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The Pros and Cons of Bold Colors

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of attending numerous editors’ conferences over the years sponsored by different manufacturers. I’ve toured plants that heat-treat hand tools and factories that make everything from saw blades to small engines, to name a few. Each experience is like Christmas morning to me because I got to see new tools and products of my trade.

One of the most fascinating tours was of a paint factory on the West Coast. We got to see the early stages of making a batch of interior paint. I believe the size of the vat was at least 5,000 gallons, but it could have been as much as 10,000 gallons. You need a massive metal stirring paddle to blend all the ingredients. Forget about using a wood stick!

The most interesting part of the tour for me was the session spent with the on-staff color expert. She explained all the nuances of color, how the slightest shades of color can affect how you feel — indeed, how certain colors can deeply affect your mood.

If you have toured any open houses recently, you have almost certainly noticed the mania for gray paint. It’s rare to find a house that doesn’t have at least one interior room done up in a shade of gray. Visit an art museum and you might not even notice that the walls are often painted gray. It’s an interesting color that actually is the absence of color. It makes sense in an art museum: The walls are the background and shouldn’t compete with the paintings and photographs.

Gray is most often created mixing pure white paint with some amount of black pigment. When most people think about color, they tend to think about every other color in the rainbow other than white or black. Gray provides a very interesting background for all other colors you might put in the rooms of your home just as it does in a museum.

That being said, you may be like my son. He bought a new home that came on the market last spring. The builder had already painted all the rooms a medium gray for the aforementioned reason. Yet when I toured the house with my son, he said: “Dad, what the heck? I don’t want to wake up each day thinking I’m a sailor on a battleship. It’s just way too much gray! How hard would it be to paint the rooms over?”

I answered him that we could easily repaint half the rooms in the two-bedroom house in just three days. I told him it depended on the colors he’d choose, as some lighter colors such as yellow might require two coats.

He decided he wanted to do an experiment and go with some very bold colors. I thought he was making a mistake. His mother and I both warned him that a color on a small strip of paper from the paint store may look much darker once that color is on the wall. This happens because there’s just so much color hitting your eyes than when you’re looking at a sample that’s 2 inches wide and maybe 3/4-inch tall.

“Dad, paint isn’t that expensive,” he said, “and since you’re helping and it doesn’t take long I can always repaint the room.”

Oh, how convenient that your dad can help you for the price of a free lunch! If you have children, I’m sure you’ve been conscripted to help with projects. To be honest, I loved working on his house.

The first room we painted was his living room. He chose a deep blue color. When I opened the can, I gasped as quietly as I could, thinking it was a huge mistake. The gray wall color happened to be a superb base, and the blue covered it in one coat with ease. It was a bright, sunny spring day, and, much to my surprise, after the first wall was finished it looked amazing. I had thought it would make the room appear too small, but I didn’t get that feeling. The other benefit to blue is that it’s a calming color.

The kitchen was painted a stunning yellow much like a sunflower, the dining room was transformed using a deep spicy reddish brown, and his rear sunroom was coated with a stunning medium green.

Before: Painted Gray
Before: Gray is a useful neutral background paint, but who wants the inside of their home to look like a battleship? (Tim Carter/Tribune Content Agency)
After: Bold colors create distinct moods.
After: Bold colors create distinct moods. (Tim Carter/Tribune Content Agency)

After we were finished, I had to admit that the bold colors in this open-concept house not only looked spectacular, but they also didn’t clash. Once he started to hang paintings and fabrics on the wall, the colors looked even better.

I recommend that if you’re on the fence as to what colors to use in your home, simply buy a quart and paint one wall. Understand that the color may look somewhat different at night than it does in the day. Experiment with flat paint vs. semi-gloss. You may find that makes a difference. No matter what, if you don’t like the color, you can repaint a typical room in just hours.

Be brave! Try a bold color or two and you’ll avoid that feeling that you’re swabbing decks on a battleship when you mop your kitchen floor!

Tim Carter

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(C)2022 Tim Carter. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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