Book Recommended To Help People Better Understand Color

Here’s a great book designed to educate people about a particular high-quality paint – Farrow & Ball.

I like this book because it is about a particular type of very high-quality paint. It provides information about the company that makes the paint, the people who choose to use it, the ways in which is has been used and why it has such a loyal following.

The book is called Farrow & Ball Living with Colour by Ros Byam Shaw.

Here’s an exerpt from the book:


There is something both brave and joyful about painting a room a bold, bright color.  Whether a fresh green lawn, a big blue sky or the façade of a building painting orange, expanses of strong color evoke an emotional response and this is just as true of an interior as a landscape.  Who can fail to be uplifted by a room that glows with smiling, sunny yellow, feel cocooned by walls in ruby red or refreshed by an energetic blue?

‘A certain blue enters your soul.  A certain red has as effect on your blood pressure,’ said Henri Matisse.  The link between color and emotion has a long history, if few definitive rules.  It is broadly agreed that ‘cool’, ‘receding’ colors at the green and blue end of the spectrum are soothing and tranquil, and that ’warm’, ‘advancing’ colors in the range between red and yellow are exciting and stimulating.  The brighter a color, the more likely a response.  However, there are so many variations within each color group beyond the primary school basics of red, yellow and blue – acid yellows and orange yellows, lime greens and olive greens, blue-tinged reds and brown-tinged reds – that it is impossible to make sweeping statements without much of the truth getting lost under the carpet.  Hence Matisse’s careful use of the word ‘certain’.

Had he been more verbose, Matisse might have added ‘a certain blue used in a certain way, in a certain place’.  Context is also crucial to the effect of color.  William Palin’s beautifully proportioned Regency house featured in the ‘Classical’ chapter at the beginning of this book (pp16-21) is a fine example of strong and contrasting colors used in adjacent rooms to give what he memorably calls an ‘episodic effect’.  These are big, high-ceilinged spaces awash with daylight that pours though tall sash windows, unimpeded by curtains.  Less intense versions of the reds, yellows, blues and greens that William has chosen would have been bleached out by so much light and space.  As it is, ‘India Yellow, ‘Book Room Red’, ‘Stone Blue’ and ‘Pea Green’ bring warmth and life to a house that might otherwise feel too spartan for comfort.  It is almost as if the colors furnish the room.

Architect Ben Entreat has been similarly forthright with color in the very different setting of his flat, on the first floor of an early 18th century house in Bloomsbury, London.  The entrance hall is not mush bigger than a telephone box, so it is perhaps appropriate that Ben has painted it floor to ceiling in ‘Harissa’, an archive color that is the scarlet of hunting jackets, holly berries and old-fashioned telephone boxes.  In this confined space, illuminated by borrowed light from rooms either side, the color feels so concentrated it almost hums.  Painted white, this space would be ordinary; in vibrant red it is a little piece of theatre.

These examples show how difficult it is to be prescriptive about color, especially of the more conspicuous variety.  Opinions are almost certain to be divided, particularly over stronger colors.  On a practical level, a deep, bright color is harder to paint over if you decide that you have made a mistake.  For this reason, it is wise to take care when choosing it.  A patchwork of sample pot squares painted on one wall will not be evidence enough.  Better to paint as large a piece of cardboard as you can find and prop it in different places in the room you are intending to decorate so that you can see how the color reacts at different times of the day and under artificial light.  Some bright colors come into their own after dark, especially when lit by the golden haloes of candle flames.  William Palin chose ‘Calke Green’ for his London dining room with candlelight very much in mind.

For centuries, bright, lasting color that was affordable and that did not decay and fade was a luxury.  Blue paint was rarely used in interiors before the beginning of the 18th century when Prussian blue was developed.  Brunswick green, a copper compound, as invented later in the century and chrome yellow in the early 19th century.  Today, we are spoilt for choice but also dominated by synthetic color that can be crude and tiresome.  This is never true of as Farrow & Ball color.  ‘Cook’s Blue’, ‘Arsenic’, ‘Babouche’, ‘Blazer’ and many more are as subtly beautiful as they are bright. 

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