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Color is a Trickster

Navajo Koshare trickster doll by Felix Begay.

True confession. Recently, I painted our guest room for the fourth time. When I told a friend this, she said, "That room has so many layers of paint - it will soon be closing in on itself!"

The first time I painted the room we were renting the house. At that time, the walls were a dark emerald green and the trim had never been painted. The amber wood trim gave the room a dated, unfinished and patchy look.

The owner didn't want to incur the cost of maintaining painted trim, so I had to leave it as is. I did the best I could considering the trim limitation.

BEFORE. The art hung mid-wall hides electrical outlets! Photo by Barbara Clare

Since the room is small and has a low ceiling, I chose a harvest gold to tie in with the amber wood tones. This combo would make the room feel a bit larger. Not the ultimate look I wanted, but it was better than the heavy emerald green walls. We eventually bought the house and updated the room - out went the plastic ceiling fan, the mint green metal mini blinds, the electrical outlets in the middle of the wall, and the cumbersome, 50's metal-framed window. In went a new window.

The Guest Room in its harvest gold incarnation. Photo by Ray Greenfield

I love this room. It has a sweet serenity that I wanted to enhance. Celadon, the grayed blue-green of certain Chinese porcelain, would create that mood. I looked through my zillion paper color samples and found a hue that I toned down a bit with some black paint. Then I painted the room with this custom celadon.

However, once I had lived with it for awhile, I realized that it wasn't quite the hue I had had in my mind. A few years later I decided to tackle the room once more.

The right door is painted in the custom celadon. The left door and walls are in Metallic Mist. Photo by Barbara Clare

I thought perhaps a light greige (which is a combo of gray and beige, in other words, a warm gray), would work. I wanted a calming, neutral hue that wouldn't compete with the garden view out its south window. I brushed on two different possible colors. On the wall, they took on an icy cast. Argh.

It was clear that the room was asking for a deeper, warmer hue.

At this point in the process, my husband Ray, who hates domestic disorder, was pressing me to get done. Feeling that pressure, I expedited the task by considering the paint colors I already had. I found a sample of a mid-tone olive called Metallic Mist that I had rejected for a different space. I brushed some on the wall. Deeper and warmer than the pastel greiges, it looked better than the previous samples.

The art worked against this hue, but its overall effect in the room was too somber.
Our Georgia O'Keefe reproduction painting against Metallic Mist walls. Photo by Barbara Clare

Metallic Mist would be the room's next incarnation. I lived with it for awhile, but each time I entered the room, it just didn't "feel" right. Though MM provided a handsome background for our art, it gave a somber cast to the space that brought me down.

If a color palette's overall effect

doesn't uplift you,

it's time to look for other colors that will.


Color is a Trickster.

I used to tell my students at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising/LA), that color is a trickster. The trickster is an archetypal figure (an animal or a person), in myths and folklore who plays pranks on people by upsetting the natural order of things to teach them a lesson. Tricksters are wily and unpredictable. Color, the manifestation of ever-changing light, can be equally perplexing.

Why was this room so difficult to pin down?

To answer this, we need to observe how light moves in that space throughout the day.

The room has an east-facing glass door that leads to a portico and a south-facing window that is protected by a deep eave. As each day opens, the space is flooded with soft morning light, but by the afternoon the sun is in the western sky, casting the room in a colder, shadier light.

Color Challenge:

The morning character and the afternoon character of the room

are entirely different.

What color would enhance the room

under both light conditions?

During afternoons and on cloudy days the room looks bluer, which means that watery wall colors take on a somber cast during those times. I wasn't going for gloomy.

I asked the room: what did it want to be?

"EVEN WARMER" was the answer.

I chose a creamy color and had it deepened considerably because I was painting all of the trim (three doors, a window and baseboards), the wall color. I made this choice to make the room look larger and less busy. Without the contrast of a different hued trim, I needed a mid-tone hue that would allow the color to show up. Notice the contrast between the ceiling white and the walls in the last two photos below.

My custom peaches and cream hue worked. The room looks fresh and it glows! Each time I walk in the room, my heart lifts.

Do you have Trickster spaces?

Do your wall colors

"Feel Right"?

Do they give you joy?

I painted the bookshelf in the wall color and a teal. Photo by Barbara Clare
Guest Room in morning light. Photo by Barbara Clare
Guest Room in afternoon light. Photo by Barbara Clare

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