courtesy of Ikea.

While it’s obvious that white is a poor choice for couches and carpeting if you happen to have small children, muddy dogs, or cats with hairballs, in some respect, it’s a very practical choice. It can even make for easy clean-up.

After fretting over the fading of numerous darkly colored bathroom rugs, I finally discovered that pure white rugs were both a beautiful and an easy-to-maintain choice. Unlike a deep chocolate rug, a white cotton rug can be tossed into the washer and quickly returned to its pristine original condition. Fading is not a problem.

Ditto with white slipcovers. You may never be able to get that pink marker stain off your pale green couch, but it’s easy to launder a white slipcover. (The instructions usually say “no bleach,” but if it’s white and mostly cotton – and ruined anyway if the stain isn’t removed – I often find that a dab of bleach applied with a Q-Tip and then quickly flushed with cold water can work wonders. ) The cool elegance of a white room and the noisy exuberance of children need not be mutually exclusive. If you buy Ikea’s Ektorp sofa, shown at right, you will find that  crisp white slipcovers for it run less than $200.

Symbolism of White

Although the meaning of white varies with culture, for Americans and Europeans it is associated peace, purity, innocence, cleanliness and simplicity.

It can also connote  clinical coldness, winter, sterility, loneliness or isolation, especially when presented in unbroken expanses. In China, it is the color used for mourning and funerals.

White roses, like the ones Wendy gave me at Thanksgiving,  are also traditional in wedding bouquets because  the white rose symbolizes virtue, unity, reverence, and love. I am dedicating this post, and a virtual bouquet of white roses, to the three wonderful designer colleagues who contributed to it. Thank you Laurie, Jamie, and Wendy.

Laurie Burke,
author of
Design Notes
Jamie Goldberg,
author of

Gold Notes
Wendy Hoechstetter, author of Hoechstetter
Nicolette Toussaint, author of Living in
Comfort & Joy

Resource Links


Diego Rivera mural: Nude with Calla Lilies

As regular readers know, I have been posting a series of odes to colors in this blog. After talking about designing with green, I decided that the next color I honored would be the hue of the first flower to open in my garden.

The first bloomers turned out to be a white rose and a white calla lily, hence this ode to white.

White … is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black….

God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.”

– Gilbert Keith Chesterton
British author, 1874–1936
“A Piece of Chalk”
Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Color Me Brave – Picking a Room Palette

Before and after in my client Jane’s beachfront condo. I have written about Jane’s travels, ethnic fabrics and photography elsewhere. The links below will lead to her story.
Color inspiration is all around us! Mother Nature is supremely gifted with color. I designed this palette for a kitchen, taking inspiration from the “hen and chicks” succulent pictured above.

Not long ago, I sat in a favorite store’s paint department on a Saturday to play “paint doctor.” It was great fun for me, and it was a smash hit for the store. Apparently, many people find picking paint colors nearly as intimidating as public speaking. (I’m an odd duck, I suppose, since I like both.)

Painting a room is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to “remodel.” In terms of cost and complexity, painting goes a long way in achieving dramatic redecorating results. Choosing your paint color can be the most fun of the entire painting process, even though it’s sometimes the most daunting and challenging part of the process. So many choices! Benjamin Moore alone offers over 3,300 different colors.

Most paint companies offer pint-size paint samples that can be mixed in any of the fashionable hues you see in their samplers. There are also on-line resources for “virtual painting” if you prefer to test-drive a color before embarking on a large painting project. I have included several of these below.

It’s also comforting to know that nowadays, thanks to environmental regulation and consumer demand, virtually every color of the rainbow is available in a low-VOC or no VOC version. (VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, and they are the carbon-based compounds that create that new paint smell. When you detect that smell, you are inhaling chemicals that are not good for you.)

Color and Emotion

Our thermal comfort is affected by the actual temperature of the air, by the amount of wind, sun and moisture we feel, and also by our emotional response to colors.

We refer to watery blues and greens as “cool colors” and to fiery yellow, red and orange as “warm colors”for reasons rooted in our psychological response to our environment and in our physical sensations.

Language, too, reveals these connections. We say we’re “hot under the collar” when we’re angry and we refer to being “red in the face” when we’re embarrassed. Those terms  correspond to the physical sensations that accompany these emotions.

Choosing Hue and Finish

A good place to start in choosing a color is to think about what you want to do in your room and how you want to feel. Think about what kind of mood you want to create.

Do you need a retreat that allows you to relax and feel serene? If so, greens, muted blues and grays are good choices.

Do you want to encourage conversation and fun? Then think yellow, orange or a neutral color scheme that’s accented with red or orange areas.

How much color is too much? The answer depends greatly on personal taste, and it is also influenced by culture. The intensely colored bedroom above is an apartment in Mumbai designed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy. Click the photo to visit Apartment Therapy and read the original article.

If you’re trying to make a home office look business-like, earth tones and neutrals are good choices.

On the other hand, if you’re decorating a child’s room, and she wants to feel like a fairy princess, you might want to consider lavender and white with gold accents.

Next, think about how well the colors you’re considering will hold up given the activities the room will hold. An all-white dining room accented with Italian pottery can be warm and welcoming, but it could be a breakable, stainable disaster for a family with small children. You should consider both your furnishings and lifestyle when choosing colors and paint finishes. While matte white walls and small children are not a good combination, an eggshell- or enamel-finish green or yellow will probably hide little fingerprints and bear clean-up better.

Tips on Trying Out a Color

You can also get a much better idea of how a color is going to look by buying a small sample can of paint and trying a patch – or several patches of different colors – on your wall.

Be sure to look at the patches repeatedly throughout a day. It’s best to observe how the hue changes in bright sun, under clouded natural light, and in artificial light at night.

Lamplight tends to be pink or yellow, depending on how it’s produced. Natural light, however, is quite blue.

When a strong beam of light hits a wall, it will also reflect the color onto adjacent walls, increasing the impact of the color, and changing the appearance of adjacent walls.

Color Changes Our Perception of Space

White or pale colors make objects appear to recede. Dark or bright colors draw things closer, and that, in turn, causes them to appear larger. Perceptually, yellow, red and orange seem to move toward us, while a blue or green wall, or one that’s painted a dark gray, will appear to move away.

Knowing this, you can use paint to improve the way an awkwardly-shaped room looks. For example, you can make a corridor look less long, thin and cramped by painting the side walls a lighter color than the wall at the far end of the hall. You can doubly enhance the effect by painting the end wall a strong, warm color like brick red or ochre orange.

Color Can Improve
Architectural Problems

You can also use color and finish to help a room that gets too much, or too little, sun. A light-colored surface will reflect more light than a dark surface. You can also hide unattractive objects, such as the convection heater I recently installed in my dining room, by painting them the same color as the walls.

Here are some tricks for using color to improve problem spaces:

  • Lower a high ceiling: If you paint the walls a light color and the ceiling a darker color, it will appear lower. The opposite also works; a ceiling that is lighter than the walls will appear higher.
  • Make the room more intimate: Dark, warm colors make a space feel cozy and intimate.
  • Break up a big room: Use colors to define areas within the room. In a big, open loft, changes in wall or even floor color can differentiate the living room area from the dining and TV areas.
  • Make the room bigger and more airy: Use light colors, pastels or shades of same color.

Many people are afraid to add color to their walls. If you see something you like, but still are unsure, you can buy a quart and paint just one wall. Because it’s only paint and can be repainted, you can experiment without much risk.

Resource Links

If I'm going to be an odd duck, I think I'd like to be a mallard. I love their metallic green necks, cobalt blue wing stripes against the warm greys of their other feathers.


Sacre Bleu: More Coleurs!

Stained glass window with tulips

The following anecdote comes from Sophie, one of the loyal readers of this blog. Sophie is a stained glass artist and says that she’s a “colorista”  – and she thought that I didn’t have enough color photos in this post. She challenged me on that point on Facebook!

I challenged her back, and the result is that Sophie shared the following photos and story with Living in Comfort and Joy.

“The story goes: I have a specific china with deep pink tulips and roses. When I saw the stained glass with a pattern so “similar” – I had to have it. So I bought it, restored it, installed it.

“When it was time to pick the color for the dining room, I grabbed 4 chips of saturated pink ‘related’ to the tulip heart – I pushed pin them next to the window (the less direct light, and the less forgiving area of a room), then picked the one that remains cheery and yummy like a lollipop in the cloudiest, foggiest day.

Sophie's painting assistant

“And painted – with the help of my youngest (who was randomly wearing red pants that look pink as well).

“The story ends when the room was all painted and I opened the box of china that was stored for a few year. I live a risky life: I never checked that the china pink would match the walls before the room was finished… only counting on my color memory over the years.

“And it does!”

I’m so glad it worked out.  Although my color memory is also very good, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to paint without checking the china against the wall. But then again, Sophie is an exotic transplant. She speaks French. She has panache. (Although I have a very French name, I’m many, many generations removed and sadly, speak only enough French to order what I like in restaurant.)

Glory in Green – It’s a Color Too!

It’s hard to believe, but a bulb that I planted in the dark days of December is about to become a freesia!

Question Mark chair by Stephan Heiliger for Tonon

Mundo stacking chair by Susanne Grønlund for Fredericia Furniture

Generation office chair from Knoll

Designer Hugh Hayden used old tennis balls to create a fun chair that is bouncy and comfortable.

Hakatai Calliope collection of mosaic glass, made from recycled glass.

Green glass tile from Interstyle

Scrolled "Glassform" tile from Interstyle

Indonesian batik fabric, cotton

Ombre rug from Cost Plus imports

Up and Down knot Tibetan wool and silk rug made by Asha Carpets

As the sweet, green buds begin to open, I take my cue from ee cummings, and give thanks “for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue dream of sky.”

Spring may not yet have sprung where you are, but the days are growing longer and it’s surely on its way. That’s enough to prompt me to write an ode to green.

Nowadays, “green” is so often used to mean “ecological” and “earth-friendly” that its identity as a color has almost become secondary. But it’s a wonderful color, and with St. Patrick’s Day on the way, I thought this might be a great time to take a great green design tour.

I like to acknowledge the folks who inspire me, and one of them is  interior designer Jamie Goldberg, who writes a blog called “Gold Notes.”

Jamie, who relocated from Florida to San Diego, California not long ago, gave her readers riffs on a whole spectrum of colors  last year. I loved that series. If you, dear reader, are up for it, I will celebrate spring by doing my own color series.

As a decorator color, green has enormous possibilities. It can be tart and bright, like the Italian “Question Mark” chair above, or as tenderly subdued as the Interstyle glass tile, also near the top of this post.

Green combines beautifully with other colors to create palettes that set various moods and evoke different styles. An intense apple green is the perfect, edgy accent color for a modern interior of neutrals or black and white. Bottle green and forest greens are reflective and relaxing when used with adjacent blues. Teals and turquoise greens can be energizing when paired with a complementary red, as they are in the batik fabric at right. An upscale, business look could pair a celedon green with shades of gray.

Greening our Emotions

Psychologists and market researchers who have studied the emotional responses people have to color have found that while some of our reactions are universal, much of the meaning we impart to colors is culturally based.

Because of its connection with plants, green signifies life, stability, restfulness and naturalness. For these reasons, it’s often used in hospitals. There is some evidence that  green relaxes our muscles and helps us breathe deeper and slower.

Arteriors Home Moss Green Etched Glass Lamp

Darani Chrome Finish lamp from Lamps Plus

Babette Holland Tiger Lamp from Lamps Plus

Green can prompt us to feel comfortable, lazy, relaxed and calm. It can help soothe our emotions, and that makes it a great choice for a yoga or meditation room. It’s a pleasant option for a bedroom as well, because it’s as quieting as blue without feeling chilly.

Rotten Avocados?

Handmade blown glass knob from All That Glass

This is not to say that green is all sweetness and light. Dark greens with gray or brown tones can have a deadening effect. Olive greens can look like week-old guacamole, and can remind us of decay and death. (It’s no accident that a cartoon character who is nauseated or has been poisoned turns green.)

Your Bathroom

Green glass sink from Fontaine Faucets

Green burst glass bathroom sink from Fontaine Faucets

Hollywood sage counter from Vetrazzo

Bioglass sink and counter

Green fern towels from Pottery Barn

Rainglass shower enclosure from Nolan Everitt Artglass

Nope, it's not raining Gatorade. It's a showerhead with a green LED light from Memowell.

Interestingly enough, market researchers have found that green doesn’t do all that well in the international marketplace. Green colored packaging has proved unpopular in China and France.

Of course, this being a blog that is in part about green architecture – by which I don’t mean houses that are painted avocado – I made sure to find some items that qualified as being both emerald in hue and earth-friendly in attribute.

Prespa wallpaper from Avignon Wallpapers

The Prespa wallpaper at left is a good example. It’s handmade from  paper bags by the two women who make up Avignon Wallcoverings, Caryn Outwater and Ariane Stein. The two have been friends since childhood. Outwater and Stein  spend their days creating custom painted wallcoverings.  Ariane and Caryn introduce new coverings continually and also offer full-service custom designs.  Avignon’s papers are eco-friendly, using 100% recycled paper and all water-based paints.

Krysallis lamp by Jerry Kott

Another verte-hued “green” product is Artist Jerry Kott’s Krysallis lamp, which is made from cut wine bottles. The lamp comes in both a hanging model and the table model that is shown at left. Price varies according to number of color blocks per lamp, and color choices include greens, amber/browns, and whites.

A few other wonderful, earth-friendly items made from recycled content are shown on this page. Hakatai’s mosaic tile, which is shown at the top right side of this post, is made from recycled, post-consumer glass. Their “Calliope”  series contains color palettes that knock my socks off. (I wouldn’t mind a barefoot walk in some green grass about now.) You can order a sampler of Hakatai’s mosaics quite inexpensively. Their customer service is very good, and you can have the samples in your hands in just a few days.

Another of my favorite eco-friendly products is Vetrazzo, which I have written about before. (I took a tour of their factory in Richmond, California, and wrote about that for Living in Comfort and Joy last year.) For this green-as-a-color column, I decided to feature their Hollywood Sage countertop, which is made largely from soft drink bottles. It’s called Hollywood Sage because actor Ed Begley chose it for his kitchen and featured it in his green TV program.

Another beautiful product is Bioglass, which is manufactured by Coverings ETC. The company was founded in 1998 to source natural stone and mosaics and has added many new lines since. Their ECOVERINGS® line of products are naturally occurring, recycled, and/or manufactured with concern for conserving natural resources. Bioglass is 100% recycled and 100% recyclable and comes in six natural colors, including three handsome greens.  As the image at right shows, Bioglass can be molded. The result can be a fairly complex shape, such as this integrated sink and counter, which was designed by Tsao for a residence in Miami.

Another green (sometimes) product is Memowell’s Magic Showerhead. It actually showers you in seven colors, not just green. But it does have green advantages. It contains LED lights that are powered by water pressure and need no electricity or batteries. “Why do I need lights to color my shower?” you may ask. Because as the water changes color, in two-minute rotations, you are being reminded that time is passing. The device is hinting that you should take shorter showers and conserve water.

Links for Items
Seen and Unseen


Counters and glass tile


Rugs and textiles


Fusion green glass architectural artwork from Nathan Allan Studios

Walls and Surfaces

Other Wonders

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-ee cummings