Donald Kaufman on Choosing Colors
"The best advice I can give," Kaufman says, "is to use as few colors as possible. Try to calm it down."
By Ingrid Abramovitch
When the Metropolitan Museum of Art was looking for a palette for its newly renovated American Wing, it turned to a master colorist: Donald Kaufman. Finding a single shade that works equally well with a Trumbull or an Eakins is all in a day's work for Kaufman, who, along with his wife and business partner, Taffy Dahl, is one of the nation's preeminent color consultants. Since founding his firm in 1976, Kaufman has achieved almost mythic status as a color guru, selecting the tones for everything from art collectors' homes to the offices of high-tech firms. "The best advice I can give," Kaufman says, "is to use as few colors as possible. Try to calm it down."
- I started out as a fine artist. I was teaching art at the University of California in Berkeley and painting houses on the side. I realized that commercial paint needed some help. I could tint it the same way that an artist tints colors to create more luminosity. All our paints have a full spectrum of pigments.
- Fifty percent of the time, Taffy and I are color referees. Our clients call us shrinks. We negotiate between architects and clients, even husbands and wives. We all perceive color differently. For instance, men are much more likely to be deficient in the red-green range than women.
The Perfect Hue
- The right color is always under your nose. Philip Johnson asked us to help choose colors for the Da Monsta building at his Glass House campus in Connecticut. The building had two sections. We told him to make one side red, the other black — both hues are part of the New England vernacular. Another time I was searching for the right green for a client's barn. I noticed a Dumpster on her property: There was the perfect green. We matched it, and it turned out to be a gorgeous barn.
- Warm neutrals are the safest choices, which is why they represent 90 percent of the paint sold.
- Black is my favorite color. A library can be incredible in black. A friend in Palm Beach did a room with a white-marble floor, white ceiling, and glossy, black plaster walls hung with incredible art. It was the chicest thing I have ever seen.
World of Paint
- One of my paint dealers joked that paint used to be a race to the bottom; now it's a race to the top. Any company's top-end paint is a good product.
- Skilled painters prepare and plaster a wall before they even begin to paint. We work with one painter who applies six coats of primer beforehand.
- To take the guesswork out of choosing a color, paint a swatch on the wall near the floor. Then drag over a chair. Put your hands around your eyes to zero in on the vignette. That's your color story.
- Color names are extremely dangerous, which is why we use numbers instead. People see color differently because of names. Beige is undervalued because the name has a bad association. Mint sounds like the color of a hospital, but call it "faded eucalyptus" and people love it.
- One of our best sellers is a white we call DKC-5. Mariette Himes Gomez compared it to Chanel No. 5.
1. Use like intensities: If you have gray-green in one room, don’t put bright green in the next room.
2. Acknowledge local conditions and adjacent structures. To find a color for the exterior of your house, check out your neighborhood.
3. Spend time looking at all the elements in a space — furniture, windows, the color of the floor.
4. Use complementary colors. Get a color wheel. If you have yellow walls in a kitchen, use a pale blue in the dining room.
5. Tone it down. Find the color chip you think you want, then look for a quieter version, as it will look much brighter on the wall.
6. Dark colors make a small room feel larger. They make the walls recede.
7. The cost is in the labor, not the paint. So go for the gold in materials.
SOURCE: Elle Decor