February 04, 2004

a painted house

Color is a trickster god. Luscious, seductive, sucking you in, making you go buy a quart of paint in that color, yes, that chip, yes isnít it so lovely you could eat it out of the can? And then when itís got you in its clutches, itíll turn around and bite you in the ass.

I painted the living room this weekend. It was a lovely shade on the chip. Palest sunset, it was called. Isnít that evocative? The hint of orange to warm our walls. It was just a hint, all right. Iíd call it white with diluted homeopathic essence of yellow-orange. Iíd call it palest off-white maybe-cream-if-you-want-to-stretch-the-truth. Nice color, I guess. If youíre looking for white. But we were looking for an orangey-yellowy sort of color. Not too dark, the room is dark to begin with. Not so strong, we canít overpower the beautiful wood built-ins. Something soft and cheering as you walk in after a long drive home.

Color is an odd sort of beast. Pick the wrong one and everything in the room seems off. The color seems pasted on, too garish or too mild or too dingy or just plain tacky. The room itself takes on an aura, stops fitting together, as if it suddenly broke, realigned, misconformed. How do you find the right one amidst all the hundreds of chips on the color wheel?

Iíve talked about this before, but we saw a place three years ago while we were house-hunting. The house itself was small. If you stepped back to analyze the room layout and built-in details, it was not unlike many other Spanish style houses in the area. But the way the owners had painted and landscaped and decorated, oh. Everyone who walked in wanted to buy the place. And yet. They chose absurd color combinations, a wall sponged with not two or three shades off the same color chip the way youíre supposed to, but half a dozen different colors, all jumbled and splattered on top of each other. The effect was oddly soothing. They painted stripes on the hallway wall, not complimentary colors either. Peach and green. Ugh, right? But no. The green was soft and just right and the effect of the two together? Delicious.

I walked away from that house Ė I think we both did Ė feeling inspired. We can do that too. We can mix and match and sponge and marbelize and paint diamonds on the walls. When we have a house, of course. Because we didnít put an offer on that one. It was, after all, too small. And too perfect unto itself. Not a house we could claim as our own, put our imprint on. But we were thrilled that someday soon we too could do that.

I see other houses, too, friendsí houses. They have deepest red on the walls in one room, deep green in another, intense yellow in the kitchen. The effect is invigorating. Maybe we could do that too, I think.

Well, we canít. Because this house we have, it wonít let us. We managed to slip a deep blue onto two walls of Damianís room. It seemed to know that was a kidís room and so it let us. But we tried medium purple on the kitchen moldings. No go. And every time we try to imagine a strong color anywhere else, it says ďNoĒ and ďDonít you dare.Ē And so we donít. We bow to the houseís superior knowledge and grandfatherís wisdom (it is, after all, ninety one years old) and agree to treat it gently with only the softest of colors. A pale sage green in the guest room, cream walls in the kitchen (with pickled orange cabinets and those muted purple moldings, not the typical definition of conservative, I know, but trust me, itís hardly a Technicolor daydream). And the living room, a pale orangey yellow. The color of sunshine, ideally. The sun this shaded house rarely gets.

At least that was the plan. But we went too conservative in this case and the color was very nearly white. And the off white room was sallow and unpretty, like a hungover starlet without her morning makeup. We thought about living with it for a while, seeing if it grew on us. We worried that anything darker would be too much, too bold, too strong. We went out and bought another quart of paint anyway. This one called Warm Rays.

I painted. Again. Two coats of primer over the holiday break. Two coats of Palest Not A Color this weekend. Two coats of the sweetest warmest orange-hued yellow yesterday and today. My shoulder hurts with repetitive stress, my arms are spattered with a fine coat of latex, but the room is so very pretty. It just woke up from a long winter nap. Itís come alive.

The right color seems like itís been there on the walls forever. Thatís how you know when you find it.

(Photos tomorrow, if I can.)

Posted by Tamar at February 4, 2004 11:05 PM