Tuesday, 2 September 2014

In Which I Have Lots of Opinions on Colour

 This is a prelude to the new bedroom post.  I know, you are probably rolling your eyes but in my world a bedroom wall does not get painted without a great deal of thought about colour. I am someone who is passionate about colour, which of course means that I am now about to wax poetic about white.  White is the presence of all colour so it thus seems quite logical that I would love it, however my love of black rather messes with that theory.  I can certainly point to one or two shades I am not fond of, but those are few and I can also point to shades I don't care for on their own but which I love in a certain context or combination.  I did not manage to find a love for the wall colour of my bedroom in the home I bought last year, no matter how much context I tried to give it.

The walls of my bedroom as well as those in the main living area were (and in the living area still are) painted a deep gold colour with a decidedly green undertone.  Undertones matter.  I have always said this to people who look bored, eyes glazed over, nodding their heads vaguely.  Undertones cannot be ignored and the challenge with painted walls, even white ones, is that light brings out different undertones, highlights or shadows them, and you cannot paint a room that will look the same shade of blue (or green or pink or even white)  in all lighting at all times of day or night.  If you do not examine your colour choice in all of the expected lighting conditions in the particular room you wish to paint, you may be unpleasantly surprised.  Or, you may be colourblind and not notice or care.   So the wall colour predominantly used in my home, a gold with strong green undertones, presented me with a challenge when I first moved in.

I did not know what resources I would have, time or money, so I chose to attempt to live with these colours at first.  I should have known better.  I should have gone with my initial instinct which was to have the whole place painted before I unpacked.  She who hesitates is stuck with green-gold walls that make her slightly insane.  The best advice available for living with a colour you would not have chosen but are not going to be able to change, is to make everything else go well with it.  It is better to live in a harmonious colour environment than to try to pretend a dominant colour is not there dictating what everything else should say and do.  I attempted to follow this advice and set up a bedroom that was gold, beige, blue and warm yellow-greens.  The living area was more successful though I still do not love it.  The bedroom was a disaster on an epic scale.  It made me squirm.  It made me scowl.  This is not a good feature in a bedroom.

I hate beige.  Yes, I know, beige is only a mild mannered neutral which in the right environment nicely compliments many other colours and looks stunning on some people who wear it.  I am beige-ist though and I cannot deny it.  Beige is not for me and I have tried very hard to live with it.  Neutrals are not as mild as one might at first think though.  They are much stronger, much more potent than they would have us believe, which is their secret weapon.  Colours are either warm or cool in varying degrees and even beige tones can be warmer or cooler on a spectrum.  This is the first thing that went wrong in the bedroom.  The carpet that runs throughout this home is beige.  In addition to being very pale and easily staining, it is a cool toned beige, with a slight purple or pink undertone.  It fights constantly with the warm gold-green walls.  Warm and cool colours can coexist together but it's a tricky thing to get right.  To my eye, the paler they are or the more neutral they are the more likely they are not to get along.  I suspect this is because they look accidental then.  Pair a strong warm colour and a strong cool colour and it looks boldly intentional and is more easily gotten away with.

So in a bedroom with cool beige carpet, warm gold-green walls, cool beige curtains, and bedding of cream, gold-greens and blues, I attempted to get nightly rest.   My bedroom faces north, which will always bring a cool and slightly green tinted light, but it has a large window which makes a very big difference.  North facing rooms often seem dark and dim even in daylight but my bedroom gets enough light to keep it from feeling dark.  That big and beautiful window looks out onto bright skies, tall trees and opens to let in plenty of fresh air, but the curtains, which I had considered neutral and innocuous, began to seem hideous and loathesome things, choking the light of the window even when pulled open.  It did not help that the curtain rod was cheap gold coloured plastic, falling apart and too small for the window so that the curtains could not actually be pulled fully away and even when opened they covered at least a third of the window.  I continued to pretend this was all okay, at least for now and no hurry to change anything but without fully realising what I was doing I began to apply purple bandages to this wounded room.

My first love in colours is always jewel tones.  I have a bit of a dalliance with earthy tones at times, and often love a slightly dirtied shade of most colours, with ochre being my favourite yellow for instance.  But it was purples and teals I began to pull into my bedroom.  I tried to cover the walls with art, and the benefit to making one's own art is being able to choose the size and colours desired.  Then I had a wee accident involving a pen while writing in bed one night and my white duvet cover had to be dyed.  I dyed it purple.   I know you are thinking that purple and gold look well together, but the developing mish mash of earthy green-gold, beige and jewel tones was just getting disastrous.  It was the jewel tones that made me happy.  I added rich red-pink tones of merlot and green in emerald and jade and I knew I needed to paint those walls.

I have a strong emotional response to colour and the colour I live with becomes part of my state of well being.  This is a very luxurious, wealthy-world attitude that does indeed give me some guilt.  I am lucky to be able to care what colour my surroundings are and to change them.   But not altering the colours to feed my emotional self just because it seems indulgent would be like not feeding myself just because others around the world are starving.  I had, in the year I've lived here, spent much time imagining and fantasising about different colours on my walls.  One week I would fall for a smokey purple and the next for a dusky blue or a deep teal.  I am largely drawn to blues, purples and reds in wall colours but actually choosing which shade of those and then ignoring the possibility of other hues just left me unable to decide.  How could I settle on one and miss out on the joy of another?  Regularly repainting to satisfy my whims is not going to be a part of my lifestyle.

I noticed that quite often the images I was drawn to in books, magazines and online featured white walls in a particularly soft and warm tone that didn't quite reach cream.  What makes a white on white colour scheme beautiful is the variation of tone and texture, of patinas offering up shiny surfaces contrasting with matte ones.  I admire white on white rooms but I cannot live in them.  I will inevitably bring in the colour.  Many of the images of rooms I would find myself staring at over and over are rooms with white walls but a colourful collection of art, furnishings and objects.  Not the ones where pops of one colour are featured in an otherwise neutral space, but rooms where there is perhaps no actual colour scheme other than a riot of the occupants favourite colours.  I thought I was horrified when I saw it become a decorating trend to shelve one's books according to colour, hiding away any dully coloured ones that don't make the cut.  My heart sank to my feet when I saw books covered in plain paper or turned backwards on the shelf in order to fit with a monochromatic neutral scheme.  The very fact that I live with books and my own art means I am unavoidably living with a riot of colour.  Added to that my tendency to have second hand furniture covered with assorted throws and shawls and you see how there is no colour scheme likely to work in my home.

Jewel tones dominate, purples, reds, blues, greens and some charcoal greys, browns and ochres will creep in too.  Pastels rarely make it unless on the cover of a book.  Pastels make me cringe and I apologise if I am offending any pastel lovers out there.  They tend to make me feel murderous.   Give them a bit of a grey undertone and I am more able to work with them.  My bathroom, which I will be sharing at a later date,  is the closest I get to soft and pale tones.   So it's not that I wouldn't love a purple wall, and I have in the past painted the walls of my previous home in strong colours, but they way I live now works best with white walls as a soft but strong backdrop to my colourful belongings.  You might think that makes things simple and that one just pops out to the store and grabs a can of white paint.  White is white, right?

Well, no.   Some people may get passionate about fifty shades of grey but there are more than fifty shades of white and the subject of finding the right white is something I am passionate about.  Remember those undertones?  I have a very specific goal in mind when it comes to white walls.  I want the wall to read as white but I still want it to be soft and warm.  That means it will not be a pure white; it will be ever so slightly off white and no, it will not work to just march into the store and buy off-white paint.  In order to get the same look throughout my home, I will not be able to use the same paint shade because lighting in different rooms will alter that shade.  The white I chose for my bedroom (Behr Spun Cotton) does not give the desired look in other rooms though I love how it looks in the bedroom.  It is like vanilla ice cream. As different light hits it over the course of the day or when incandescent lights are turned on, it remains similar looking and always soft, though at times appears slightly whiter, at other times greyed by shadows and just slightly veering towards cream when the lights are turned on.  The same white, in the south facing and very brightly lit living room looks too stark and bright for my taste, losing that subtle warmth I love.

Finding the right white that won't turn pink or blue or green or yellow in the changing light takes some time to try and compare different paint chips and getting the same look of soft white throughout my home will require different formulas in different rooms.  The one room that won't be painted white is the second bedroom.  It too faces north but with smaller windows gets little natural light and always takes on a cool, dark cast.  I cannot imagine how much time it will take for me to narrow down my colour choice for that room but I will certainly examine all the shades on offer and the undertones involved before I make a decision.  I am already leaning  towards a soft, medium slate grey, which will work with the purple sofa in there and still remain neutral enough for my  colourful possession to all coexist.  The redecorating of that room is on hold for a year or so.  I spend very little time in there so the pale yellow walls are not yet making me tear  my hair out.  Not yet.

New Bedroom photos coming next post!

If you made it to the bottom you get a reward.  A lovely cat, but a cranky and naughty cat. Sophie loves to position herself right behind my computer but at this moment she was very peeved with me for not playing with her.  Any time my  hands moved she reached out and smacked them with claws out.  She was scolded and sent away and is off somewhere sulking now.


  1. You give a lot of thought to decor, as we all should when we can. Until I lived in the house I'm in now I always just made do with whatever I had and ended up throwing my love for green and burgundy into the mix. I ended up with such a hodge podge mess and couldn't think my way out of it. I knew it was all wrong and making me very unhappy/unsettled, but I couldn't see what I'd done. Thankfully, a new friend I made is so creative and color smart she pulled me right out of it and I've been much better ever since. My thing is that the colors have to be "muddied" or dirty a bit. Muted, or they won't look cohesive. I feel that way about my clothes too.

    Right now I think I have too much color going on and want to soften the walls a bit with a taupe perhaps. Can't wait to see your room!

  2. Hey Shawna, forgive me please that I did not read the whole post. :) What jumped out on me was that you love white and hate beige, so I though I'd share my little thoughts about them too. :)
    I love white, and I even admire white rooms with white furniture and white decor (ALL WHITE) as one of art expressions, but I know I wouldn't be able to live in such "total white" rooms, but to be perfectly fair I wouldn't want to live in "total whatever" - I just love variety too much.
    Am I the only one who think that beige clothes is so popular because it's close to skin tone and reminds of a nude body - or it's a common place, and I'm just slow in my realization?
    That's what I wanted to share - would be interested what you think of it.
    I think your white walls are a perfect backdrop for your colorful art and accessories! xxx


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