Written By Olivia Dillingham | 12.28.18
It may seem like interior design is stalled in neutral — those ubiquitous white-washed walls, neutral furniture and accents of leather, natural wood and metal. But in perusing the rich hues splashed on the pages of design magazines and Instagram feeds, it’s clear that color hasn’t really gone away. So what does color mean for interior design today — and how can we use it?
The History of Color, Examined
Color, and the many variables associated with it, have long fascinated creative types, according to “Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color,” an exhibition running through Jan. 13 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. The show explores color theory — and its evolution and application by artists and designers — via dozens of rare books pulled from the Smithsonian libraries, posters, textiles and furniture.
“The topic is one that everybody can relate to, but one we often take for granted,” says Jennifer Cohlman Bracchi, who curated the exhibition with Susan Brown. “In doing the research, I found it fascinating how many different types of people from different backgrounds became obsessed with the topic and devoted decades of their lives to trying to create the perfect color model or finding scientific color harmonies.”
Why Color Matters in Your Home
For interior designers, color plays multiple functions in a space. “Colors can evoke memories, and can refer to certain places or moments in time,” says Esther Stam, founder of Studio Modijefsky in Amsterdam. “A lavender blue can remind you of France, but a special type of green can be historical — like we have a city here close to Amsterdam called Zaandam and zaans groen is the green famous there. And colors can come from materials or ingredients that are locally available or used for making colors — colors that are related to a geographical context.”
Color can also serve as a tool to convey your personal history, according to Bryan Mason, co-founder of AphroChic in Brooklyn.
“When you’re able to incorporate your history, you’re able to blend those elements seamlessly into a space without it being dramatic or costume-y,” Mason says. “People connect to that space — color is very emotional when you get that combination right. People will settle into that space in a way they weren’t before.”
Playing with Color
Stam says the same colors can feel completely different when combined with other tones. “A red is different with a light blue next to it or a green next to it, and some combinations cultivate specific memories. A color combined with another one can elevate it to something new. This is why I never get tired of a specific color — it can be something totally different in another composition.”
According to AphroChic co-founder Jeanine Hays, color should be “a fun process, and it can be very playful. When we’re kids, we play with color all the time—our Crayola box with a hundred crayons. And it can be a really fun project for adults.”