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Conversation Starter: The Myriad Responses to the Colors Around Us


By Barbara Jacobs

Why talk about color?

It’s not because subjects pertaining to “color” are among my own personal favorite topics (even though they are), but rather that we all share many common experiences that relate to the world of color.

What is there to discuss?

There’s so much material and information available now, from a multitude of perspectives and sources, and the list of possible topics just goes on and on.

But here, I’d like to create a place for dialogue. The topic of “Why talk about color?” is a great place to start. What are some of the experiences we share that stem from the subject of color?

The colors that surround us have physical and emotional effects that we might not even be aware of. This is often referred to as “mood,” but there’s so much more to it!

In our neighborhoods, the exterior color of buildings can have an effect on how the particular neighborhood, or development, is perceived by residents, visitors, and prospective buyers.  In addition to the community culture, the actual lighting and other conditions of a geographic area make a big difference in effective and appropriate color use.

Even within our own country there is such a wide variety of color use that stems from each geographic area. Often the natural colors of indigenous plants and materials set the tone for architectural color; for example, the Southwest has a distinctive look and feel. And, transposing the brightly colored Victorian homes of San Francisco—so beautiful in the intense light of that city—somehow does not look quite at home in New England. Worldwide, the color of cities is another fascinating subject to explore!

Usually we’ll have an immediate response to a place or even an object: “Love it!” or “Hate it!” or somewhere in between; maybe it’s ambivalent, or even it’s just that we’re not really taking the time or effort to recognize what it might be.

Barbara Jacobs
The colors that surround us have physical and emotional effects that we might not even be aware of.

Our subjects will include some of the ways colors of paint, wallpaper, or hard surface materials like flooring and tiles can create a space or an exterior. In addition, lighting is a critical element in our perception of color and our environment. I’m not a lighting expert at all, but an awareness of how light affects perceived color is important in making color decisions.

Q & A: Readers, please submit your questions, dilemmas, ideas, and even send images to discuss.  I’ll select one of your “Qs” to feature from time to time. Residential, commercial, health care…any type of environment is a potential subject for discussion.  I look forward to hearing from you in our ongoing color and design explorations.

About the author

Architectural color consultant Barbara Jacobs is the originator of Barbara Jacobs Color and Design, a design and consultancy firm offering “integral color solutions for architecture, interiors and business.” She has been an IACC-accredited color consultant/designer since 2000 and an active member of IACC-NA (International Association of Color Consultants/Designers-NorthAmerica) since 1996, also serving as the newsletter editor for that organization (

Barbara has worked in the field of environmental color design since 1986. Her work has also included creating and installing decorative finishes in residential and commercial projects. In 2003 she developed a new system for creating, pricing, presenting, and installing fine decorative finishes: The Metropolitan Collection, a new concept in decorative finishing.

Barbara has written for and been featured in a variety of magazine articles, and on
These publications include Design New England, Journal of Architectural Coatings (now Durability + Design), Boston Business Journal, Shopping Center World, Home Accents Today, Boston Home and Garden, New England Real Estate Journal, and others. She has been a guest lecturer for a variety of educational and professional audiences, and is available to create presentations on color tailored to specific audiences. A few of the topics she has addressed can be found on the presentations section of her website. (

The web site for Barbara Jacobs Color and Design is located at; Barbara also can be contacted at, 508/359-5753 or 508-472-8105.


Barbara Jacobs

Can we talk?...about color, that is. That’s our objective with this ongoing discussion—a Color Exchange, if you will—in this Durability + Design blog. Whether we know it or not, color affects all of us, in many ways. So let’s engage in this exchange and explore this mysterious and exciting subject of color, its effects, and its applications.



Tagged categories: Color; Color + Design; Design

Comment from Carolyn Atkinson, (5/22/2011, 5:21 PM)

A response from New Zealand - I talk about colour and how it works and how people feel about it all of the time - it is my job and being a naturally chatty type of person I am asked to do workshops and seminars often. Confidence in regard choosing colour is often a hard won exercise. What looks good in some situations - in some geographic areas - in different qualities of light both natural and artificial - is not a constant,measurable element but is often a chameleon. People respond to colour from a emotional bias but their choices need to be trialled against light changes, associated coloured elements that might alter what the eye sees and how it changes your perception of space. When their choice of colour turns out to be 'wrong' it annoys them and rather than learn why it didn't work it is often easier to blame the person who mixed the paint colour. They must have made a mistake! Errors of judgement happen frequently - what the eye sees as 'delightful' and chosen for a completely different situation than where it was originally used is so often a mistake. I say to people 'don't follow trends - choose your own palette of colours - trends are ephemeral - here today and gone tomorrow - choose colour that you really adore for a possible decade of use'.

Comment from Joseph Schinner, (5/23/2011, 11:10 AM)

Barbara doesn't say whether she has been involved in car colors. One thing I noticed years ago was that the popularity of auto colors is controlled by the manufacturers to great degree and not as much as the 'buyer's choice' as they indicate. Cases in point were when I tried to buy a red car twice and a green car twice (separate purchases each time). When I tried to buy a red car it wasn't available one year and the other year they only had an ugly 'Carmine' purplish color in my models. Ditto, in essence, for my green experience- none that year or an unimpressive teal.[Yellows weren't available then at all.] So each time I went for a more conservative, sophisticated 'silver-grey' or a white- 3rd or 4rth choice- and the number crunchers counted me as rejecting my colors of choice. Well, naturally I wasn't the only buyer in this situation but the popular choices are then artificially skewed, perhaps not from the overall 'ranking' of choices but certainly the actual numbers within those rankings so manufacturers could continue to control their paint use.

Comment from Barbara Jacobs, (5/31/2011, 11:28 AM)

Hi Carolyn and Joseph - thanks for your interesting comments! Carolyn-we are certainly on the 'same page about color trends, and more. I've planned to address some of these issues as well, in future posts. Thanks for your comments. Joseph: The only involvement I've had in car colors is trying to pick one for myself. However, being a member of Color Marketing Group for a few years was a real eye-opener about how color trends in products are recognized, developed, defined, and used. Selecting our own perfect car-colors is so elusive and never really satisfying, it seems. Thanks for describing your own personal experience. Maybe one day we'll be able to create our own car-colors with a technology tool of some kind. Why not!

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