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The Undertones of Color

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There's no mistake about it, the walls inside our home are in dire need of paint.

We have lived in this house for five years and frankly, it needed interior repainting when we moved in, but busy schedules and a solid practice of procrastination kept us perfectly content in our white walled domain. But as the saying goes, all good things must end so the time finally came when we could put off the inevitable no longer. Four dogs have joined our household since moving here – four big, black dogs that constantly rub against those white walls. And do you know the amazing thing? They never bother to clean up after themselves! I know! You'd think at least once…

I've often heard people say that "paint is easy" or "paint is a simple fix", but the prospect of painting was a bit more daunting for me since I'm a bit of a rambler and have moved more often than I've redecorated. And then of course, there is that question of color. My husband and I are the king and queen of neutral to those who know us so our initial decision to paint was quickly followed by what seemed like an obvious second decision - It's already white, just paint it white again. Of course, we intuitively knew that white would be the worst color to pick when four black dogs came into play, but when a third person (a professional painter) confirmed that suspicion, we knew we would have no choice. We had to take that dreaded journey on and around the color wheel.

I had no idea how to pick colors and my husband had no preference at all so I began to haunt the paint section of local home stores, and that's where I discovered that color has come a long way from my little box of 24 Crayolas.

Color has become an industry onto itself and just like any other industry, its key success lies in the art of promotion and in this case, it all comes down to a name that entices you to buy. Gone is the time when we bought varying shades of forest green, sage green, or lime green simply because they were pretty. Now when you look at paint colors, the name itself is intended – no, it is deliberately designed to invoke a place, a feeling, or a sensation. My options have now been expanded to Having a Field Day, Outdoor Terrace, Spring Oasis, or Hidden Lane or would you believe, Extended Olive Branch? Really? A color designed for family rooms for those undergoing mediation perhaps?

We all know that colors themselves have been proven to evoke emotions. There are some colors that naturally encourage feelings of happiness, calm, or relaxation while other colors can induce agitation and restlessness, but when selecting paint, do I risk making a poor choice if I choose Threatening Storm Shadow over Mysterious Ocean Fog or Meandering Dusty Lane simply because of the connotation of the name?

The names get more descriptive for the food driven, how about Sensuous Pear, Celery Sticks, Bitter Sour Apple, Pistachio Ice Cream, Delicate Winter Melon, Tender String Bean or perhaps just some Soothing Green Tea? Do thoughts of animals sway your decisions? How about Cool Cat's Eye Green or Swimming Sea Turtle? Could you use a change of scenery? How about opting for the eloquent names that come into play when you visit the Island of St. Croix, Deep Adirondack Green, Northern Irish Meadow, Lush Kentucky Fields, Virginia Sweet Pea, Bahamas Underwater Green, Kentucky Bluegrass, Austrian Alpine Forest or Scenic New England. One could travel the earth and never leave home much less a single side of the color spectrum.

But wait, I haven't even mentioned the obvious greens. You know, those outdoor forest, and oceanic greens. Let's see, I found Dancing Leaf, Deepest Woodland Green, In the Garden, Spring Cactus, Sheltering Winter Pine, Resplendent Fern Green, Serene Shade Tree, Forest Green Leaf, Green Arbor Walk, Oak Grove, Sun Washed Kelp, Ocean Seaweed, and of course, an old favorite, Seafoam.

The old classics such as sage and teal are still there, but now they've been spruced up (excuse the pun) and have names like Prairie Sage, Soft Sage, and Icy Teal. And it's been a long time since white has been just white. From Arctic White to Spring Paperwhite and beyond, the choices are endless, too much so if you ask me.

Do people choose their paint based on the names of these colors alone? My guess is no, but it's a good bet that there are a lot of people out there just like me, overwhelmed by that endless array of color and on some unconscious level they're looking for something that will tip the scale and end the madness. I mean, after all, once you have it narrowed down to one end of the spectrum, all of those shades start to look so arbitrary so how does one decide? Well, for us, when my husband and I left the paint store we decided that the stairwell and hallways would be Bar Harbor Beige, a color that would bear up well to the dogs, but also a name reminiscent of a vacation to Maine we took together the first year we met. The upstairs bathroom would be painted Good Vibrations. The color itself should brighten up a windowless bathroom quite well, and the fact that the paint name invokes a lively Beach Boys song, probably didn't hinder in the selection process a bit. And finally, the downstairs bathroom will be painted green, but instead of choosing Green Frappé, or Scattered Grass Roots, or any of the other colors we saw that day, we opted for the soothing comfort of a Spring Meadow, because in the end, a green by any other name is still, just a green we can live with, right?