Why are so many people afraid of color?

Is it about playing it safe? Or not understanding how to strike the right balance? These 4 elements: Color- Light- Texture- Pattern should work in harmony to achieve your ideal environment. When color is isolated from texture or pattern and the lighting- then often the color is deemed “not to work” but really is just missing the other elements. It falls flat or appears garish. The art of visual design in this instance is the harmonious mix of these elements for a pleasing result.

Harmony in design can be defined as an aesthetically appealing arrangement of pieces and parts

Harmonious elements engages someone and feels in balance with the surroundings. Alternatively, if harmony is not present then the space can feel dull or chaotic. I believe an individual is engaged when there is harmony in the design of the space or home you are in. We see this in our shop all the time. People, ages 18 to 89 comment on the feel of the shop- hard for them to often describe- but we know exactly what they mean.

This is not to be confused with color theory that encourages people to buy, however! That is not what we are trying to evoke and is a very different discipline.

A recent picture of the shop- lots of layers of texture and pattern, light and bold color but in targeted specific ways.

But when you walk into an office, shop, or home that is discordant with the elements of color, texture, pattern and light, then often you feel ill at ease and lacking energy. Your brain is rejecting the lack of balance of the design elements essential for creating a pleasing environment whether you realize it or not! Color, texture/pattern and light put together in the right manner delivers interest and balance. 

This whole thing about color “coordinating” is all wrong. Colors need to have a rapport- not coordinate- or lordy-  even worse- match.

Depth and a layered nuance of qualities with conflicting implications is what brings a colorful space, elements of art, even sometimes an outfit you wear. A sense of harmony that really defies definition because of the sameness and differences all happening in one overall palette. 

So what the heck does that mean Cheryl? It means-

Does color work without texture or pattern?

Often it does not and this is the biggest problem many face when decorating their home. Many colors will appear flat and lifeless without pattern or texture. And surely without light!   By pattern I really mean not only the obvious but how the color moves within the space, piece of art, the pottery. The subtle and not so subtle nuances of movement inform how the color is read to the eye, in my opinion. This element of my work was developed originally through my study of art history- nothing like studying historical art composition to make you appreciate the elements of good visual design.

This is why it is often difficult to choose paint colors for walls for consumers- they have no pattern to help- and is for sure why I tell contractors no way Jose when they want color before we have even broke ground! Ridiculous!

And please, please know that yes undertones are important- when selecting paint. But any designer worth their portfolio will tell you selecting paint is one small aspect of interior design and not even the first or tenth consideration. 

This tile is from Pratt and Larson and was a steal because the original buyer did not appreciate the hand made variations in color- to me they are perfect! If were solid tile, maybe not the same effect. The pattern is what makes it work with the color variations, along with “spot” color of the vintage Russell Wright pitcher and the ochre buds in the vase. Even the wood natural tones in the spoons help the other colors work and balance. The warm darker brass pulls also help reflect light and make the neutral color of the cabinets stand out and not be too lifeless.

Color mixing in design is really a recipe of sorts: balancing the intensity of the “flavors” and making sure the main dish works with the sides

At first glance the hues below do not seem to want to work together or even be in the same neighborhood- but if you look at the properties of the colors and the balance they really bring in their dissonance, you can see how the addition and subtraction of colors is what makes a room sing. The key is the formula of a pinch of kalamata against a dollop of Moroccan spice with a bit of vintage wine calming the others down.

And no, these colors are not painted in the room, but this is often how we begin a project- by a color palette or a piece of pottery. The beauty of our projects is where the inspiration begins.

This is a riot of color but it works. Some people would cry it is too much for them and that is ok- but yet for this client ( me) it works in the space and is balanced by wood floors and a more neutral adjacent kitchen. Note these colors are layered and the pattern dictates much of the visual.

Proper lighting is key for color to render as you see it naturally and is the perfect way to create drama and moods- even in more neutral spaces

Another way to infuse a sense of color into a monochromatic space or in a neutral space with several neutrals is to add more light- from lamps, natural light or an overhead fixture- or even a reflective surface such as mirrors or silk pillows.  Lighting a home is so important and happens early in the build process so is vital to discuss all of the overall plan up front to be able to understand the needs of the client. Don’t leave this to chance- lighting is the third leg to the triad of design harmony. 

In this shot from a master bedroom sitting area we wanted a neutral but bold style. To achieve this, we layered textures and pattern more than color. But the eye still needs a place to rest. The reds and oranges are more saturated on this velvet and  provide a small bit of unexpected color. When styling for a photo shoot, we often want to replicate the color in natural objects too.
master sitting room
You can see the effects of styling in the close up but also is appealing to people even when they do not like these colors. Note the lighter carpet.
abstract color art
Even colorful abstract art is not just about the color- it is about how the patterns made within the color bring life to the color mix. ( You can buy this gorgeous Susan Lucas painting from our shop too!)

Like a brighter intense color?  Use wood tones to help balance the energy

Sometimes in certain spaces people want hues that other designers say no way to- I get this as there are colors that are not my favorites. But I will never say I am not going to use any color or won’t because I think if you are good at what you do, you can make any color work IF the other elements are all up for grabs and discussion. One trick to help balance intense energy of a bright infused color is to balance with natural wood tones or darker wood tones. This is like the little black dress helping to offset the bright fuchsia necklace. 

In this mid century kitchen we did 10 years ago- the clients loved bold colors. To pull this off in this space, we needed the darker wood to help absorb the intensity of the walls.

Neutrals or high contrast

And so you do not think I am allergic to neutrals- the same principles apply with texture and light. But then the absence of color or a striking tonal contrast is put into the mix. I love neutrals, but my idea of what is a neutral is decidedly not beige or tan.

white cottage with black & white rug black lacquer coffee table white slipcover sofa black hangin light with gold startburst
In this project, light and tonal contrasts are the harmony with lots of visual texture and a mix of pattern too. And of course, a spot of bold color to give the eye somewhere to rest.
black & white cottage design glass top desk with kitchen island black & white window coverings
This sweet tiny cottage got a major white wash and then we put it all back together with texture, balance, spots of color and light reflecting floors and walls.

The truth is color, texture, pattern and light is cathartic to the soul. It is just how you put it all together that really matters – and how much you love the results. 

Interested in reading more? Take a peek at this post here about what you need to know about paint!

One of our most popular posts on color is Beige is Ugly!