Be Careful With Color


Years ago I read that failure to paint a house is beginning to destroy a city. Consequently, for years following, I was like Johnny Appleseed with a paintbrush. For one thing, perhaps selfishly, I enjoyed painting. For another, painting a room is a tangible way to determine that I’d made a difference. When you work in child welfare services, it is really difficult to assess progress. Too often it is like two steps forward, three steps back followed by appreciable gains followed by losses. It goes back and forth. You’ve got to be a long distance runner when you work with children. It isn’t like that with paint. Besides that, if you want others to think well of you, paint a room or outside trim for them and they’ll think you’re a miracle worker.


Of course, sometimes that can backfire on you. For example, my wife has an extended family member who consulted me years ago about what color to paint their living area. I looked at their furniture and the answer was obvious. It was one of the jewel tones. How many years has it been since paint colors were described as jewel tones? Okay, so it was a very long time ago. The only critical problem and I disclosed it up front was that the jewel tone I suggested clashed fairly significantly with the lime green carpeting in the house. Seriously, what color can you put with lime green carpeting and make it work? My two-word answer to the question is: “Not any”.


They countered: “No, no that doesn’t matter. We are going to get new carpeting. Let’s go with the color you suggested.” Long story short, I painted the living area for them and if I say so myself, “I did a really good job of painting.” However, like I inferred, “Next to the lime green carpeting, the paint color and lime green worked together to solicit an involuntary gag reflex on the part of most people.


The color of paint can have a physiological impact on behavior. It really is true. Strange, the things you remember across the span of forty plus years. It was in the mid 1970s. I attended a Criminal Justice conference in downtown Los Angeles. Actually, I was the residential standards and policy specialist for the State of Texas at the time and we were working on developing minimum standards for residential facilities operated by the Texas Youth Council. That actually never came to fruition, but I remember the color they suggested at the conference for solitary confinement rooms. I’d describe it as Pepto-Bismol pink with a hint of purple thrown in. It, too, could induce a gag reflex. At least that was my response to the color. Reportedly, the color had a physiological calming effect on most people. Who would have thought?


Who knows? Like I said, “The beautifully painted jewel tone room I painted for an extended family member looked less than pristine on top of lime green carpeting. Instead of replacing the lime green carpeting as they indicated they were going to do, the couple opted to replace each other instead. Of course, I had no way of knowing that the gag reflex orchestrated from the mingling of the two colors could cut short the “til’ death do us part” commitment on the part of the home-owners, but I guess you live and learn.


We’ve been in the process of clearing out clutter. We’ve moved a lot of “accessories” out of our living area to reportedly make the house more presentable while it is on the market. Of course, I prescribe to the notion that more is better. The realtor suggested only a clock on the mantel, nothing else. So what design school did he attend? On the other hand, part of the equation that I read somewhere is that you always need an odd number of things displayed to make it work. “One” is an odd number, so I guess the recommendation was in keeping with what I’ve always heard, but three or five items would have worked better for me.


One of the things we “temporarily” moved off of the mantel to the garage is a carved wooden duck. It was given to me thirty-five years ago by a friend as an expression of gratitude for my painting the trim on her house. Just for the record, I’ve always painted pro-bono. If you want to endear people, paint their houses and do it without a charge. I promise, you will have friends for life.


Yesterday, I noticed the carved wooden duck on the shelving in our garage. I started to remove it and return it to the mantel. I actually got as far as picking it up. For the record, I didn’t talk to the wooden duck the way the General talked to the stuff animal (“Lambie Pie”) late last week when she removed the long forgotten stuffed animal that had belonged to our 46-year old son from a rubberized storage tub. Seriously, talking to stuffed animals is a little strange. The General thinks I’m weird. I think she’s got one up on me.


Holding the wooden duck in my hands, I opted to go back in time and think about the couple that had given me the duck. They are now both on the other side of eternity. They were like an extra set of grandparents for my kids and dear friends to the General and I. With their passing, the community lost a part of its illustrative history. I really miss them.


The husband once said of me: “Don, if they were shooting preachers, you wouldn’t be at risk.” I considered it a high compliment. Of course, the fact that he laughed when he said it put me on notice that he wasn’t being accusingly critical. Hypothetically speaking, someone else could have said the same thing and had a very different frame of reference.


I sometimes surprise myself by my blogs. I sat down with a different topic in mind, but never quite got to it. I guess it was the Pepto-Bismol pink with a touch of purple that had a calming impact on my psyche.


By the way, the other thing I remember about the Criminal Justice conference in Los Angeles is that I had never been to California before. On State per-diem, I couldn’t afford to stay in the downtown conference hotel. Consequently, I rented a car and drove from somewhere outside of downtown. I do recall that I took a day of vacation before I returned to Texas in order to see LA. Wow – There was something about seeing the HOLLYWOOD sign on the side of a mountain that energized me. The same was true of Venice Beach. Wow! Wow! Wow! I drove around LA like I was a local. Forty years later, I’d be in a fetal position if I thought I had to drive in LA.


So if you are wondering what the “take away” is from today’s blog? The answer is: “If you have lime green carpeting in your home, don’t paint the walls a jewel tone. It can cause a physiological reaction that causes one to gag.

All My Best!