Featured Stories

Color Takes Flight

Several years ago, the makers of M&M’s added the color blue to its bag of candy – the result of a vote by M&M’s fans. However, the company soon found that the blue M&M’s were usually the last ones left in the bottom of the bag. It seems, of all the colors in the spectrum, blue is an appetite suppressant. Aside from blueberries and a few blue-purple potatoes that grow in remote areas of the world, blue just doesn’t exist as a natural food color in any significant quantity, and we humans don’t have an automatic appetite response to blue. In fact, researchers say that when our million-year-old ancestors searched for food, they avoided blue, purple or black, which were usually toxic or spoiled. Color affects us everyday, everywhere. It’s in our lifestyle and culture. Each time you step out in the world, you are saying something about yourself, simply because of the color you’re wearing. And the color you choose to wear each day is mostly dependent upon how you feel, what you see in the mirror when you roll out of bed in the morning.


Essentially, how you make your way, how you interact is dependent on color and what you see. Most people think that it’s easy to pick a color, perhaps for a car, a room, whatever. But, in fact, it’s not that easy because color never stays static and it’s emotive. One minute you’re choosing a color – and loving it – and the next minute you’re not quite sure.

When you really get down to the nitty-gritty of color and its affect on each of us, it’s just not that simple. Color trends and our individual experiences play a part. Then, add to that, the different ways of grouping various colors.

For instance, warm colors are those that make us think of sunlight, fire or heat. Colors like red, orange and yellow can create a sense of heightened emotion, happiness and comfort. Red, a highly emotionally infused color, is often used to elevate our passions – negative or positive. Yellow is considered to be a cheerful and optimistic color and is said to sharpen one’s focus.

On the other hand, cool colors like blues, greens and purples tend to recede into the distance. These colors make us think of icebergs, winter skies or a serene setting; they create a sense of calm and being refreshed but, for some, they can also produce feeling of loneliness.

Of course, we all associate color with different things in our lives universal, cultural and individual. We each have a favorite color and, many times, are affected by color trends or associate a color with an experience. Then there are the physiological aspects of color. For instance, seeing the color red increases your heart rate. There are studies that show that you’ll eat more, walk faster and, let’s say, if you’re in a red room, talk more. In fact, that’s why the “red carpet” is a red carpet. It keeps the traffic flowing. However, if it were a blue carpet, the opposite would happen. The traffic would slow down and become calm, less exciting.

“Color really sets the mood in artwork,” says Brian Raitman, co-owner of Art on a Whim Gallery. “It’s either energetic or really soothing. For example, you can have a realistic landscape and if it’s a winter painting, it’s soft, with a lot of white and blue. If it’s a summer setting, of the same exact painting, it’s going to be, perhaps, green, with red and purple flowers. It’s going to be warm and inviting. A piece is really about emotion, but color is what people gravitate towards, first and foremost.”

Studies have shown that the brains of monkeys are triggered first by red, then green, then blue – the colors with the most saturation. This tells us that these colors immediately draw our attention. “To the extent that anyone would find it informative to know how the nervous system works, and through that would gain appreciation of these phenomena, I believe both artists and designers would benefit,“ said artist, Bevil Conway, in a Co.Design interview.


“An artist balances color in a piece and puts it together. That’s the reason that great art is great,” explains Marc Levarn, coowner of Vail International Gallery. “It’s different than someone who takes bright things out of a tube and puts it on a canvas.

Artists can’t escape the craft of balancing whatever range and tones of color they are using to create something compelling.

“Even in the best non-objective art – contemporary, abstract or modern – the color is compelling and that’s due to the eye of the artist, which then translates to the eye of the viewer. Look at a Willem de Kooning or a Mark Rothko. Rothko is a primary example. His squares just float off the canvas and that’s because of the way he uses the color. And the balance between the foreground and the background creates a very spiritual effect. And, so, the color’s the tool, but it’s the eye of the artist that makes the painting compelling.”

When it comes to interior design, there’s no doubt that the use of color in a home reflects the owner’s personality and tastes – and the contemporary glass house on Forest Road does just that. Owners, Michael and Suzanne Tennenbaum, built their home in the late ’80s, when, as the Vail Trail (now the Vail Daily) writer Bill Kerig, wrote, “In a town full of homes that looked like they were styled from an Austrian picture, the glass house sticks out like a jet ski in the canals of Venice.” Yet, in 1989, the home was voted the best single-family residence by the Eagle Valley Home Builders Association. The home is currently listed for sale by Ron Byrne & Associates Real Estate.

The home’s architect created a series of glass boxes that cascaded down the hillside using steel for the structural system. In the end, the steel beams, throughout, were painted turquoise bluecolor_4.


color_6The rug (page 60 ) is part of a Tibetan weave rug collection. “This rug producer is an artist, and each of his rugs is a piece of art,” explains Larry Stone, co-owner of The Scarab, who represents the rug’s creator, Erbil. “He’s extremely specific about details of the overall composition and each time there’s a color switch, the weavers have to change out their yarn.

“There are over 100 knots per square inch, and within that square inch, there are multiple colors. When you look at the details in this rug, it will take your breath away, because there are so many color changes that happen.”

“I chose to decorate our home in a ’50s style,” says Suzanne. “I wanted to decorate the house with a sense of humor.”

In the kitchen a row of enameled, ceramic cookie jars catches your eye. Much of the bedroom furniture looks like it came from the set of the treasured television sit-com, I Love Lucy .

At the time, Suzanne’s use of such prominent colors – especially in a mountain community – was bold. These days, an interior designer’s use of color is a powerful tool that can create a different mood for every room in a home. Its use can make a tiny room feel larger or a spacious area feel more intimate. Of course, use of artwork and color in one’s home is personal; and a designer’s most important job is to listen.


“I love color; and I love art,” says interior designer Patti Dixon, who is known for her contemporary work, which she calls “modern mountain.” “It all starts with my client. The home should be an extension of the owners. So, I get to know their personal preferences. And I take clues from the existing architecture, lighting and other things we are working with.

“Art and color are a very personal expression. When I began the design of this home I started with the question, ‘What is the focus?’ Sometimes I’ll test the clients’ climate to see how comfortable they are with color. I sometimes have to play detective to figure out their preferences, and how much color I can use to imagine and create what the design needs to be. Contemporary doesn’t need to be cool or sterile. I compensate by adding textured fabrics, comfortable furniture and good lighting. There’s nothing better to draw you into a room than color and lighting however, sometimes it’s that wild piece of art.”

Then, there are times when a designer is asked to, you might say, forge new territory. “I had a client from the Mediterranean area in Europe and he loves colors,” explains interior designer Kasia Karska, with KH Webb Architects. ”He wanted to bring the life, happiness and sun from the Mediterranean. Initially, I didn’t think it was going to be something we could use in Vail, and I was hesitant. But, the client encouraged me. And, in the end, it all looked great, especially against the white snow.

“We got a beautiful mixture of glass and hand-made tiles of blues, purples and some reds, and then added colorful European accessories. The entire house is filled with color, yet, more subdued in the bedrooms.”

Karska used the walls as her palette, accenting with fabric and furnishings to bring in the various colors. “Now, I am less afraid of using bright colors and I believe my clients are open to the idea, as well. I think we’re changing directions.”


Of course, in interior design, the choice of colors – from fabric to walls to rugs is personal taste. However, sometimes people are influenced by a particular color or design that is considered to be “trendy.” “The base for one’s palette is usually a lot of beiges and neutral colors,” suggests Leah O’Brian, a designer at Ruggs Benedict.

“Everything else – your couch, your pillow, your paint are all accents. There are many contemporary rugs and colors that are popular now. We’ve seen a lot of lighter or white rugs, which is unusual in the mountains, because of the the heavy foot traffic. But, traditional is still always going to be a favorite.”

Stone agrees. “Historically, we have always sold traditional rugs more than any other style, although we have seen an enormous amount of contemporary rug productions.”

The fashion industry, too, is always changing directions presenting, each season, new colors, hot trends the “must haves” – if one truly wants to be a fashionista. People known as “fashion forecasters” are continuously hunting and gathering information based on mood, behavior and buying habits of consumers which designers wait for with baited breath. We might also learn about the new length of a skirt, the fit of a shirt or whether or not we should have holes in our jeans. But learning the new, hot color is foremost.

“Color makes you happier,” says Barbara Smith, manager of Blitz in Vail. “When you put on a bright color – whether it’s coral or turquoise or purple, you just feel better. There isn’t much color in winter because, in general, winter is oppressive. Yes, we might see clothing in burgundy, camel and deep greens but, mostly, everything is black.


“I never understand why, in the industry, we can’t have color year round. When we get into summer, we have so much color. Plus, the clothing is lighter. So, you add the color to the lightness of the fabric and it makes a huge difference in your mood.”

Two years ago, PBS produced a video titled, The Effects of Color, in which experts from the tech to the fashion industries discussed the evolution of shift in color. They agreed that economic, social, political and technological influences are all drivers of why color is always evolving. “With all the economical events that have happened in the last few years, people will gravitate to safe colors like brown, which is rooted to the past and rooted in the ground,” says Doty Horn, founding director of ColorVoyant, a business-to-business visionary color marketing firm. “Then, when we need a pick-me-up, they add something that presents a totally different look. Like after the depression, people needed to put something back in their lives, so they colored glass and that’s where the term ‘depression glass’ comes from.

“Go back to the ’60s and we saw the psychedelic colors because of the drug culture. Pattern on pattern, color on color, it was just a kaleidoscope of everything happening at once. In the ’70s we rested for awhile – we ‘browned’ out. There was almond and beige, so, in forecasting, we look at those kinds of trends which are constant and also something new and different for the future.

“So, you’re looking at color in a different way of accenting it, rather than changing it. You think, ‘How do I arrange them and how do I speak about them so that other people understand what I’m saying or doing?’ ”

All of this points to one thing: our perception of color affects our minds and our bodies, as well. From art, to design, to food, color, literally, “colors” our every move, our every decision.