In Living Color

One recent afternoon, I found myself clutching my paintbrush in two paint-spattered hands, looking up at my perfect (Cottage White) ceiling, and telling my cats, “This kitchen… is the color of… happiness!” The walls are actually Aspen Aura at a 50-percent tint, to be exact, and standing there amidst rollers, paint cans, and drop cloths, I was simply enraptured with the promise of this room. It flashed before my eyes, as they say: I could “see” myself simmering sauces, baking pies, washing dishes, creating momentous meals, and sneaking green olives out of the jar by the light of the refrigerator door right here, far into the future. This color was the perfect setting for the life I was building.

My life, these days, is awash in color. I mean that literally and figuratively: My husband and I have moved from the city to the country in search of land on which to build a farm, I am engineering a significant career change, and we are renovating a nearly 100-year-old home, all at once. I’ve most recently been painting the inside of this old house—a task, you may know, that is actually 90 percent tedious wall preparation and 10 percent painting.

This is my first-ever project of such scale and I’ve been determined to get it right, starting with choosing the right colors. I checked out books on painting and color theory, spent hours gaping at the wall of paint chips at Home Depot, and enlisted the help of a friend of mine who’s guided others through these treacherous waters.

I wanted this house to be the incubator for this new life my husband and I are building. I wanted light and color and warmth, comfort, inspiration… and happiness… to radiate from the walls. I didn’t want to end up like one of my friends who said the colors she chose for the downstairs of her new Capitol Hill bungalow—perfectly lovely as paint chips held up to the wall—made you want to wrap yourself in a blanket, sulk, and read Russian novels when you came inside.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about color lately. We feel color. We don’t just see it. As any aromatherapist will tell you, our surroundings matter in terms of our emotional and mental well-being. With this house renovation, I didn’t just want to parrot a pretty room from one of my many reference books; I wanted to be able to soak in the colors I chose and to actually use them to get me through a time in my life that is exhilarating and fun and also stressful and scary at times!

My husband, bless his heart, is color blind. I can’t imagine. So he defaulted to my judgment in choosing the colors. His only requirement: that the rooms make the most of the light. And judging from the recent reactions of two very different people, he’s gotten his wish.

One woman, a 60-year-old Japanese guest of some friends of mine took time in halting English to tell me how much she admired the color in my dining room (Lemon Souffle) and how the colors of the two adjacent rooms made “everything light.” She added that it was “very American.”

Another comment on my colors came from what I would have thought to be the most unlikely of sources: A scruffy man with a tattoo of his girlfriend’s name on his neck that looked to have been done in the mirror in his own handwriting was re-glazing some of my windows one day. He poked his head into the dining room as he worked and we were talking. He said, “I have to tell you that I really love the color of this room, the way it’s so light and looks so pretty with the color of the living room (Turtle Dove and Mountain Haze).” I thought I’d hug him right there.

He and the Japanese woman had put their fingers on something I’d been thinking but hadn’t named: The light these colors are shedding, reflecting, and pouring into our new home is a metaphor. At this bracingly uncertain time in our lives (and here, I’m talking not only about my family’s life, but the lives of all Americans these days), we need all the light we can get to see where we’re going. There are enough blind hallways and dark corners involved with starting a business, changing careers, and renovating houses that we don’t need to visibly LIVE with them as well. Let the light in!

So how is this working for me? Do I find it easier to get up in the morning, to be creative, courageous, positive, because of these miraculous colors? I do, actually. The thought and care that I’m putting into creating the palette with which my husband and I will live is inspiring me in other areas of my life. In my marriage, creating this colorful cocoon of sorts for us is an expression of love. I like building a spot in which my husband also feels safe and happy and comforted. In my efforts at training to be a health coach after years in communications, the endless opportunities to pair these colors with textures, patterns, accessories, and accent colors spark my creativity and keep me excited about moving forward. And on any plain old day, I have to say that waking up to the color of happiness – despite the rain, the news, the work of the day—does, in fact, make me happy.

Kristy Gledhill