A caveat about color

This post relates to the book about kitchens I have written for Lost Art Press. We’re looking at summer 2020 as a publication target.

Hoosier ad with color

Ad for Roper gas ranges, Good Housekeeping, March 1928. (Lest you forget the brand, the name is repeated on the front of three doors.)

When choosing colors of paint, tile and other elements, resist the feeling that you have to have all decisions made at the start. Every job will have a few defining elements. You should choose other pieces of the puzzle with those in mind.

One kitchen I’m working on has its original maple floor from the 1910s. The homeowner is planning to have it sanded and refinished. She has already bought a jadeite green fridge and green glass wall tile. The other existing commitment to color is the heart pine counter, a warm reddish-amber. Yesterday, before the floor sanding, she was asking about paint color for the walls and cabinets. She’s concerned that there may be too many different colors. She explained that she has two light fixtures on order, a schoolhouse pendant with a jadeite stripe for the ceiling at the center of the room and a pendant with a ceramic shade in speckled ochre for above the sink. I told her it’s too early for paint colors; she should wait until the light fixtures are on hand and the floor has been finished.

Here’s why. First, we still don’t know exactly how the floor, one of the largest features of the room, will look. The floor finisher has not broached the question of water- versus oil-based finish. If the floor has a water-based finish, it will stay close to the cool white maple my client found under the particleboard cabinets when her contractor removed them. But if the finish is oil-based, that nearly-white maple will get a yellow cast. The choice of floor finish will make a huge difference to the look and feel of the room.

Floor finishes

Oil versus water, warm versus cold. This cabin-grade hickory flooring in our kitchen (with ever-present hair from our dog) is finished with Waterlox Original Satin finish, a polymerized tung oil (left), and a contemporary catalyzed water-based finish (right). Choose your paint colors without taking the floor into consideration and you may find yourself repainting in a month. Alternatively, if you’re dead-set on particular paint colors and have not yet dealt with the floor, choose the floor treatment based on the paint. Whatever you do, don’t consider these decisions in a vacuum.

Second, the light fixtures are still on order. While the jadeite stripe seems fairly safe, the real appearance of the other fixture’s ochre shade remains to be determined. It’s not a good idea to rely on photographs online or even in print for true representations of color. The only way to know how a color will look is to have it in your hands. Moreover, as with appliance specs, subtle shifts can occur from one manufacturing run to another. (This is why it’s a good idea to buy more tile or wallpaper than you need. Should you have to replace a section, you’ll have a match.) In this case, the ceramic shade is made to order, which raises the stakes even higher.

Here, job number one is to decide the floor finish. Then, once the lights have arrived, the cabinets are installed (still unpainted) and the counters are in place, the client will be well positioned to consider paint.

One response to “A caveat about color

  1. “It’s not a good idea to rely on photographs online or even in print for true representations of color.” So true. I’m in the flooring business and color reproduction of product see on our website is a real challenge. I don’t see how people make color decisions by looking online. I had to google “jadeite” – never heard of that before. Your posts are so educational. 🙂

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