Fashion Editing

January 1, 2017


Greenery. Shadow. Poised Taupe. Shrubbery. Dado. Bumbling Beige. (The last three are mine.) 2017 is  upon us so paint companies have rolled out their colors of the year. Every time this happens I suffer a bout of ambivalence mixed with understanding imbued with annoyance. I get all paradox ridden. For a paint company, the mercantilism of this trend-setting is obvious.  Many designers also embrace the unveiling because it generates excitement, which is both fun and good for business.  Let me be the first to say that color design should be fun and I am always gratified when a client ends a session proclaiming how much fun it was however,  trends exist solely to stimulate consumption. Color forecasting is a cabal.

Designers might be quick to point out they are not advocating painting your living room once a year but rather that using one of these special colors will make it easier for you to accessorize, since other companies like textile manufacturers are following the same trends. Colors of the Year perhaps provide an entree  for  homeowners, a starting point from which to embark on color design themselves.  There is a tension though, between the desire to empower clients to make decisions and  trust their preferences, and the fortifying of the knowledge that they do indeed, for the most part, need professional color design. Paint companies do not care how their paint is sold.


Color is a language that all human beings understand. All those who can see color, of course. We use color to navigate, identify danger and its opposite, create energy, and stimulate the senses. Color acts immediately on the nervous system through the optic nerve. In other words, people experience color all day long. In my last post I touched briefly on this: as opposed to other disciplines or sets of skills/knowledge, people often assume they have a total command of the subject.

My main objection to trends has always been that they disregard the effects of color. If I paint my dining room Greenery, what am I creating, and what other elements will be necessary to complete and balance the design, in order to drive the desired effect.  Yes, we all know how we respond to a given environment but how was that environment devised? The effects of color are not at all common knowledge. Nor humane design principles (such as visual ergonomics), the science of color, the effects of lighting, exposure, etc. (By the way, this can apply to designers.) Though anyone can have a go at it, likewise anyone can recognize an exceptionally designed environment that exemplifies the aforementioned knowledge.  I am not demanding you hire me or all is lost. A lot of lay people are excellent designers for themselves. Speaking generally, it pains me a little when I encounter a space that is not as fantastic as it could or should be; this is based not only on my aesthetic sensibilities but on my belief that people deserve the utmost beauty.


There is, in fact, no color  without space, form, line, scale, value, and texture;  For example, in any composition (of 2 or 3 dimensions) there is positive and negative space. Escher made hay with this. The viewer seeks a principle form within (a) space and from this positive orders the rest: assigns the negative space around the principle form(s), determines what is foreground and background, etc. Density or diffuseness of visual information also balances a composition.

I recently consulted on a living room in a small house where, typical for many San Francisco houses of the period, the space is immediately upon entry without the relief of a foyer. The clients had bought a sort of cerise-burgundy velveteen to upholster a boxy loveseat. They requested neither extreme tastefulness nor extreme hippie-ness (being former hippies themselves) with sufficient boldness of color. We came up with three designs but the one they loved the most absolutely required ditching the fabric or buying a new couch, something about which they had a niggling feeling anyway. The fabric color was so strong, heavy, and dense that the wall and trim colors had to be softened and neutralized, at least to some degree, in order neither to be competitive nor evoke the bohemian chic they wanted to avoid. All elements of design must be considered, not just color. If you pick a fabric like that it should in most cases command the room. There must be a focal point around which the composition revolves.


With all the yearly fanfare, one would suppose that color design is solely about hue. I choose beautiful Blue #1 to go with gorgeous Green #5 with Whistler White for trim and so on. A  client told me recently that he chose to work with me based on my portfolio, and that he hoped I would not be offended to learn, that he is color blind. What a great compliment! I told him.  Many properties of colors  produce a successful design, where harmony, contrast, unity, and variety are properly balanced for a desired effect. Though it is rare to have the neurological condition requisite to see no color at all, imagine designing in gray scale. When you remove color, you understand the adage that a good designer can design anything.




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