A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Paint Store

Ok, so it wasn't really on my way to the paint store, it was actually once I got inside the paint store, but that's really beside the point.

Yesterday I went to Gray's Paint, my local paint store that carries Benjamin Moore, to pick up a couple of pints of paint colors to test for a client. (If you haven't heard of the pint-sized samples yet, they are great! Smaller than the traditional quart, but large than those tiny sample pots, which, to me, are just too small to work with. They cost about $6.) As I explored the paint chip section to see what super-hyped up color marketing material has recently been sprung upon us, I couldn't help but overhear the commotion at the paint mixing counter. At first I tried not to listen, but how could I help myself? Some lady was completely frazzled by color.

I kept my distance for awhile, figuring she would wrap things up soon. I could kill a few minutes of time while her perfect colors were mixed, she would pay, leave and then I would go to the counter to get my samples. It's a pretty small store, and I didn't want to overwhelm the guys at the counter - they had their hands full. And, if I hung back, I could hear all the juicy details. (People's color problems to me are just as juicy as the latest celebrity gossip on Perez Hilton. Weird, huh?)

So, about the lady. She was, hmmmm....maybe mid-forties, sandy blonde hair cut into a longish bob (hard to tell, cuz I think she had taken out some of her paint color issues on her locks), glasses, a black shirt, and, well, that's about all I remember. Does this really matter? No. Just thought you'd like to create her character in your head to make the story more interesting.

She had a frantic-ness about her. From my hideout I could hear her say "it's too green...and this one's too orange. I want taupe. Mix me taupe. You know, kind of pink and tan. That's what taupe is, right? A sandy, beachy color?"

The guy behind the paint counter didn't really respond. And I don't blame him. How the heck do you respond to that? She was asking him what taupe is. And telling him to mix it for her. Good luck.

A minute or two later, she ordered "just give me 50% of this one and 50% of this one. I'm bossy aren't I? Well, once we get these colors right you won't have to see me for another 16 years."

I had to stifle my laughter. But, really, I felt sorry for the guys at the counter. They happen to be young guys working in this store - really nice, and get the job done, but, honestly a little too nice with a customer like this. I wondered how many hours she had been at that counter...and how many trips she had made from her home to the paint store and back. And how many painters were waiting for her at home while she struggled to pick the right colors.

Seeing that her transaction wasn't going to be completed anytime soon, I made my way up front. I think one of the guys working was relieved that he could help someone else. I asked him for two pints - one Chestertown Buff, the other, Cork. I tried to give him sympathetic eyes. I hope he didn't think I was hitting on him.

While my paint was being mixed, I found myself practically elbow-to-elbow with the frantic woman. She appeared even more frantic up close, and seemed heartlessly taunted by piles of brochures advertising "The Perfect Color Combinations for Your Home." She had that wild look in her eyes that someone gets when they've stared at paint chips all day. I peered down at her little brush-outs. They were about 2-inch by 2-inch samples, and I wondered what was the point? She appeared to be trying to select colors for her interior - one sample was a medium orange-y brown, the other a greyed-down minty-ish green. She had this teeny-tiny strip of fabric that she was trying to match the green sample to. Seriously - this piece of fabric was about the size of a french fry. There was no way she was going to be able to match a paint color to that! Not to mention the horrible fluorescent lighting overhead. It was a total disaster.

I struggled as I stood at the counter. I wanted to help her. I really did. But, she was not my client, and I'm not one to bombard random people with unsolicited advice. Wait - who am I kidding? I KNEW it was a total disaster, I had no quick and easy solutions to her color problems - didn't even know what the color problems were - and I knew, if I tried to assist her, I might be at that counter for a very, very long time. I had stuff to do.

Paint Guy finished mixing my samples, and while he was ringing me up, I reminded him that I was a designer so could he please give me my discounted cost? As I said the word "designer", I could see out of my peripheral vision the frantic lady's eyes make her way towards me. I smiled at the Paint Guy, and tried to ignore her. We hadn't actually talked yet, and, I figured, now that she knew I was a designer, maybe she would ask me a question? If she asked, I would try to help. Nope - she went right back to her pile of color mess. And somehow seemed even more irritated than before.

As I grabbed my things and started to make my way towards the exit,  I said "Good luck with your colors!" She glanced up at me, still frantic and I think might have said thank you. Then I calmly said, "I am a Color Consultant, if you would like a card."

She got really excited - not in a good way - and, although a lot of words came out of her mouth, the only ones I remembered were "Shoulda, woulda, coulda!" It was such a strange response. I think I then said to her "Well, maybe next time", which is an even stranger response because 1) I didn't give her a card, so she would have had no way to contact me and 2) she had very clearly stated that it would be 16 years before she painted again. I'm not waiting 16 years to help her.

I drove away thinking, what am I supposed to learn from this? How do I help people in this situation? Clearly, this paint selection process was about to send her right over the edge, if she wasn't there already. It doesn't have to be this way. Paint color selection should not be such a horrific thing to go through. I would have loved to give her some advice, but I don't think she was in a place where she wanted to hear it. She obviously just "needed" to get the job done. And any information I would have provided would have probably caused a major short-circuit in her brain. So, I chose to leave the frantic lady alone, hope for the best for her with her project, and blog about it. Maybe somehow, someway, someone will read this post and learn something from this story.