Friday, August 10, 2007

In the beginning, there was beige

Why do people seem so intent on surrounding themselves with neutrals? Is it because they truly enjoy nondescript colors? Does beige make people happy? Is it some attempt at being elegant and understated? Are people afraid to commit to a color? It's a sickness and it must be stopped. IKEA is doing their part, and so am I.

I have lived most of my life in a beige world, but it wasn't always this way. For proof, check out the plumbing fixtures in homes built from 1950 to 1980. The house next door to mine only has one bathroom, and it is vintage Barbie pink - tub, sink, toilet, and tile - with sparkles! The house I grew up in had blue fixtures in one bathroom and yellow fixtures in two others. At some point in my childhood the trippy 1970's orange/avocado/harvest gold psychedelic farm scene wallpaper in the kitchen was replaced by subdued shades of beige and navy blue. The golden brown shag carpet in the living room gave way to beige carpet. I'm not saying I would go back to the color palette of the 1970's, but at least there was color in the palettes of previous decades. Is there any color that is associated with recent decades as strongly as avocado and orange evoke the 1970's?

Groovy 1970's wallpaper in Mom's kitchen
Flashback: Dad and M.A. in the kitchen at my parents' house. The wallpaper went up in the mid 1970's when the house was new. The photo is from the late 1980's.

How does a household go from trippy orange wallpaper to the visual equivalent of khaki pants? More importantly, how does it return to the world of happy colors?

In our house in Belleville I found the previous paint colors - minty/pea soup green - on the walls and trim in almost every room. The entire living/dining area of our house had a fresh coat of rehabber-beige paint when we moved in. To be specific, the color of beige was exactly the color of the light switch plates and outlets. I suppose the neutral scheme was an effort to make the room look bigger, but at what cost?

Before: Living room viewed from dining roomBefore: Dining room, viewed from living room

Matt and I brought home nearly every paint swatch we could find and weeded through them. Then I went to this color visualizer to see how the chosen color might look in a room similar to ours. Our couch is strange grayish-brown that looks purple in natural light. The color visualizer let me "paint" the couch in the virtual room of my choice as well as the walls. This is the image I brought home for Matt's approval:

Screen capture from Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer

He said to go ahead. I had a moment of doubt, but I decided to go for it anyway. I did a quick calculation to figure out how much paint I would need. Two coats later, the beige was gone and the living/dining room was very, very blue. I used a slightly lighter shade of blue on the groovy wood paneling above the fireplace.

After: Dining room painted blueAfter: Living room/fireplace in two shades of blue

The bowling alley floor plan (one long living/dining room) makes the blue a little bit overwhelming. My plan is to differentiate the two ends of the room by using the lighter shade of blue to paint vertical stripes on the dining room walls.


Julia said...

I also grew up in a very "cool" 70's house full of shag, metallic wallpaper, painted wood furniture, etc - and I wore the bell bottoms pants to match. I am painting my rooms slowly - there's still beige in my world - but I seem to tend toward one common palette throughout the house. My mother went for a new scheme in each room. Am I just as boring as beige?

Jenny @ Chronically Uncool said...

Any house with an orange (excuse me, "toasted pumpkin") entryway is definitely not boring! I really like your house.

I think the truth is that we all do the opposite of what our mothers do to their houses, either consciuosly or subconsciously.

Thanks for checking this out!

Sharie said...

I guess I am boring with you Julia, I also have beige covering the walls in my house. Jenny I think the blue looks great, more bold than I would ever go but of course I don't think blue would look as cool in a seventy's spilt level.

Jenny @ Chronically Uncool said...

Thanks Sharie! The "bold" blue was a bit of an adjustment the first week or two, but now I can't imagine going back to something "normal".

If you are ready to move on to something more adventurous than beige you could always try a softer, more "Pottery Barn" update of the classic 1970's orange/gold/green combination. Those colors are out there, but the names have been changed. Recently I've seen them called things like Saffron, Curry, and Wasabi. Whoever renamed the paint colors must be a big fan of The Food Network!

Anonymous said...

That Peter Max wallpaper was the height of fashion back in the day. I'm glad to see it out there in the public eye. Weren't you the one that kidded us about that paper? M&D

Anonymous said...

Thank the lord!!! I'm NOT the only person out there who can't stand all the beige!! I painted my bedroom (this is our first "owned" home) a bright Irish green before we even moved in, but the rest of the house is, sadly, beige....for now...

I love your blue, we had a bathroom that was that shade in my parents house, it's pretty once you get used to it.