color coordinated

One of the items on our todo list is to consider the colors of the house. At present our default is white, aluminum, and raw wood. This is somewhat comical because white is associated with a fear of color, and we are not fearful of color. We painted our previous house light purple, neonish green, bright yellow, titanium white, dark purple, and caution tape orange. With a wee bit of red. And blue. Baby blue. Needless to say the neighbor was not happy with these color choices (which surprised us since her house was painted the color of a circus peanut with bright green trim; fortunately, she eventually learned to accept our colors). But color is hard. And despite the menagerie of colors we used on our previous home, we’re looking for something quieter this time around.

We’re both into cars (me more than she). When a new car comes out that we’re fond of, we’ll debate what the perfect color is for said car. And there tends to be a certain color that makes a certain car pop. It might be red on this car, light blue on that one, and army green on the next one. And you don’t know what the perfect color is until you see it. That color, whatever it is, just seems to work with that car, complementing and amplifying the design.

The same thing is true of houses, which is why architects prefer to choose the colors. To many (most? all?) architects, color is a design choice intimate with architecture. Most, if not all, of the original Modern masters chose the colors of their houses, inside and out. Frank Lloyd Wright even designed clothes for his first wife to complement his architecture (unclear if his later, more spirited, wives allowed him to do this to them…).

One of the surprises we had with first designing a house was this color issue, and it was a constant point of contention with Architect 1.0. Therefore, when we searched for a new architect, we were clear that we wanted colors from the cool side of the spectrum (with a slight opening for orange, light blue, and black) so an architect could turn us away if that was against his design morals or consider the color preferences up front as part of the design work. Unfortunately for the architects, we have strong opinions on color. Fortunately, my bride and I are (mostly) on the same page (if not, that’s why God invented divorce attorneys!).

Why white? Good question. For me, white is calmer and allows other features to step forward. Outside, white focuses attention to volume and turns a building ethereal. Inside, white allows art, furniture, and people to take center stage instead of walls. Painting a blocky building something other than white changes it, by our eyes, from Modern to Contemporary, and we do not like contemporary.

To a certain degree, color depends on context. We like the menagerie of color out at Agave, a burb of beautiful blockiness (see the background photo for the blog). But even there, the houses we gravitate to the most are adorned with cold colors and materials.

White is also historically accurate to the Modern movement. In their glee to remove all ornamentation from their structures, the original Modern mavens removed all color and settled on white. Richard Meier, a Modern revivalist that keeps attending the revival, wrote that “White is the ephemeral emblem of perpetual motion. White is always present but never the same, bright and rolling in the day, silver and effervescent under the full moon of New Year’s Eve. Between the seas of consciousness and earth’s vast materiality lies this ever-changing line of white. White is the light, the medium of understanding and transformative power.”

OK, so maybe he had magic mushrooms in him when he wrote that, but you get the gist. Plus, white is all reflective, something that’s important in a climate with a brutal sun. (And the scientist in me wants to note that white is in fact all colors combined, but I’ll resist. You’re welcome.)

So that brings us to our house today. A couple weeks ago we had what was probably from the architects’ perspective a bizarre conversation. It was about color. If you recall, when we settled on Option B, the house had (ahem) color:

Analogous to finding the right color for a car, we won’t know the right color for the house until we see it. For Option B, it had a tannish color (wood? limestone?) in the front inset and green on one of the defined volumes to the right. When we commented on Option B to the architects, we noted that we were endorsing the design of the volumes, not the colors. Colors would come later. Later is now now.

What we tried to explain to the architects was that while we weren’t opposed to color (we like the limestoney inset), the safe default for us was white (or gray). And we definitely didn’t like the green. And we couldn’t tell them what colors we would like until we saw it (although we like metallic colors, but even that’s not a guarantee).

Based on that discussion and an attempt on my part to further explain our color position via email, Architect 2D send us this realization with the side volume in medium gray:

Architect 2D noted that if we were good in Photoshop, we would be able to investigate other colors. Since I’m vaguely talented in Photoshop, that sounded like a grand idea! Color wheel: Look out!

First off, let's "paint" that privacy wall up front white:

It seems to me that darn thing needs to be white. The tan looks strange and seems to detract from the tan on the inset.

Now, let's focus on the volume to the right. Let's try...

Pink! Pink, it seems, is a no go. My bride even got angry at the thought ("What the hell!" she yipped.) She similarly doesn't like this green:

She seems to be generally anti-Easter. Read into that what you will...

So let's try the old stand-by, white:

Which looks OK (worse things have happened), but we understand why the architects want to add some color over yonder. It's a little nondescript. What if the grey was lighter?

That's a possibility... What about the baby blue we like:

This makes the bride grumble about Easter again (and threaten violence). Another possibility is a color to match the limestone:

Not exactly inspired. How about a deeper orange:

hmmmm.... What about steely blue:

Naw....  How about a deeper, more pleasant shade of orange, as if the orange has been...

burnt! It still seems to be missing something...

By jove, this could be it! 

Good thing we're not Red Raiders...


  1. LOVE the way things are coming together - LOVE IT!!! Instead of paint color on the front volume - how bout cladding it in either ipe (my first choice), or standing seam metal roofing material or even stone?

  2. Thank you, Ava! We like the ipe, but it's a maintenance nightmare. One of the architects we interviewed happily described the process he followed to maintain his ipe, and it was like something out of a SNL skit. The builder has also described ipe as a maintenance nightmare. Our love of the look hasn't over-balanced our hatred of maintenance, so the ipe is not on the table (or the walls!) at this point.

    Metal is a good suggestion, and something we've briefly discussed with the architects. The door was opened, but the architects are thus far sticking with stucco. Not sure if it's due to aesthetics or cost (another trade = mo money; but then again, stucco ain't cheap). Standing seam oriented horizontally could look pretty good, methinks...