What's the moral of this story? Never second-guess the customer. What we might be inclined to dismiss as a possibility might be just the thing for which the customer has been searching. That rug dealer also said, "Oriental rugs are like underwear. The person who wears it (or owns it) should choose it." By this he meant that both rugs and color are very personal choices and that we, as design professionals, should respect that.
Interestingly, in almost every selection in our lives from clothing to cars to every interior product, color choice often is the determining factor. Color usually rules over durability, upkeep factors, cost and sometimes sensibility. Color is, simply, the most powerful selling tool.
In window treatments, color is often the factor that clinches a selection, or proves the most frustrating if the particular hue or shade a customer wants just isn't to be found among the swatches. So how do we go about helping customers make good color choices? Here are some ideas:
1. Remember the first rule of great design professionals: Listen, listen, listen. Then repeat back what you hear, as "Do I understand correctly that . . . " In this way the customer has full opportunity to express his or her wants, needs and desires about the furnishing items you are selling. Try to avoid prematurely jumping to conclusions, interrupting, or making up their minds for them. This can cause customers to be dissatisfied in the long run; they may feel they were railroaded into making a decision or were talked into something they didn't really want.
As professionals, it sometimes can be difficult to be patient while sifting through the color choices. We know time is money, and we often are not interested in spending our precious time listening to the customer. However, if you keep the conversation guided to the selections at hand in a warm and friendly manner, you will often, if not always, find the customer will make the color choices and will be happy with them.
There's an important bit of advice we all need to be reminded of periodically: The customer will live with the choice, not the design professional. If they really want something, help them to achieve it in the most beautiful way you can without usurping their desires in favor of your own.
2. Consider using a category system. Over the 15 years I have taught color seminars, I have heard a range of decorator philosophies and "systems." One decorator said she categorizes her clients into two groups: the green group and the blue group. By this I believe she meant that people who liked blue preferred cool colors, and those who liked green were inclined to warm colors.
Warm and cool colors are an excellent place to start, but keep in mind that warm hues may have cool undertones and cool hues may have warm undertones. See July Design Perspectives.
• Cool colors include red-violet, violet, blue-violet, blue, blue-green, and blue-influenced greens. Generally, these colors are relaxing or calming, but they can be formal and dignified as they tend to clarify details and are less approachable. People may tend to be more cautious, reserved or withdrawn, better behaved and less talkative in cool interiors. The more blue or violet in an interior, the more these qualities are emphasized.
• Warm colors include red, red-orange, orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, and yellow-influenced greens. These colors tend to be enlivening or stimulating, informal or casual. Details tend to merge together visually, and the interiors may be friendly or approachable. In warm interiors people are more talkative, they take more risks, they even may be more forthright, noisy, or in a hurry. The more red and orange, the more these qualities are realized.
3. Think in terms of color schemes. Most clients like more than one color. Making a note or list of the preferred colors, then a color scheme evaluation can be very helpful. There are three basic color schemes:
• Monochromatic schemes are based on one color. However, successful monochromatic schemes will use many varieties of that color from light to dark, bright to dull, and even with various hue influences. Accents of a complementary (contrasting) or analogous (closely related) color often save the scheme from becoming boring. Add to this scheme plentiful white and touches of black.
• Analogous schemes consist of three to six colors that are next to each other on the color wheel (listed under cool and warm colors above). For example, an analogous scheme may be the colors yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange and red. Or, skipping the intermediate hues, the scheme may include just primary and secondary colors such as green, yellow and orange. Advantages of analogous or closely related schemes are that they are comfortable, easy to decorate, safe and undemanding.
Rules that ensure analogous mastery include:
a. Let one color clearly dominate; a second support; and a third and others accent.
b. Vary the value and intensity of the colors to eliminate having the colors compete.
c. Use off-whites with undertones of the dominant hue (avoid white).
d. Use dark values of the scheme or colored off-blacks rather than black. Wood with similar undertones as the dominant or supportive hue is advisable.
e. Don't emphasize the accent color in a way that unnaturally attracts attention. Keep accents small and undemanding.
Complementary schemes are those that contrast. M.E. Chevreul, the French chemist who was the head of the famed Gobelins Tapestry Works outside Paris, stated that complementary color schemes were by far the most beautiful because contrasting colors came alive when juxtaposed (placed next to each other). His renowned work, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors, was translated into English in 1825 and is still respected among colorists today.
There are six kinds of complementary schemes: direct, split, triadic, double, tetrad and alternate. A few rules apply for all these schemes:
a. Let one of the colors clearly dominate the scheme and the others support or accent.
b. Vary the value and intensity of each hue. Don't keep them equal in intensity, which would cause visual competition and irritation.
c. The largest areas are most beautiful when neutralized, particularly with the complement.
d. Use the most intense or demanding color in smaller proportions.
e. Use off-whites and off-blacks that are colored or blended with the dominant color or major support color of the scheme.
Color schemes often are predetermined by the patterned fabric, wallpaper or area rug selected by the client. It is always interesting to determine which color scheme results, whether it be monochromatic, analogous or complementary, then use the rules for success to your best advantage. With a multi-colored fabric that is confusing, use the color schemes above to determine which colors to select so the scheme visually makes sense.
4. Implement color psychology. The basis for color preferences often lies in the physiological reaction to the color. While it is true that we have favorite colors based on our personal experiences (sometimes going back to childhood), it is even more true that we choose colors because of the way they make us feel. Colors have the power to affect our psyche or outlook, alter our mood, satisfy and fulfill, or dissatisfy and frustrate. The reason is found in the physics of light and vision.
Color enters the eye as wavelengths that are received by the cones and rods at the back of the eye. They are sorted and sent via energy impulses to the visual center of the brain for color decoding or identification. The impulses also travel along the brain messaging system to the pituitary and pineal glands, the master endocrine regulators, where physiological commands are dispatched.
Various glands secrete hormones that produce actions or emotions. For example, bright red will stimulate the adrenal cortex to secrete adrenaline, and we feel stimulated toward passion or excitement. On the other hand, pale pink results in an antiepinephrin hormone, and the result is feeling calm or lethargic.
Studies in this area are tremendously interesting and full of anecdotes because there is little scientific research that has proven the body responds in certain ways. However, after a period of time (less than an hour) the counter effect swings into action and the opposite effect takes place. For example, red will feel simply warm and cozy and pink will have people frightened or angry.
Complementary colors help to eliminate a severe swing in this emotional pendulum. So always evaluate how long the user will typically occupy a space. The prime psychological effects listed on page 42 with specific colors will be felt when a color is first viewed, even if after a short absence.
Color is the most exciting element in interior design. It can alter how we feel, how we act and how we interact with others. Remember to respect your customers' preferences, then guide them toward putting color into their environments so they will be satisfied and positive feelings will result.
Psychological Effects of Colors Pure Red-Passion, danger, excitement, aggression, conspicuous, control, action.
Dark Red-Wealth, power, classics or historic appreciation, compassion, sometimes evil.
Light Pink-Acquiescence, innocence, lethargy.
Bright Pink-Celebration of life, sweetness (taste), musical.
Pure Orange-Warmth, friendliness, common, earthy, harvest, home.
Dark Orange-Rich depth, patina, wealth, fame, earthy, solid, dependable.
Light Orange-Well-being, relaxed euphoria, slightly stimulating.
Pure Yellow-Optimism, renewal, intensity, intellectual stimulation, talkativeness.
Dark Yellow/Gold-Affluence, status, distinction, prestige, thirst.
Light Yellow-Intelligence, wisdom, enlightenment, cleanliness, goodness, clarity.
Pure Green-Friendly, practical, frank, honest, calm.
Dark Green-Solid, anchored, tenacity, secure, wealth, nature/natural.
Light Yellow-Green-Freshness, inexperience, youth, clarity, happiness, hurry.
Light Blue-Green-Nostalgia, sea-and-sky, cleanliness, calm.
Dark Blue-Green-Success, wealth, control, vivid clarity, maturity.
Pure Blue-Loyalty, honesty, integrity, royalty, stimulation, restlessness.
Dark Blue-Sincerity, conservative, integrity, safety, peace, kindness, compassion.
Light Blue-Tentativeness, insecurity, cleanliness, calm, expanded time and space.
Pure Purple/Violet-Imagination, royalty, dignity, poise, commitment, drama, theatrical.
Dark Purple/Violet-Richness, depth, security, soberness, sternness, sobriety, dullness.
Light Purple/Violet-Fresh, imaginative, springtime, feminine, kindness, sensitivity.
Pure White-Clean, sterile, crisp, cool, goodness.
Off-White-Similar qualities to white, also takes on reduced intensity of the undertone hue.
Pure Black-Sharp, precise, demanding, oppressive, theatrical, evil.
Off-Black-Similar qualities to black, but less harsh and threatening; more livable; takes on less intense qualities of undertone hue.
Pure Gray-Sophisticated, neutral, noncommittal, unfriendly. Tinted or color-influenced grays become warm or cool and take on the emotional qualities of the undertone(s).
Brown/Beige-Earthy, friendly, rich if warm dark brown, power. Beige is neutral, calming, relaxing, and takes on undertone qualities.
Complementary color schemes
• Direct-those directly across from each other on the color wheel. These are, for example, yellow and violet, yellow-orange and blue-violet, blue and orange, and red and green.
• Split-three colors: the hue selected and the two colors on each side of its direct complement. An example is orange and blue-green and blue-violet.
• Triadic-three colors equidistant on the color wheel. Examples include the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue; or the three secondary colors: green, orange and violet.
• Double-two pairs of direct complements that are next to each other, such as red and green, and red-violet and yellow-green.
• Tetrad-four colors equidistant on the color wheel such as yellow, violet, blue-green and red-orange.
• Alternate-triad schemes with a direct complement of one of the hues.
Color mood groups
Light Bright Hues-Fresh, springtime, optimism, happiness, spontaneity.
Dark Bright Hues-Powerful, stimulating, strength, richness.
Light, Dull Hues-Calming, clean, relaxing, space and mind expanding.
Dark, Dull Hues-Serious, profound, introspective, cozy, earthy.
Karla J. Nielson, Education Affilate ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.