Why It's Time to Retire This Whole Color of the Year Thing


It's that time of year again. No, I'm not referring to the season when cheesy holiday tunes start prematurely blasting through TJ Maxx (although I did experience that just a couple of days ago.) I am referring to that time of year when the ubiquitous Color of The Year is announced. Again and again. And again. 

This is not a conversation I generally participate in, ironic as that may be. The Color of The Year happens and I nod or shake my head, depending on the particular chosen hues, but continue going about my business. Because, honestly, it doesn't really matter. 

Yep. I said it. It doesn't matter. Not to me, not to you. Unless you are a color forecaster whose job it is to select these hues or are part of the marketing team of a major paint company. Then it matters. It gives you something to hang your hat on. And it has the potential to make lots of money. Let's face it - the Color of The Year is a big marketing gimmick. 

And why is that a problem?

It's not really. It just doesn't have much of a point. And it doesn't really help anyone with anything. I struggle to find a purpose to it all.

I'm not saying the Color of The Year is a bad idea. I think it's actually rather ingenious. It creates a lot PR buzz that lasts year-long...and then can start up all over again the next year. And the year after that....and the year after that...and the year after that. It can really go on forever because there are an infinite amount of colors that can be featured. (I think this is true. I might need a color scientist to step in here and correct me if I'm wrong.) But infinite, as far as you and I are concerned, especially if we're introducing just one color a year. This could pretty much go on forever.

So why does it need to be retired? A little strategic marketing never hurt anyone, right?

It's not that it hurts anyone. In fact, the crowning of a particular hue as the Color Of The Year can be validating. This year, with two whites (yes, I'm calling them whites because that's what they are), is EXTREMELY validating for gazillions of us. White has been making the decorating world go round for at least the past five years and arguably since the dawn of man. Or at least the dawn of paint.

And it may make some people very happy. "Yay! White! I love white. Now it's The Color of The Year! That makes me happy." And I'm happy for you. And I was happy when "your" color was chosen last year. And the year before that...and the year before that. And I was right there with you that year it wasn't your color, and you were very upset. I was upset, too. Then I had to ask myself why. I was upset because I didn't like it. And because I didn't think I would be able to use it. I was upset because I felt left out of the color party. Because the Color of The Year can be very ostracizing if you happen to be one of those people that just doesn't "get it." (You've been there, right? Hello, Marsala! For me, anyway. )

Before I am deemed a color forecast hater, I should clarify that I think color forecasting has a very useful place in this world. Color forecasters track the pulse of color trends over time and it's important information from a historical, cultural and sociological perspective. So I'm totally on board with general color forecasting. 

But the Color of The Year? Again, I struggle to find a purpose. Because what are we supposed to do with it? If a paint company calls out a single color as their favored hue for the entire year, what are they saying about all the other colors in their paint deck? And what if we just don't like this year's Color of The Year? Do we have to wait an entire year to see if we'll like the next Color of The Year before we paint our homes or buy a new sofa? Does this mean we'll be seeing more white, for example, in 2016? I'm not sure how that would even be possible. 

So maybe we can just do away with this whole Color of The Year thing and celebrate all colors, every year. Or at least you can celebrate the colors you love. Because when it comes down to it, it just doesn't matter. Let's have a color party every day that everyone's invited to. And Simply White, you can totally come, too. You can even bring your friend Alabaster.








How to Create a Mood Board


The design process can get overwhelming - even the smaller projects. By creating a mood board, you are creating a reference you can return to again and again so you won’t lose sight of your intended design goals.


Hey, everyone. Just wanted to let you know that the latest issue of Marin Home Magazine is out. My article, "In the Mood", has some great tips on how to create an inspirational mood board. Hope you'll pop on over and read the FREE digital edition on issuu! Lots of great stuff in there, including an article on Frank Lloyd Wright's Civic Center design. (I can see the gold spire from my backyard - cool, huh?)

I know I haven't posted for awhile, but I'm still here. :)  For those of you who have wondered whether or not I'm still taking on clients - yes, I am! Please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'd love to talk to you about your upcoming color and design projects.

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The Deets on My Apartment Therapy Room For Color Contest Entry

It's time for Apartment Therapy's Room for Color contest again. I entered last year and was one of the finalists in the "Dark" category. (I wish they didn't use that word, "dark". It sounds so scary! I much prefer "deep." Because a space with deep colored walls can have lots of light and therefore not technically be "dark". But I digress...)

Here's a collage of my living room entry from last year, "Kelly's Deep Teal with a Funky Vintage Vibe":

This year I almost didn't enter. Honestly, my "Mystical Atelier" wasn't done done. There are a lot of things that are kind of wacky and unfinished, but I figured what the hell. It was a good kick in the pants to spend a little time cleaning up and styling and taking some decent photos of a space that is how it is. It's a real living space, not a perfect one. At that is a good thing to share.


This room wasn't much to start with. It's a 1950s box with zero detail. The glass in the window is broken, there is a hole in the floor where an outlet used to be, the door doesn't close properly, and it has a silly central vacuuming plug that we have yet to remove from the wall. (I'm sure you can spot it if you look carefully!) The furniture is mostly hodge-podgey leftovers - pieces that didn't fit in the rest of the house - and the area rug (from Overstock) was a quick fix. We needed something for the pup to lie down on so he didn't bang up his bony little elbows. Oh - and it desperately needs window treatments. But, like I said, it is what it is. And hopefully there is some inspiration in that.

After (or rather, "in-progress")

As I wrote in my entry, I was "looking to create a masculine, intellectual, artistic space for reading and playing music. Charcoal gray on the walls was the right color to help lay that character foundation. To keep the space from getting too moody, however, I came back in and painted the bookshelves in a bright red."

The walls are painted in Sherwin Williams Sealskin, a deliciously warm and deep charcoal gray. The bookshelves got leftover front door paint in Sherwin Williams Real Red. (You can see the same color on the front door in the living room pics.)

And just for fun, here's a before of the bookshelves, which we purchased from an estate sale just across the street. Keepin' it in the hood.

As most of you know, I love vintage. The chair was a find at an antique store a number of years ago. It looks pretty, but being a real Victorian piece, it desperately needs to be re-stuffed. Someday.

The mirror is also vintage from an estate sale. I stole it from the living room to fill up the wall space for the photos. But it looks so good there, I'm going to leave it. 

The armoire - which is HUGE - was made by my dad to house our gargantuan TV back in the day before flat screens. This is literally the only room in the house where it fits. It holds a lot of junk, which is good. And not so good.  

I had fun with this gallery wall. My husband has a strange collection of "anthropological" things, and one day I curated this small gallery for him. Yes, that is an actual coat of arms from his family's lineage. The desk below the display was my grandmother's.

I found the green lamp - which I love! - at a garage sale for $3. And the mid-mod end table? Free on the side of the road.

The fern was another item I stole from a different room. But, again, it looks too good in here to move back. I'll just have to buy another one.

The day bed was a recent purchase from Cost Plus World Market. It's not super fancy, and I hope to replace it with some cool vintage velvet find at some point, but for now it does its job well. And I love how the cream color brings lightness to the space. Oh- and the pillows and throws? Some are from Ross Dress for Less (I am not ashamed!) and some are vintage. 

So, now you know all the dirty little secrets behind this room. Hopefully it endears you so much that you feel an overwhelming urge to head over to Apartment Therapy right this second and give it your vote! Voting ends October 3rd. I'd be much appreciative if you can share the love. I promise to send it right back atcha. 

How to Select Paint Colors for a Mountain Cabin

Here's my brother's cabin in Twain Harte, CA. Twain Harte is a cute little mountain community in the Sierras named after Mark Twain and Bret Harte. It's a three hour or so drive east of San Francisco and has a population of about 2,500 people. My brother and his partner purchased the property about two years ago and have been steadily working on the project, making it their perfect mountain getaway.


Although there was originally an old cabin on the property, they unfortunately had to tear it down and re-build. It was too decrepit to salvage. However, they paid homage to the original cabin design with their new construction, and did at least manage to keep the back house (which will eventually be transformed into an in-law unit) as well as some knotty pine that will be repurposed for interior wainscotting.

Naturally, when the time came to select colors for the house, I was bribed into helping. (My brother's a trained chef, so he can always successfully bribe me with a good home-cooked meal.) I had never consulted on a mountain cabin before, but was up for the challenge.

So how, exactly, do you go about selecting exterior colors for a mountain cabin? And how do you do it remotely (since there wasn't time to get to Twain Harte before the painters started painting. Doesn't that sound familiar?)

You start by asking lots of questions.

I verbally guided both of them through a polarity profile, which is basically just a way of measuring and assigning meaning to a structure or space. Did they want their cabin retreat to feel Happy or Sad? Friendly or Aloof? Open or Private? Formal or Informal? Vintage or Modern? Masculine or Feminine?

Then I had them each write up a list of characteristics that they wanted the cabin to have. They were not to discuss with each other - I was very strict about that. Fortunately, I had their complete cooperation and we ended up with two lists that were VERY similar. They wanted private, vintage-y but not kitschy, masculine, and "mountain-y."

The purpose of doing a list of desired characteristics is to help eliminate certain colors. Once you know that a color or color combination needs to be masculine as opposed to feminine, you can wipe out a ton of options. You probably aren't going for pinks and pastel anything. And private, in this instance, meant that we didn't want to draw a ton of attention to the structure. We wanted to have the cabin settle in to the deep browns and greens of the trees and earth.

The vintage-y part was a little trickier. Vintage can mean different things to different people. This is where I dumped a ton of 8x8 paper paint samples on the table and asked them what they liked. (I've learned that this process doesn't work with most clients. It's just too overwhelming. Since we've worked together on colors before, and it was family...AND it was a free consultation...I knew this approach wouldn't send them running for the door.) As we poured over the paper color samples, we determined that vintage-y meant a reference to their collection of American Arts and Crafts pottery - simplified, well-made, deep, rich and bold with a subtle flair.

After determining that a deep color was the way to go, we just had to figure out which deep color...and what would the trim be? As we pulled color samples, we took each of them outside in the sunlight. It wasn't the exact lighting we would have up at Twain Harte, but at least we were dealing with a single light source, the sun, which is much more predictable than interior lighting conditions.

We pretty quickly eliminated the green color family because there was already a preponderance of green with the surrounding trees. Not to mention, the neighbor's house across the street was green and we wanted a little more originality. After exploring violets and reds and browns, we eventually made our way to deep and somewhat muted blues, which resonated well with my "clients", supported their desired characteristics for the structure, and ultimately, their own personalities.

We finally settled on French Beret, a deep blue-grey by Benjamin Moore for the body of the house. And for the trim we went with a more traditional cabin color in the red family, Hot Apple Spice.

And just because we wanted to make things more difficult, we opted for a third color on the underside of the roof. Well, it wasn't really to make things more difficult. It just didn't feel right to use either the red or deep blue-grey. We wanted to lighten the visual weight the color that would be overhead when you're sitting on the porch. But, it did turn into an opportunity to make the exterior color scheme more complex and, I think, interesting. Unfortunately, I don't have notes on the exact color, but it's essentially a medium muted green/brown.

Here are a few more pics:


Color Consultant? Color Expert? Color Psychologist? Who Does What in the World of Color Professionals

There are a lot of terms out there for people who work with color. So many that it can easily make your head spin. I thought it was time to go over the titles that color professionals give themselves and explain what these titles mean, how they differ and how to know what you're getting - or should be getting - when you hire us for a job.

Color Consultant

A Color Consultant will consult on a project working with paint and other materials for a home or business. Most often the projects are architectural, but color consulting can also cross into product design, graphic design, branding and even fashion design/consulting. An individual who calls themselves a Color Consultant working on architectural projects should have color training beyond a single course in color theory, and should, at the very least, understand paint and the effects of lighting on color perception. But this is not always the case. Anyone can call themselves a Color Consultant.

There are various color training programs available in the U.S. One such program is taught through the International Association of Color Consultants, North America. This organization trains its members in applied color psychology and human response to color. The goal of the IACC-NA is "to use color in a more effective way and create more human, user-supported environments through the educated application of color." (For me, the IACC-NA has provided a wealth of invaluable information and has allowed me to take my color consulting and design services to an entirely new level.)

Architectural Color Consultant

A Color Consultant who specializes in architectural projects. Projects can be commercial or residential; interior or exterior. Rachel Perls of Hue Consulting used to refer to herself as a Color Consultant but found that the title was too vague - she would sometimes be confused as a hair colorist or a wardrobe consultant. "Architectural" clearly implies that the individual works with buildings and that he or she has some sort of professional color and design background.

Additionally, an Architectural Color Consultant can assist with branding and company identity. Sound funny? An office building is a huge representation of a company's image. It's impossible to select colors for a business - interior or exterior - without having an impact on brand identity. And, for brand consistency, a company should consider their logos, website, etc. when approaching colors. It can be tricky to re-interpret company colors architecturally, hence the need for an Architectural Color Consultant. 

Color Designer

This term is used interchangeably with Color Consultant. Color Designer implies that a design education or experience is part of the individual's training, whether interior design, graphic design, textile design, etc.

Color Expert

A Color Expert is essentially a Color Consultant who is trained beyond basic color theory. This person should have significant practical experience with color and some sort of formal color training under their belt. Maybe the training can be substituted with extensive self-study, but this is difficult because of the preponderance of inaccurate color information. A Color Expert should be able to separate color myths from color facts and should also be able to speak about color in various disciplines. There should be a deep understanding of the psychological, biological, and cultural aspects of color and the knowledge should be applied in a practical sense, as well as theoretically.

Color Specialist

Pretty much the same as Color Expert, although this title can be confused with an individual who specializes in hair color.

Color Strategist

A Color Strategist is very similar to a Color Expert, if not the same. Approaching color from an holistic angle, this individual is most likely trained in many different color disciplines, and uses the combined skills of a designer and a planner to reach a very specific set of goals on each project.

Color Psychologist

In the U.S and Canada, it is unlawful to use the term "Psychologist" as part of a professional title unless you are licensed in psychology, or are working in certain sectors of the government or academia. Therefore, you probably won't see this title too often. And if you do, you might want to do a little research to check out the individual's credentials. (If any of you know about a licensed Color Psychologist, please share!)

Just because there is a rarity of Color Psychologists doesn't mean that there aren't any individuals who are trained in color psychology. There certainly are. Again, members of the IACC-NA, for example, are trained in applied color psychology. And some design schools offer courses in color psychology as part of their curriculum. But much of this color psychology education is questionable, and, oftentimes, it is this "education" that is responsible for perpetuating color myths. 

Currently, there is not a division of the American Psychological Association devoted strictly to color psychology, although there is a division for Environmental Psychology. Hopefully, in the future, color psychology will be given its own division and own set of standards and will be taken more seriously within our education system.

Color Forecaster

A color professional who focuses on color trends, mostly for marketing and branding purposes. Typically a Color Forecaster works with companies and marketing/advertising agencies on product development and branding.

Color Scientist

Someone who (most likely) has an advanced degree in Color Science and has studied color in the following disciplines: physics, chemistry, physiology, computer science, psychology and statistics. Color Science is defined by Rochester Institute of Technology's Munsell Color Science Laboratory as "the quantification of our perception of color."  Currently, RIT is the only graduate school in the U.S. devoted to the science of color. 


An individual who works on color in motion pictures, commercials, etc. (This is fascinating, really, but too complex for me to get into. Anyone who is interested in everything a colorist is responsible for should check out this website, Final Color.) A colorist can also be an individual who adds color to comic books after the black and whites have been drawn. 

Interior Designer

There is a general belief that an Interior Designer and a Color Consultant have the same skill-set and experience when it comes to color. This is not necessarily the case. As a design professional who has been through a Bachelor program in Interior Design, I can confidently say that my education in Interior Design did not prepare me properly to be a Color Consultant...and definitely did not make me a Color Expert. Did I spec colors for projects before I went through the IACC-NA program? Certainly! That has always been part of my job as a designer. But did I do it well? Let's just say there was room for improvement...and there still is. There always will be. That's the thing about color. You'll never have all the answers because color experiences are infinite.

With that said, as long as an Interior Designer is aware of this, I think they can be amazing Color Consultants. A good designer will know that color changes under different lighting, that different clients have different preferences, and that different colors will create different moods. They will be willing to look at each projects' color design independently and objectively and will help their client find the right solutions for particular problems. If an Interior Designer starts spouting color "rules" and claims to have the perfect beige that works in any space - or if their designs are overwhelmingly devoid of color - their color knowledge is probably quite limited and the project might require a Color Consultant with more specialized color training. Interior Designers - it's ok! We're happy to help! There's room for all of us.

Interior Decorator

Essentially the same as an Interior Designer with regards to color training. The main difference could be that an Interior Designer (assuming they've gone through design school, but that's not always the case) has been educated in color theory, whereas an Interior Decorator usually has no formal design or color training.

Whew! I'm exhausted!!! This is all so confusing, isn't it? Does anyone else have anything to add? Did I miss a color professional title? Or, have I unfairly misrepresented anyone? Please add your two-cents! There are so many exceptions to what I've written here, but we've gotta start somewhere.