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Choosing Colors Can be Like Chasing a Rainbow

Traveling to Germany and not knowing German, I wondered how easy it would be to read the signs and get around. I laughed when I saw this sign my first day in Heidenheim, Germany. The language of color spoken internationally! Photo credit: ©Cristina Acosta

Color communicates. Any color expert, designer or artist will agree with that statement. But ask those creative types what exactly a color is communicating and the answers you get may have surprisingly little in common.

Here’s why: Color is a language that continually evolves with the cultures that contribute the shades and tones of meaning each of us sees. And, each individual brings their personal biases and perceptions to the mix, further complicating things.

Yes, you can open most any home decor magazine and read at least one color experts’ opinion based on a study about the calming effects of green – or beige – or . . . whatever the next color may be. But the truth is, the focus group that decides green is calming one year, may decide that mauve is calming next year. And, one more thing to keep in mind,  the experience of an individual and the particular mix of individuals in a focus group is always changing.

Consequently, the meaning of a color is a moving target. One person’s irritating red is another person’s energizing red. It’s all about time and place, people and perception.

So what do you do with this information when you’re standing in the paint store looking for an idea or some advice? Here’s a few tips:

  • The first thing to do is to choose a group of colors you love that you think might work for the project. For example – If you’re choosing exterior home colors and are looking for 3 colors, pick at least a dozen that you think will work.
  • Then (ideally, take some time with this step) clip the color samples into individual pieces and spread them on the table. Start choosing your favorites.
  • When you’ve narrowed it down to at least 4 choices, THEN start choosing where the colors go. Such as this color for the body, this for the trim, this for the gable trim, etc.

Remember that when you are choosing colors, you are bringing a lifetime of experience to the process. Respect that first with a little exploration, then listen to the advice you get from friends and professionals. You’ll have a better feel for the color choices that are right for you.