the colors of white

what color is white? The great American painter John Singer Sargent has plumbed the depth of ‘white’ as much or more than anyone.

Marble Quarries at Carrara
The Wyndham Sisters, 1899

White receives the reflected colors of its neighbors, the smallest change in angle or direction, bouncing light from different sources.

Sargent saw more colors of white in a single field than most of us will in our lives.

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“it’s only paint”

It would be nice that for every wall, ceiling, etc. we design, the color is an integral part of the genesis of that part of the work.  Ideally we don’t design and then think about the colors later, rather we think in terms of a green wall or a blue ceiling as a starting point.

Boulder condo renovation, by M. Gerwing Architects

The reality is often quite different.  For many surfaces, the choice of color comes much later.  Sometimes as the painter is showing up on the jobsite.  I think as architects and designers we want to see more of the assembly of the final finishes to tailor that choice of color.  I usually know what walls or ceilings I want to be more or less neutral, but I don’t always know the precise colors until the rooms are built, tile and cabinetry, and sometimes exterior landscape, is installed.

Beartooth Ranch house, by Mark Gerwing at Arcadea, Inc.

For every architect or designer you can probably find another color theory that informs these decisions.  From simply choosing chromatic opposites from the color wheel

standard color wheel from ArtFactory.com

or the infinitely more complex and subtle work of Albers

Sometimes the color that needs to be there to complete the space sits hidden and it takes time and patience to finally scratch that itch and decide that the beam really wants to be red:

Boulder condo renovation, by Mark Gerwing and Amy Kirtland, at Arcadea, Inc.

more often than not the problem requires a more nuanced hand, a more gentle approach

Arugula Restaurant, by M. Gerwing Architects

In the end, the color can be chosen to bend to the other materials, advancing or receding as needed, in support of the guiding ideas of the project.  Until you can stand in the constructed spaces and feel their relationships, their connections to outside colors and reflected sunlight, the choice of the paint colors may have to wait.

"it's only paint"

It would be nice that for every wall, ceiling, etc. we design, the color is an integral part of the genesis of that part of the work.  Ideally we don’t design and then think about the colors later, rather we think in terms of a green wall or a blue ceiling as a starting point.

Boulder condo renovation, by M. Gerwing Architects

The reality is often quite different.  For many surfaces, the choice of color comes much later.  Sometimes as the painter is showing up on the jobsite.  I think as architects and designers we want to see more of the assembly of the final finishes to tailor that choice of color.  I usually know what walls or ceilings I want to be more or less neutral, but I don’t always know the precise colors until the rooms are built, tile and cabinetry, and sometimes exterior landscape, is installed.

Beartooth Ranch house, by Mark Gerwing at Arcadea, Inc.

For every architect or designer you can probably find another color theory that informs these decisions.  From simply choosing chromatic opposites from the color wheel

standard color wheel from ArtFactory.com

or the infinitely more complex and subtle work of Albers

Sometimes the color that needs to be there to complete the space sits hidden and it takes time and patience to finally scratch that itch and decide that the beam really wants to be red:

Boulder condo renovation, by Mark Gerwing and Amy Kirtland, at Arcadea, Inc.

more often than not the problem requires a more nuanced hand, a more gentle approach

Arugula Restaurant, by M. Gerwing Architects

In the end, the color can be chosen to bend to the other materials, advancing or receding as needed, in support of the guiding ideas of the project.  Until you can stand in the constructed spaces and feel their relationships, their connections to outside colors and reflected sunlight, the choice of the paint colors may have to wait.