“Color,” wrote Claude Monet, “is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
Across the country and around the world there is likely no shortage of homeowners who feel the same way – vacillating between the unabashed delight of finding that absolute perfect shade of pastel paint for the dining room…and stressing out that what seemed like such a great decision to go for a bold citrus in their home office now makes them feel as if they’re trapped inside a giant orange. So how do you go about selecting a harmonious hue that you’ll not only love living in but that will also help you improve your mood and increase your energy? Pasadena designer Jeanette Chasworth aka “The Color Whisperer” took time from her busy schedule to talk about her new book, What’s Color Got To Do With It? Paint Color Ideas That Create Balance and Harmony In Your Home.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us about the journey you took to become a designer.
A: My mother raised me to be a designer but didn’t know it. She knew when she bought her home that she would never move and since most people move house every 7 years, it seemed logical to her that she move her house around every 7 weeks. She had had polio as a child and she constantly changed the house around to control the rest of the family’s behavior and to make it easier for her to work around the home. We never knew when we would get up on a Saturday morning with a list of furniture to move or paint a wall or whatever. I started out in publishing and quickly realized that I was not in the right spot for me, I took a class at the local community college because I was bored. After the first class, I was head over heels in love and I changed careers.
Q: So what made you decide to write a book on color?
A: As part of school, I learned a lot about color as my career progressed, that was where I saw the most dramatic change in people. People always asked me – what’s the one thing I can do to give me the biggest bang for my buck and the answer is color. It seems to be a place where people really get stuck in working on their home. I thought the information in this book would shed a lot of light on HOW to go about selecting color and making it easier for people to make a better decision.
Q: You chose an interesting title. What does color have to do with it?
A: Color affects us every day. It can drain you, make you hungry, calm you down or invigorate you. We all have color in our homes and how we use it affects our lives. We all have unique personalities and so does color. Each color can create a certain “energy” in a room and it needs to match the people in it.
People will sometimes say, “I don’t really notice the colors around me, my home is just someplace I sleep, it’s really not a big deal.”
I don’t doubt it and it’s probably stark white or all beige, sterile and boring. You probably haven’t done much since you moved in and that’s another reason why you don’t spend time in it, there’s nothing of you there so why would you? It’s easy to add some personality to your home with a little color. It needs some spice, something to create some emotion, something that will evoke a feeling in you.
Q: So you said color can make me hungry?
A: Orange and red can both increase your appetite. Remember when all the fast food restaurants and coffee shops were those colors? The idea was to get you in, feed you and get you out quick. The combination made you hurry out. Now we have WiFi and “Going to get coffee” has a whole different meaning. They want you to linger, to have meetings there, to work on your computer there so the colors are all changing, you will still see these colors but the combination is less. Red and orange affect your tastebuds and can make your food taste better which is why you will often see one of them in a restaurant.
Q: What kind of effect can color have in my home?
A: Finding the right colors for your home is important, especially when there’s more than one person living there. In keeping with your opening reference to orange, it’s a great color. I love it personally but it’s got a lot of energy to it. Not everyone can handle that level of energy in their home. I had a client who wanted me to select paint colors for her living room. She gave me a bunch of peach samples to choose from and didn’t want to look at my samples. I selected the best from her pile and she painted the room. Her roommate stopped talking to her. This went on for weeks before it finally came out that she hated the paint color. My client remembered that I was going to look at other colors and called me back. I selected a softer gold for the room, which brought out more of the painting and created a much calmer atmosphere for the roommate but still had a lot of life for my client. As soon as the room was painted, the roommate loved it and their relationship was back on track.
Another client had a very dramatic change. I was brought in to look at the master bedroom. When I went in there, I noticed that the 9 year old child had a bed in the parent’s room. I asked about that, and they said that she was still having nightmares from 911 and this was four years after. I asked if she had lost anyone in it and the answer was no. I asked to see the child’s room after that. Mom had done her best to create a beautiful room for her kid with a Carousel theme. As we talked, it came out that the child was dyslexic and the problem was instantly clear to me. Stripes are hard for someone with dyslexia to live with because they don’t see a straight line, it’s constantly wavering. These were thick stripes and could easily remind a child of the Twin Towers. I then explained that yellow could help her to learn better. Mom said there was a lot of yellow in the living room and the little girl practically lived in there. They painted the room and everyone got their own rooms back.
Q: Speaking of children, should they have a say-so in how their rooms should be painted? What if, for instance, you have an aspiring Goth girl who wants all of her bedroom walls painted black?
A: Absolutely, a child needs to have a say-so! This is their space and it should reflect their tastes and preferences. This is a great way to teach them a bit about personal style and how to show it. But, under no circumstances do you paint your teenage child’s room all black. A fellow color consult had a client who’s son wanted an all black room and it nearly killed him. Our bodies NEED color and light. But, colors are an expression of personality, and having black as a focus color in a room doesn’t mean turning the room into a cave. Paint the ceiling black, it will create a dramatic look. Have black accents like black furniture or draperies but paint the walls a color, maybe a deep purple or green if there’s a need for dark colors. You could also paint the walls white and use a black stencil on the walls for a dramatic statement There are some really great rooms out there in magazines where black and white has been done well – the contrast and drama of black-white is trending right now. If you are going to use black walls, then you need to have a white ceiling, lots of white molding and bright furniture. There needs to be something light in the room to make it work.
Q: Playing off of the previous question, what are some color tips for parents looking to “grow” a room as their offspring transition to tweens and teens?
A: I think that color grows with children. Many children have a favorite color and that is a pretty good bet. Children are much more in tune with what their bodies need than adults. I also don’t believe that you paint a child’s room once and forget it as they grow, no more than you would expect the bike you give them to last their whole lives.. They will want change as they mature. Paint is a simple fix. They go through so many changes and as they become more independent, they will want more input. Give them guidelines and let them grow.
Q: Share with us the effect that colors have on us physically and emotionally.
A: Well, I often get clients that are in a place of change….new home, new career, or even someone who has died. Our homes are a mirror of who we are and when there’s a change in our lives, we need to reflect it in our home. I have found it really helpful in people dealing with the last stages of grief. They are rediscovering who they are and have to make some changes in order to find that person. Some take the opportunity to finally get a piece of furniture they always wanted or to create their dream kitchen or bathroom. Combining old memories and making room for new memories is really important.
Q: Much has been written about individuals belonging to a particular “season” in order to plan their wardrobes accordingly. Does the same apply to the personality of their cottages, castles and condos?
A: Absolutely. There are many tests out there that categorize people and this is just another one. There are similar traits to each season and each season has its own palette as well as shapes, textures and themes that fit them better than others. It’s why there are so many styles out there. We are each unique and our style is as unique as we are. Using these techniques creates a home that fits the personality and energy of a client and makes them feel hugged every time they walk through the door.
Q: What do you mean feel “hugged” by your home?
A: Have you ever been in a room, restaurant or hotel that you just can’t wait to get out of? For instance, for years, there was a big box store that had super bright lights. I would walk in there and couldn’t wait to leave. I asked many of my peers and apparently men in their 20 and 30’s loved it, but women weren’t as excited by it and many hated it more than I did. They have since changed their lighting so maybe they found out that they needed to expand their reach. Do you know how you feel in your favorite outfit? Like you can do anything? That’s what you should feel in your home. Empowered, relaxed, happy. What does a hug feel like: safe, warm, comforting. Your home can do that for you, too.
Q: So what is your own “season” and what does it convey about your personality?
A: Many people get their season just from their coloring, but your season should go deeper than just the tone of your skin. I am an Autumn. And just as Autumn leaves change, Autumns are agents of change. Leadership, bold action, assertiveness, and determination are hallmarks of Autumns. I first learned about seasons in a program with a wardrobe stylist, and wearing those colors in clothing unlocked a new source of energy for me. I thought, how amazing it would be to live in a space that fortified me in the same way!
I even reflect my Autumn season in my mission as a designer – I bring change to people – not just in their homes but in themselves. As an Autumn I am driven, like to “get things done” and if there isn’t a clear path, I am happy to blaze a new trail for my clients. I explain clearly to my clients, educate them on the process and help them make the best decisions. I believe we can do more when there is trust and confidence in each other. I am always truthful with my clients and encourage them to be open and honest with me as well.
Your season is not just ‘skin deep’, but incorporates your personality. The colors you use have a more powerful effect on your life, whether that is your health and energy level, your relationships, or your confidence.
Q: Painting a room is often recommended as a quick, easy and economical “fix” to spruce up a room. Looking at a paint sample the size of a postage stamp, however, makes it hard for most people to envision the entire space in that shade. What’s your best advice to DIYers in bridging that divide? (i.e., are there software programs comparable to hair salons with programs that enable you to see what a new cut or color will look like before you take a drastic plunge)
A: I am not fond of the computer programs that fill in the color mostly because they don’t take into account the amount of light in a room. Many paint companies have addressed this problem by selling sample size paint containers. Dunn Edwards, Benjamin Moore both have small containers that are large enough to paint a sample on the wall. I recommend putting a large sample on the wall, especially if you are going from white walls to a stronger color, it will look much darker against the white and a larger sample will give you a truer picture. I also recommend putting samples in different parts of the room and particularly near doorways so that you can see how the color works with the color in the next room. The light will change in different areas of the room and you need to see what it looks like in more than one place to get a good idea. Many companies have larger samples that they use to give to designers and painters. If you really don’t want to paint, you may be able to ask for a larger sample. You can also ask your designer or painter if they have access to larger samples.
Q: Let’s talk a bit about the effects of natural and artificial light on paint color. For instance, if you paint a room in late afternoon by fluorescent light and it looks lovely, how do you know that when you open the curtains the next morning to a brilliantly sunny day it won’t look like elephant breath?
A: I recommend that you put a sample on the wall and look at it in different lights as the day changes to night. It is the only way to get a true reading. I also recommend selecting the color in the actual light that will be in the room. That isn’t always possible. Select paint color with the amount of natural light that comes into the room. (Don’t do it after dark!)
Q: From a designer’s eye, is it easier/harder for you to reinvent an existing room for a client or to conceptualize something entirely from scratch?
A: I don’t think either one is easier/harder. Every room has its own parameters that we have to follow. Are we keeping the sofa? Can we take down a wall? Part of the process is discovery. As a designer, it’s my job to think of things that you may not and so it may or may not fit into the original scope of what you thought you wanted. The best thing is to create the room you didn’t know you always dreamed about. I love to find out what my client’s personality is and how to make it work with the house.
Q: A lot of new homes and condos embrace the idea of open-concept living wherein the living room, dining room and kitchen co-exist without the division of walls. Without the latter to delineate and compartmentalize these three areas, does it mean that this ginormous space should be monochromatic?
Many of them are, at least as far as paint goes but it doesn’t need to be that way. Accent walls can add some extra color. Using color that relates to the other colors is important. Furniture, rugs and accessories can add a great deal of color and personality to a room. You can also dress up the ceiling to add some color. Go take a look at the latest HGTV dream house in Hawaii. I don’t like all that they did but they did a nice job of unifying the house with the color green. While there are several other colors in the house, they all work well together and the green is a constant, making the home feel pulled together well.
Q: Is it smarter to paint first and then accessorize around that color scheme or vice versa? Depending on your answer, is there a correlation to shopping for clothes?
A: Yes, it correlates with clothes. So let’s say you find a pair of shoes you LOVE….then you find the jacket, the top, the accessories to go with it. You can always start with something you love. Is that a picture, a vase, tile, fabric? It doesn’t matter but you need something that inspires you. There’s a Kohler commercial where a couple presents a faucet to and architect and say “design it around this”. That one object can be anything but your jumping off place needs to be strong, whether that means you have a strong attachment, or it’s a strong design element. That said, the color of paint is the easiest to adjust. You may love a color and then you go find the fabrics but they don’t quite match, but if you start with the fabric, it’s easier to tweak the paint afterwards.
Q: What do you feel is the reigning trend these days – neutral colors or bold, vibrant hues and do you believe these choices have any correlation to the current economy?
A: Trends are going towards bright colors – in part as a reaction to the recession. People want to be happy and if surrounding yourself in bright colors makes your inside world better, go for it. Neutrals are always in style, but I also find most people use too much white or off-white – mostly out of indecision and not knowing what will work!
There seems to be a big black and white phase coming in – perhaps influenced by the Kardashians, and similar celebrities with dramatic lifestyles. They have certainly made the combo popular.
The trend toward simplicity has been growing. We have cell phones, iPads, and tons of electronics to make life simpler but it also means it’s harder to “get away”. Styles with simple floor plans, simple lines, and less intense colors have become more popular, giving us less “stuff” crowding our vision, more space to breathe.
Trends in our lives and communities have an effect on us, but in your home, it’s more important that you match the color with your energy, your lifestyle, than to follow the trends. I recently wrote a blog on trends and how they reflect what’s going on in the economy. http://www.thecolorwhisperer.com/uncategorized/emerald-it-is/.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: The newest development is our store – http://shop.thecolorwhisperer.com/ It is open right now, and the store is becoming a wonderful place for clients to explore and discover how to express their personality through design. I am able to deliver personal service to clients in a great new way, as I create rooms and collections that enable people to ‘shop by season’. This will give people the opportunity to see what the seasons really look like in furniture and experience them in their home. It also offers a great collection of unique items gathered together in one place. If you like a room, you can buy as much of the room as suits you. Clients that visit often will find new collections, rooms, and items for their season all the time.
I am also working on an e-book that gets into how design helps us deal with the changes in our lives.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I strongly believe that when you change the surroundings in your home, your life will be transformed, allowing you to heal your past and step into your future with the solid foundation of a home that flourishes around you. When you are ready to bring your home to life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you, too, will feel “hugged by your home.”
To learn more about What’s Color Got To Do With It? Paint Color Ideas That Create Balance and Harmony In Your Home (Publisher: Chasworth Place, Inc.) or about the author and her company, visit http://www.thecolorwhisperer.com.