Color: A Balancing Act 3

Color: A Balancing Act 3

 Between Unity and Complexity: Achieving Balance

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As discussed in previous posts, color balance in our environments can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. The “emotional loading of a space” in architectural psychology terminology, is the emotion we feel when we perceive color in a space. Perception happens in the brain, and is a process. What we perceive, as regards to color, and thus the resulting emotion, may be influenced by many factors, such as the size and shape of the space we are in, the interplay of the colors that are there, our state of mind, and, of course, the light. I would go so far as to include pattern and texture, weather (affecting the natural light which may be entering  and thus informing the space), cultural associations with the colors used, and our own personal associations with them.

So complex! But also, so much fun. Evocative. Provocative.

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Unity and complexity are two opposite poles, unity related to parts fitting into a coherent whole, and complexity involving variation.  Both are important.  Too much unity, and we can experience monotony and sensory deprivation, in a word, under-stimulation. Symptoms can manifest such as irritation, restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, and interestingly, excessive emotional response.  Why? As I understand it, because  we do not have enough to capture our attention, indeed, perhaps to distract us from our emotions, or to direct them.  As color consultant Helen Gurura says, “People expect all their senses to be moderately stimulated at all times.”  What is the key here? The word “moderately”.  As the saying goes…“All things in moderation…even-  moderation!”

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On the other end of the spectrum, we have complexity, which in the extreme, can lead to over-stimulation. and increase muscular tension, pulse rate and blood pressure. Hmmm…not good. Too much saturated color, brightness and pattern demand  attention both voluntary and involuntary. This can mess with our capacity to concentrate visually and thus interfere with tasks that require this, resulting in among other things, lowered productivity.

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Thus we see that both over and under-stimulation can impair our concentration..one by not giving us enough to focus on, the other by giving us too much.  In both cases we get distracted…by having not enough to see, or by being inundated by too much visual stimuli!

Our goal is balance, the balance between these two extremes, and apparently our minds, bodies, and perhaps our souls and spirits too, crave it.

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Let’s see how balance, or, “the securing of unity in the midst of variety”,  is achieved in the following spaces, visual environments, and color schemes.  We are all human, and require certain things to stay alive, and to thrive.  However our personal tastes, needs and requirements may differ, based on our genetic make-up, backgrounds, psychology, and cultural influences.  There is no one-size fits all for design. Most of us know this from experience. We may need to “play around’, to discover what fits, or “works for”  us best at any given moment, knowing that this may very well change over time!

1st_aThe inhabitant of this sleek urban space wanted a minimum of color. Warm wood, and neutrals punctuated by crisply framed black and white photographs gave her what she wanted, and saved her from the dangers of monotony, sensory deprivation, and under-stimulation. A favorite painting adds a tiny pop of color, and a variety of materials and light-reflective sheens add visual interest without bringing too much complexity into the space.

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bernalRed plays a starring role in this open plan kitchen/living room, adding strength to both spaces in the accent wall below the bar. The warmth of red, wood and rug is offset by the  white trim, and cool metal of the bar stools. Red is often used as an appetite-stimulating color in dining spaces. Here it is kept to an accent, so as not to overwhelm the space and our senses.

lomThis bedroom is in a condo that serves as an “urban getaway for its owners, who wanted a space both warm and restful for their city place, and  high on the “unity” end of the color balance spectrum.  Use of creams, ochres, and warm woods achieve this, while the painting brings in some drama and contrast (IE variety and thus complexity), while staying within the chosen color scheme.

soulAnother use of red as accent, doors are a popular surface for red hues. (Why? Check out this Houzz article on the subject!). The red door of Soulful Pilates Studio in San Francisco (painted red on both sides) ushers students and practitioners into a serene, yet energetic space. Like the bedroom above, warm, creamy ochres are used, but the palette is enlivened by colorful mats, and equipment sporting a variety of textures. The red, intense by contrast, adds complexity by creating a focal point expressing the idea of passing from the outside world to the internal realm, both mentally and physically. A multitude of windows add more visual interest, and plenty of light to the space during the day, as well as framing street “scenes”. Below, the purple mat provides pleasing and complimentary contrast to the golden walls.

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spear_eCream, red and strong pattern are used to great effect in this Parisian-inspired living/dining area,  another example of an urban “get-away” for the owners. Detail, but a minimum of artwork was added to the walls to break them up visually, and our eye is drawn down the “walkway” to the brilliantly colored and patterned curtains at the end of the corridor. The hue on the wall matches the cream in the curtains, reducing visual complexity through a limited color scheme, and the smooth, polished wooden floors warm and ground the animated, yet elegant space.  The heavy, dark painting is offset by playful patterns, streamlined ornamentation, and  an illusion, of retrained opulence. Comme que c’est tres-francais!

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There are many ways to visually balance an environment, and the approach may be different for each person.  You may try changing paint colors, adding or subtracting pattern and texture,  curating works of art, decorative items or textiles, rearranging furniture, or even changing your floor surface…with a rug, a coat of paint, or just a bit of “spit and polish”.

I hope this series of posts on Color: A Balancing Act has offered some insight into how to better live and thrive in your environment, and have more fun in it too.  Color, like most things worth investigating, is a life-time study.  Mysterious,energetic, scientific, emotional and physical…it truly seems to weave its own magic, and power.

May You use it well!

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Color: A Balancing Act 2

Color: A Balancing Act 2

What is the “emotional loading of a space”?

Says Helen Gurura,  an internationally accredited colour design consultant,  and executive vice-president of the International Association of Color Consultants (IACC). “Feelings can be evoked through colour at even an unconscious level and this gives rise to the term “colour emotion”, defined as “an associated feeling or emotion induced in the brain during the colour perception process”. In architectural psychology terminology this is called “the emotional loading of a space”.  Achieving balance in colour design clearly remains a challenge though.”

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In last week’s post, we looked at a variety of exterior architectural color schemes through the lens of visual “unity” and “complexity”, exploring what creates both over and under-stimulation,  and ways of creating balance between these extremes.  The goal is to  avoid both extreme unity/monotony/sensory deprivation which results in under-stimulation, and extreme complexity/variety which can over-stimulate the senses.  As Ms. Gurura states, “The balance between unity and complexity is the first and most important rule in the design of user-supportive architectural environments.”

Essentially, we expect, and I extrapolate from  this want and need  our senses to be moderately stimulated at all times.  I must assume that  dreaming accomplishes this when sleeping…even when mediating, we are often instructed to concentrate on the breath, a sensory experience.

The built environment is a place where we may posit our dreams, our imaginations, even our breath.  When we have been “doing battle”, even if that means fighting the good fight, out there in the world, we may need our homes to return to, relax, recharge, regroup  and  catch our breath in.

Let’s relax now, take a deep breath, and enjoy looking at some interiors that were designed through placement of color, pattern, texture, and more, to not only meet the functional needs and wants of those who live and breath there, but also to express their innermost hopes, dreams, wishes and desires…and perhaps even fantasies about themselves and their lives.

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The owner of a charming home in  Berkeley, Ca, wanted to transform his son’s old bedroom into a guest room, that his fiance would claim as her own special space in the house. His love of strong color, bold artwork, rich, layered patterns and textures  is mitigated to accommodate  her taste for beige by the choice of a neutral wall color and creamy trim.

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The wall color is taken to the bookcases, which frame not only scores of colorful books, but also his son’s powerful painting. By keeping the bookcases “color neutral”, what is contained within and between them is kept front and center, and the multitude of colors and patterns do not overwhelm.

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Warmth, richness, depth,and elegance reign in this master bedroom, where the deep earthy golden-brown-with hints of persimmon wall color compliments the multi-hued wood floor, the heavy dark wood furniture, and fresh white trim.  The trim is needed to relieve the strength of the other colors, and because the room is spacious, filled with strong lines and architectural details, and  large pieces.

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Although this room doesn’t have the plethora of  color, pattern and texture in its details like the Berkeley guest room above, the complexity of its space, containing recesses, alcoves and a window seat, the variance in the texture and light reflectance of its surfaces, and the expanse of textiles on bed and chair, give it just as much visual variety and interest. The room is beautifully balanced and filled with light, comfort and calm, with enough accent to engage the senses.

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Here again pale “neutral” (read, “beige” ) walls and tile, and white ceiling contain,  frame and unify strong color and bursts of pattern,  just as the streamlined silver frames contain but do not restrain the beautiful, bright  watercolor paintings created by the owners’ children. The effect of the paintings and blue-patterned vase is amplified by their reflection in the mirror, which adds a sense of space to a smaller room. The varying colors and patterns are also on different planes: the paintings on the wall parallel to our line of sight, the counter top perpendicular to it,  the vase parallel, but below the paintings, creating a layered effect, adding complexity and variety to the space.

spear_bspear_cThe serenity of this bedroom is achieved not only with soothing neutrals on wall and ceiling, but carrying that over into large swathes of textiles such as the bedspread, pillows and throw. Layers of texture and intricacy are created  through the “distressed” mirror frame which adds a painted and reflected scene to the visual mix, and intricately detailed and tasseled window treatment which adds sheen, pattern, and a whole other level of visual interest, as well as framing the window.  Who couldn’t relax in this room?  R & R is exactly what it is for…and as unbroken as possible. As opposed to…

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the “boudoir”, in the same unit!  This room will keep you awake, though it does share the element of faux fur pillows with the bedroom. Needless to say, the owners are style Franophiles, at least with this space, which is a second dwelling for them, an urban “get-away” from their home in Napa County, CA. In this alcove, they had big  fun “papering’ the walls with a  fabulous, French-feeling fabric, placing a gold “sunburst” above the divan ( covered in the same pattern), and “peppering” it with black fur pillows.  Isn’t it wonderful to have a room where you can just go wild with the design and decor? Shouldn’t we all have that?  This room is just a little jewel box of color and pattern, and we found exactly the right paint color for the ceiling, to pull out the rich cream hue  in the fabric, and soften the pinky-red surrounding it.  Because the fabric is so all-encompassing, the walls, curtain, divan and pillows covered in it merge into one, and the complexity and visual variety is contained in that one pattern. The room is small, the room is warm, the room is happy, and the room sings…a totally different song then the bedroom,  and  another example of “securing unity in the midst of variety….”, and achieving balance, as Helen Gurura would say!

Color: A Balancing Act

Color: A Balancing Act

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We have all had the experience of sensory overload..as well as sensory deprivation.  We may experience overload when entering an environment filled with loud sounds, bright colors, an array of patterns,  and a variety of textures…to say nothing of what we may be sniffing, tasting or touching there.

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We may experience sense of deprivation when a space is too quiet, neutral, bland, uninteresting, and feels just plain boring.  We know something is “wrong”, but we may not be able to put our finger on it, literally speaking, especially if there is a dearth of textures, colors, patterns, and other visual stimuli.

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Although our tolerance for visual complexity and variety, as well as unity and coherency varies from person to person, we do expect, and maybe even need, our senses to be stimulated to some extent at all times. Perhaps we are experiencing this through dreams while we are sleeping!

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Not surprisingly, even our health and physical well-being can be affected by exposure to over or under-stimulation. Extreme unity, or monotony, can result in restlessness, irritation, a lowered ability to concentrate, wandering attention, and an overly strong emotional response.  Extreme complexity/variety can result in higher blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension.  Not a good thing, as we can probably all agree.

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Knowing this, our job as color consultants/designers becomes charged with even greater purpose and meaning…how to create environments of balance (which doesn’t mean symmetry or the sum of equal parts, which might become monotonous), which support both our physical and our emotional well-being, as well as the function of the spaces themselves, and even our life’s purpose!

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Before we get either too lofty, or too weighty about all this, lets look at some color designs and palettes that achieve balance in a variety of different ways. I hope to continue to investigate, explore and disseminate the subject of color balance in further posts. Have fun!

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A nearly monochrome palette relieved by creamy white trim can be stately and restful, especially when enlivened by a multitude of decorative detail.

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Even a deep, rich, dominating hue such as a  burgundy purple can be set off by accents of an even deeper value. The dramatic shift to white in the trim frames a building that the owner wanted to simplify and streamline, while still acknowledging  its details.

B4A slight amplification in field color from the original,

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 makes this building more satisfying to look at, as it is more “complex”(contains more color) . The addition of a dark accent color on the window sashes, and a more intense door color add variety, which also increases complexity, and protects against visual monotony.

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The temptation to “go color crazy” on this magnificent Queen Anne Victorian could have created so much complexity, that our attention may have been distracted from actually seeing and enjoying its beautiful period details, such as the shift in shingle pattern, decorative insets, and dentils.

clay_cInstead, by limiting the colors to a set of resonant neutrals (field color, field color 200% formula and off white trim color), and adding accents in earthy hues of complimentary sage green and brick-red with just a touch of gold leaf,

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we are not so overstimulated by too much variety, and can actually take in and enjoy the details, colors and shapes that integrate to create a unified whole.

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The complex but neutral beige body color, and white trim are punctuated by a rich red service door, a singular detail on this building, which has very little embellishment, or even trim.

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As the owner wanted to reduce the possibility of visual complexity, subtle interest is brought in by the use of a slightly darker and more intense foundation color, which grounds and visually supports the structure. Thus both over and under-stimulation are avoided, and we experience enough visual simulation to provide a pleasing experience physically and emotionally.

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The size, style,, “stateliness” and foliage around a structure can influence color design choices, as well as how much its body is broken up  by its trim. Here the deep blue-green color of the house body is significantly relieved by the crisp white trim and garage door, as well as bright green foliage, which becomes a color accent or counterpoint to the dominating blue and white. As the building reads  tall and thin, our eye is drawn upward to the sky, which completes the picture. Not seen here is the warm brown accent color used on the planters in both the entry way and back patio, which provide  contrast to the blue and green, and complete the triad of blue, green and brown “nature’ colors.

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A unified palette can make a building stand out…even if it doesn’t contain an extreme shift in accent color. Our richly hued “old  burgundy” beauty commands the street view here.  All  the more regal for being contained and restrained in color variety, the palette is retrained yet fun, making a statement without overwhelming our senses. The building itself serves as an accent for a block dominated by pale, nondescript and rather unimaginative hues.  Maybe, stimulated, but not overstimulated by our royal example, the neighbors will be inspired to follow suite and add more local color!

If You are feeling either over, or under-stimulated in your environment, try experimenting with adding or subtracting color, pattern, texture,  changing the value (light to dark), or intensity/saturation (brightness) of the colors, changing your accent color to the compliment of the dominant color in the space, or if there is no dominant color, creating one.

You may just find yourself feeling better on all fronts!

Until next time…wishing you balance, variation, complexity, unity and coherence in your Life!