Color is my daylong obsession, joy and torment. -Claude Monet

IN THE SPORT OF MOUNTAIN CLIMBING it is common practice to start in the wee hours so that the snow will be hard on both the ascent and descent. It’s called an Alpine start. A side benefit is that one is often on the summit when the first light of day turns the darkness to a gray-blue monochrome of shapes, and then in rising, warmly reveals the unexpected colors of the mountain and its panoramas in the welcoming light of morning.

Color itself is like a small daily miracle, routinely unappreciated, then randomly offering itself up in surprising combinations that leave us in wonder at its stunning beauty. Few of us fathom color, although we generally acknowledge its importance to our enjoyment and understanding of life. Our lifelong involvement with colors adds joy to activities ranging from the choice of crayons to selecting a new car.

But color has a dark side. Most of us, including powerful executives and people who make life-or-death decisions every day, go weak in the knees when faced with the task of selecting colors to paint our house. There is an exaggerated aspect of finality in the decision, and the spectrum of choices is so broad that we’re intimidated and overwhelmed. Our self-doubt is reinforced when we realize that the awful colors we’re about to replace are the proud expression of the highest aesthetic sensitivities of another of our species—the previous owner’s best shot.

At American Bungalow we frequently hear cries of distress from homeowners seeking relief from the agony of such decisions. It’s as if they believe we’re guarding a magic formula that establishes the perfect palette for every imaginable bungalow application. While it’s nice to be so trusted, color preference is very subjective and our usual remedy is to recommend a few books and articles dealing with color. But we don’t always get off that easily.

A few years ago I received a series of urgent phone messages from a person whose name I didn’t recognize. When we finally connected, the caller, a local homeowner, explained why she was so desperate. She had stripped the old paint from the siding of her bungalow but was then unable to decide what color to paint it, so mired in indecision that after many months the civic watchdogs had reacted to the unsightly house and requested—with some authority— that she complete the project, soon. Now she was turning to me in panic. I was the “bungalow guy” and I had to help her, she said. So what colors should she paint her house?

My knees went weak. I have spent most of my adult life making color choices for printed matter, some of it costing millions, but the anxiety I felt about suggesting a scheme for that little house completely overwhelmed me. I knew the house and tried to imagine it in various hues, but the image of its bare wood siding kept creeping back into my mind. Finally I took the hint and said to her, “Why paint it any color? Why not just complete the stripping and finish the natural wood?”
That’s what she did.

I still haven’t decided whether to be proud or ashamed of that recommendation. It was an elegant solution, to be sure, but I can’t help seeing a little cowardice in it, too. In the climb of color confidence I certainly didn’t summit that day. But I descended safely on solid footing, and the house has looked quite lovely ever since.

Looking forward to hearing from you,





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