Monday, September 23, 2019

Neutrals Are Important

By, Denise Turner, ASID, CID, CMG

Neutrals are the “non-defined” colors of black, white, gray, off-white, and brown. Neutrals continue to be the favorite colors of most, because they’re “safe colors.” They’re comforting, unpretentious, and timeless classics. When we seek out simplicity and refuge, neutrals are there to soften our souls. 
That being said, I’m now going to contradict what I just told you. Even though neutrals are considered comforting “safe colors,” they are not considered “healing colors.” Neutrals don’t appear on the chakra color chart because chakra colors are “clear colors” and vibrate to a much higher frequency than muted, neutral colors. Like everything in life, there needs to be balance of calm with accents of excitement. An interior completely done with primary and secondary colors (red, blue, yellow, orange, purple, green) would look like a piñata explosion. It would cause color sensory overload. There would be no relief for the eyes, making it difficult to focus. This is where neutrals come in. They work as backdrop colors to balance more vibrant colors.

“I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.” -Winston Churchill
BROWN is associated with: dependability, earth, grounding, stability, harmony, and neutrality. It’s the color of hearth and home, rich woods, stone, and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Brown is generally seen as an inviting and soothing color, making it ideal for any room of the house.
Like the majestic giant Sequoia that represents strength, brown represents secure roots, stability, security, and comfort. Life just wouldn’t be the same without our favorite, feel-good brown indulgences, such as stone-ground bread, coffee, oatmeal cookies, and let’s not forget chocolate. 
Even though brown in wood tones is not typically considered a color, it still leaves an impression on the human mind. Interestingly, people who claim to dislike the color brown generally feel quite comfortable surrounding themselves with wood or wood tone flooring and furnishings. 

Beige and taupe are brown’s first cousins; they’re just lighter. Typically, warm neutrals include light to medium browns. 
Taupe is a chameleon color, because it typically has a drop of rose, mauve and green. It’s inherently warm because it’s brown-gray. 
There are also beiges with purple or pink influences. These subtle classics withstand the ever-changing color trends. This is the dominant color family for home, office, health care and hospitality. For all these reasons, beige is the bestselling color family in the paint industry.
Downside: Brown can be ho-hum, especially in monochromatic color schemes, if there’s no variety of textures and patterns, a good balance of lights, mediums and darks, or accent colors. 
For some subtle mental stimulation, accent with green or blue. Do you want a calming backdrop to a room so that your accessories will pop? Brown is a terrific neutral that works well with vibrant accent colors.

“Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy—but mysterious. But above all, black says this: I don’t bother you—don’t bother me.” Yohji Yamamoto
BLACK is associated with: power, elegance, formality, sexiness, death, evil, and mystery.
To some, black is ominous and scary, while for others, it’s sophisticated and timeless. Since black absorbs all colors and carries every color of the rainbow, it holds the mystery of hidden colors. Regardless of how you view black, we can all agree that its presence can never be ignored.
Psychological preference tests done among teenagers showed a striking tendency towards black. Teens’ preference for black is believed to be a sign of defiance and the desire for independence from parental and societal rules. Really? Teenagers and defiance! Doesn’t that go together like peanut butter and jelly? 
But, let’s get serious! There’s a reason why black isn’t on the color healing chart. While white reflects all colors in its presence, black absorbs all colors. Since color is energy, the color black physically drains us faster than any other color. So, if your teen is chronically exhausted and his or her wardrobe consists primarily of dark gray and black, the solution can be easy. Adding some color into your teen’s wardrobe can change his/her energy level. In my personal observation, the majority of teens start to incorporate color into their wardrobe by their later teens. 

When a person wears black most of the time, it may be a sign of dissatisfaction or a feeling that something is missing from his or her life. Depression is one of the psychological symptoms of black. According to studies, the issue that the person can’t face may be keeping them in the black. For teens, it could be peer pressure, low grades, or poor body image. For adults, it could be a bad relationship, low self-esteem, or unfulfilled career goals. Their black wardrobe becomes a safe hiding place in their own world. Introducing colors into their wardrobe often brings forth a more positive personality.
Statistics from a study of more than 52,000 National Hockey League games reveal that teams were penalized more for aggression while wearing black jerseys. In 2003, the NHL 2003 changed its jersey policy to require that home teams wear white jerseys. The authors of the study compared data and found that significantly more penalties for aggression had been recorded when teams wore black jerseys, compared to when they wore white ones. 
Black also intensifies other colors and makes them appear more luminous, as in the case of make-up. But the cosmetic industry has nothing on ancient Egyptian women who would outline their eyes in black to make their expressions more mysterious. 
What about the blanket statement that black is sexy? It actually depends on if you’re a man or a woman. The profound effect that color has on the attraction of both men and women may just cause you to rethink your wardrobe color. While most women view black as sexy, most men do not. Ladies, if you want to get your man’s heart racing, wear red instead of black. 

In her book Colors For Your Every Mood, Leatrice Eiseman says, Although attitudes about black have changed in general, most people would agree that 
too much in the home or office is literally an “overkill”: too somber, too depressing, too 
dark. To live in too dark of an environment would be like returning to the cave! Although 
dark colors can be used in some areas of the home, where enclosure might be cozy and 
comforting (like hunter green walls in the den), solid black is simply too oppressive and 
light-absorbing on major space like the walls.
No color can be labeled good or bad and like everything in life, there needs to be moderation. Black is best suited as a powerful accent color and can add an elegant presence to any interior. Try black as an accent color on chairs, pillows, accessories, lamps, printed patterns, area rugs, cabinets, counter tops, or combined with other colors. 
Black and white is the quintessential classic color palette for fashion and interior design. In the ever-changing world of color trends, the black and white combination is always present. Just like the little black dress and white pearls, this combination never goes out of style. As in the yin-yang symbol of Taoism/Daoism, black and white represent the balance of opposite, yet necessary, forces such as night and day, masculine and feminine.
Black and white can be a dramatic color combination. Shadow and light highlights the good bones of any design.

“Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.” -Allen Klein
GRAY is associated with: neutrality, safety, coolness, timelessness, practicality, and conservatism.
Gray has an inherent calmness and sophistication. It’s the marriage between black’s power and white’s purity. Gray is neither black nor white; it’s literally a color of indecision and uncertainty. Being in the “gray area” defies direct action.
Technically speaking, gray, like black, is not actually a color. Gray is termed “achromatic,” or devoid of hue. As a direct descendent of black, gray slides up and down the value scale. It can range in shades from the deepest near-black, to the lightest pearly tints, and everything in between. 
Our body has its own language, and whenever something is wrong, it sends us various signals. One of these signals is color. Gray is the only color that gives us prior warning that trouble is brewing in the body. For example, if the whites of your eyes, nails, or skin turns from a healthy glow to a gray tint, that’s an indicator that your body is in need of medical attention.   
When we’re experiencing cabin fever or looking out at dreary skies and waiting for the gray to disappear, gray reminds us that the vibrant colors of summer are in the distant past. When temperatures drop, daylight hours decrease, the rainy season begins, and the sky becomes gray and there’s less color in the environment, people’s depression symptoms increase. The reduced amount of sunlight can affect levels of chemicals and hormones in the brain, such as serotonin, which helps to enhance mood, and melatonin which affects sleep and mood patterns. 
For some, especially for those who live in northern regions, these symptoms result in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). One of the easiest ways to combat SAD is through colored light therapy. The October 2011 issue of Psychology Today reports: 
Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] is strictly defined as present when a person has a mood disorder which occurs during a particular time/season of the year, and then clears completely at other times of the year. Current criteria require that this occur for 2 years, consecutively. In practice, most people have a seasonal component to their depression, but do not fit strict criteria. Nevertheless, people with a seasonal component do benefit from light therapy.

Gray certainly does stir up the full scale of emotions associated with it. Often it gets a bad rap. In fact, very few people choose gray as their favorite color. In Color Environment and  Human Response, Frank H. Mahnke writes about the drawbacks of using too much gray: 
A newly opened restaurant failed to attract business. Although the owner tried to establish an exquisite and refined atmosphere, his choice came from a misguided concept of elegance. Major walls were light gray, accented with shades of bluish gray; tablecloths and upholstery were snow white. The results would have delighted a penguin, but it left the diners cold. Elegance must not be perceived as aloofness; coldness and sterility are uninviting and certainly not relaxing. Gray is not an appetite color. People do not like gray food, so why should they be expected to look at gray walls?”
However, while some may find gray murky or depressing, others respond to gray’s ability to make other colors sing. In fact, the majority of professional interior designers will agree that gray is their favorite neutral color and it’s the one color they couldn’t live without. You can go either cool or warm with it and can contrast any color against it. Gray is perfectly happy to stay in the background, supporting more vibrant colors or mixing with different tints and shades of gray to create a sense of simple glamour.
All in all, gray is dependable for several reasons. It ages gracefully because it’s timeless and not strongly recognizable as a “trend color.” It’s quiet, peaceful and non-threatening. It’s classic and safe. It rarely shows the ill effects of fading. If you long for serenity, using gray is a great place to start. These are strong enough reasons that some people choose this color for their home and wardrobe. 

“White is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing; as fierce as red, as definite as black.” -Gilbert K. Chesterton
WHITE is associated with: calm, purity, equality, clarity, simplicity, and efficiency.
White sets the tone for harmony and balance. It provides a sense of personal solace and revival for weary minds. It’s the purest color. It creates a sense of space and sophistication, and gives a feeling of freedom and uncluttered openness. It also reflects the entire visible light spectrum.
White is possibly the most misunderstood of colors and here’s why. First of all, “white,” or more specifically “off-white,” is not a single color. Just visit Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore’s website and you’ll be smitten with hundreds of off-whites. While ever so subtle, off-white’s undertones represent every color in the rainbow.
I always chuckle to myself when I hear people say, “I’ll just paint my house off-white, because it’s easier.” So not true! As someone who works with color for a living, finding the right white can be tricky. Mainly because every off-white has an undertone that may lean towards pink, blue, yellow, orange, violet, or green.
In his book Color Psychology and Color Theory (1950), color consultant Faber Birren states that “although some lighting engineers may recommend white for working environments (to gain as much light as possible per watt consumed), the bright environment is quite objectionable. White walls may close the pupil opening, make seeing difficult, and set up annoying distractions. For the sake of a 5 or 10 percent increase in lighting efficiency, there may be a drop of 25 percent or more in human efficiency.” This is especially true if the white is too pure. Birren believed that to support the best viewing conditions, one’s working environment should have: dark floors and walls, and material and equipment in soft colors. 
Frank H. Mahnke says in his book Color Environment, & Human Response (1996): “From a psychological viewpoint, white in its cleanliness, is sterile. But using it in hospitals, for example, to denote hygiene, is nowadays a misplaced application. It makes us think of unemotional clinical practice rather than involved human caring. Life is color, not detachment.”

Which leads me to surgeons’ green scrubs. Originally, scrubs were white, for the purpose of cleanliness. According to an article in a 1998 issue of Today’s Surgical Nurse, in the early twentieth century an influential doctor changed the scrubs to green, because he thought it would be easier on a surgeon’s eyes. Although it’s difficult to confirm whether green scrubs became popular for this reason, here’s why it makes perfect sense: green helps doctors see better in the operating room. The phenomenon called “afterimage” shows that if you look at a color for just a few seconds and then look away at a white surface, you will see the complementary (or opposite) color. If surgeons focus on red, such as blood, when they look away at a white surface, they’ll see the complementary green. The same applies to every other color on the color wheel.
White is such a versatile color that it can be paired with anything. It’s interchangeable and complements any style, tone, and attitude. Paint a room white and you have a blank canvas. But if you wallpaper a room with bold wall covering, you’re committed. Since white is so reflective, the right lighting is extremely important for white interiors. Lighting helps give definition and character to a space. The room can seem warm or cold, depending on the light source (natural or man-made). 

So, with all the positive feelings associated with the color white, why is it at the bottom of the list in color preferences tests or psychological color tests? Practically no one will choose white over “color.” But there’s one exception: interior design. When it comes to painting and decorating a home, especially interior walls, white always seems to make its appearance. White (or light beige) are excellent colors to paint your house to sell. These colors are like a blank sheet of paper for prospective buyers. White walls also open sight lines, making spaces feel and look tangibly larger and more inviting. 
Consumer studies have shown that people choose white for their home not because of any great passion, but because it’s a safe, neutral color. In fact, of all the colors in the rainbow, white remains the number one bestseller in the paint industry.
But be cautions with white! White denotes purity and cleanliness, but can have a clinical appearance, making it unfamiliar and strange to most people. In some environments, the absence of color can be eerie. Too much white can be sterile or cold; it’s best to select a warmer white hue, as it is more comforting and soothing.
Muted colors work really well with white. If you’re looking for a color that doesn’t upstage it, merely complementing the white with a softer hue can be interesting. Pair white with pastels, but proceed carefully, as they can look like baby colors. White trim, molding, and cabinetry framed in darker colors, can be used to show off the architectural features of the room.

Other tips for working with white: 
• Although the trend is changing, for centuries, white and off-white have been the standard wall colors for examination rooms. White rooms make it easier for doctors and nurses to better diagnose the color of their patient’s skin, eyes, and tongue. 
• White reflects more light than any other color. When used on the ceilings, white maximizes light reflection, which means savings on utility bills. Closets and the inside of cabinets are ideal places to use pure white. 
•White creates a feeling of luminosity and clarity. Coupled with a full spectrum color palette, white separates the space and enhances the eye’s ability to focus.
Downside: White reflects and amplifies all colors that surround it (especially pure-bright white), which is why the human eye perceives pure white as a brilliant color. The glare causes the pupil to constrict and may cause eyestrain and headaches, especially if the surfaces are highly reflective.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash 

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