Fight Club

March 1, 2018

Color design requires mediation: conflict arises because it is both subjective and objective in its application.   I have blogged before about mediation through existing architecture, exposure, relative perception, and the like. These all influence design decisions. Here, I will concentrate on people. The most obvious definition of mediation would be between or among more than one party. This is the primary reason I am called to do HOAs, for example. Usually for such jobs there is a color committee, whether formal or informal. Still, wrangling even say, five people to agree on a set of designs takes  certain skill. Folks anticipate a continuation of their same aesthetic clashes  and have trepidation about a prickly, uncomfortable process. I mix diplomacy (and authority) with aesthetics, reasoning and practicality. Persuasion is not manipulation: it is the ability to illuminate.  When presented with something beautiful and workable, it is obvious to recognize.

Residents surely want the best design possible for their enjoyment and investment however, this is superseded by the desire for an independent third party for counsel,  deferral, and even culpability. It is true you cannot please everyone (though I often do or come very close). The presence of an expert ensures that both satisfaction and dissatisfaction of disparate desires can be cast outside the immediate community.

A parent should be able to enter his or her child’s room without revulsion, of course, but basically the kid should get to choose. When I consult I always engage the child if he or she is present. One of my greatest rooms had soft black walls and cream trim because I pushed the parent to “let” us (the teenager and I) do what we coined “Gothic Chic.” Even kids somehow recognize that the color of their rooms is their internal state mirrored onto the environment and writ large; that is one of the reasons they have strong opinions.

In a nexus of therapy and kid centered design, I recently dealt with a couple while consulting at the paint store. The two were bickering so much that the whole place felt tense. I went out to help them. Each member of the couple had strong and recalcitrant ideas about what was appropriate for the space, and, in general. As you can imagine and forgive me for saying, it was palpable that this color argument was somehow endemic to how they relate.  Because color is so important, it amplified their dynamics. They also insisted that the kids did not care that much. (This is almost never the case.) I first and quickly identified how each of their ideas did not quite serve the space adequately; this was true but had the benefit of preventing the outcome of a “winner.”  I did  not use smoke and mirrors but rather presented an accurate assessment of the failings of such calcified positions. The second thing I did was ask the children what they wanted. After speaking directly to the two girls, we wrapped up the design in a matter of minutes.

Listen first. My job as I see it is to create the desired effect in the most beautiful, successful, and original way possible. This is one of the reasons I do not have a discernible style nor work on only one type of architecture.  My specialty is color. (See post “Invisible Woman.”) Checking my Yelp account I saw I had a one star review.  The person found me condescending and a slave to trends, two things I eschew. There is a solution to every puzzle. I am there to give you what you want, basically.  Another part of my job is to know my audience; this is a hallmark of good communication. I must say things in a way that can be heard. I  pride myself in being accessible and diplomatic in my process. Clearly I miscommunicated (a funny sentence in itself). All that being said, it is not my job to give you something that will not work in the space by rubber-stamping an idea you have about specific colors.  I might need to modulate or adjust your notion to create the effect you want in that specific space. I can be quite adamant about this.

Our ideas do not exist in a vacuum. Our perception of color is affected by light and surface, rods and cones, obstinacy  and flexibility, evolution as a species, and our childhood bedroom. Humane Design Principles are those that recognize and integrate how people react to color. For example, our eyes feel stress when a contrast ratio is much greater than 3:1. What this means when I design is that even if I want to create a graphic effect I will not choose a color that is much more than three times darker (or lighter) than an adjacent or nearby color. (As an aside, 3:1 is considered the Golden Ratio, so this fact pleases me.) If reflected light will turn your preferred green into split pea soup and split pea soup makes you queasy, I will let you know. Dispelling a preconceived notion is important because habit inhibits both good art and the success of our design, which directly effect your enjoyment of the environment. How we operate as human beings is my overriding concern.


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