No such thing as a bad color

My second year architecture studio prof announced during one particular lecture: “There is no such thing as a bad color.”

That stuck with me. There are, however, very poor applications of colors. For people of my generation, when we think of ugly color applications, we immediately think of gold and avocado appliances and shag carpets from the 1970’s. “What were they thinking?” I often ask myself, “using such dingy colors in spaces a person desires to be clean and fresh?”

An NPR story this morning again declared, “There’s no such thing as a bad color,” this time with respect to the exterior of a house. I must admit, other than my own regurgitation of this statement, this is only the second time I have ever heard someone say this.

Of all things visual, color is the most powerful. Most of us can cite experiences with particular hues that changed or affected our mood, our experience in a certain space — or even our sense of taste. Color is often applied at will on dinnerware, it seems, without much consideration to the restrictions that might place on the types of food which can be served on that plate. For instance, how would a German potato salad taste on a bright blue dish?

Color is the first thing we identify visually. Shape, size, and texture are all secondary on first impression. Yet many, many people in America seem afraid to use any color with a decent saturation of hue — although dark red kitchens are popular right now. Why are American’s so skittish when it comes to color?

Other cultures flaunt their colors. Many cultures in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America use a vibrant mix of bright colors. When a newly remodeled eight story building was painted in oranges, reds and green some years back, my friend declared that “downtown was turning into Africa” — where she had just been a couple summers earlier.

In many ways — not just in the use of color — the United States is kind of bland. Sure, we have an excessively fast-paced culture, the most ethnically diverse culture on earth. But our language is supremely pragmatic, as pointed out to me by a friend from Columbia, South America. He declared that what he said in Spanish took twice as long as speaking the same thing in English. American English, he deduced, was an efficient result of the industrial revolution.

Is our use of color equally as practical, as unadventurous, tied unconsciously to the efficient, industrial nature of our country? It seems this could be the case, although I find a dichotomy that along with the industrial revolution came much innovation. And innovation does not lack adventure.

Try something like the house pictured above, from the NPR spot. If it’s the right application.

How daring will you be with your brush?



About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to No such thing as a bad color

  1. Pingback: Keep dingy colors out of the kitchen « The Aesthetic Elevator

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