Color Your World

Color can impact mood, appetite, temperature, blood pressure and much more. People respond to color consciously and unconsciously, on both an emotional and a psychological level. It should come as no surprise that the rainbow of colors in all of the kitchen and bath products you specify can also be a key element of your business success.

Color can be inexpensive, easy to use and highly valued by your client. In fact, your ability to introduce color into your clients’ spaces in special ways can increase your value in their eyes, leading to more ­– and more profitable – jobs.

Why has color become so important? Over the past 30 years, changes in the kitchen’s location within a residential home, changes in clients’ approach to living in their home and changes in who defines beauty have led our industry to find personal style at the top of the want list: a time where the room you create for each client should be uniquely theirs.

Color used as a means of client self-expression is far more important today than in years past. Indeed, color has grown in importance in the consumer’s eye because a change has occurred in the accepted definition of “beauty.” Style preferences are far more personal today than in the past.

Introducing Color

Kitchen design professionals can introduce color into their projects in several key ways, including:

  • In the finishes of the cabinetry.
  • In the paint colors used to cover major walls, trim and ceiling surfaces.
  • In the surface materials specified for floors, countertops and backsplashes.
  • In the appliance presentation – step beyond stainless steel!

There are four steps I suggest designers take to increase their color knowledge.

  • Step 1: Learn the basics of the science of color.
  • Step 2: Understand the power of color.
  • Step 3: Experience color – or – find an experienced color partner!
  • Step 4: Experiment on yourself before experimenting on a client’s project.

To begin, you need to learn the basics of the science of color. Learning about good design allows you to increase your design abilities. A good source of information for this is the NKBA Professional Resource Library volume Design Principles. Both NKBA members and non-members can purchase this volume by contacting NKBA Customer Service at 908-852-0033 or by visiting As the author of this volume, I worked hard to include many color photographs of kitchens and baths that demonstrate the elements and principles of design. It is an easy read – and is an excellent foundation for your design and color studies.

I also recommend attending seminars on color usage. Recently, I attended an NKBA Texas Tri-Chapter meeting in Galveston, and had the pleasure of listening to Denise Turner, ASID, CID, CMG, a consultant specializing in color. Her comments about the attributes of color provided some interesting food for thought.

“The impression we create in our environment depends not only on our color selection, but also on the color’s saturation, temperature, lightness and movement,” she noted.

“Saturation is the color’s value. Orange, for example, can range from a dark pumpkin hue to a pale peach. Combining a color with white creates a pale ‘tint.’ Combining a color with black creates a dark ‘shade.’

“Temperature refers to a color’s feel. Temperature reflects the context in which we find it in the natural world. For example, yellow suggests sunshine, warmth and optimism, while blue makes us think of water and has a cooling effect. Colors are described as ‘warm’ or ‘cool.’ Red, orange and yellow are heating rays and they produce heat; blue, violet and green are cooling rays. As an experiment, try placing a thermometer in a colored glass of water. Red rays generate the most heat and blue rays the least.

“When selecting interior colors, you need to know as much about the properties of color as possible. If your climate is warm most of the year, you will benefit with cool hues for your interiors and vice versa.

“Lightness refers to a color’s LRV (Light Reflectance Value). The LRV runs on a scale from 0% to 100%. Zero is assumed to be an absolute black and 100% is assumed to be perfectly reflective white. LRV is a measurement telling you how much light a color reflects, and conversely how much it absorbs.

“Movement is the illusion of a color ‘advancing’ or ‘retreating.’ Warm colors such as red, orange and yellow appear to be moving toward (advancing) the observer; making the room appear to be smaller. Cooler colors such as blue, green and violet appear to be moving back (retreating), giving the impression that the room is larger. “

Lighting and Color

Increase your knowledge about the impact lighting has on color. Relamp your showroom, or add a light box in your selection center to assist clients in selecting colors under lighting that will be included in their rooms.

Move away from a focus on incandescent light, as well as halogen. Learn about the color possibilities with energy-efficient fluorescent lights available (no longer hazardous waste) in 3,500 Kelvin heat rating and 80+ CRI (Color Rendition Index) light sources.

Fluorescent lamps produce light in a pattern similar to incandescent floods. Some clients may find this light source flat; others will feel the energy savings benefit is worth any trade-offs. These lamps can be used in normal recessed cans. Some can be dimmed. No flicker, no hum and instant on/off are attributes of today’s fixtures.

Stay on top of LED (Light Emitting Diodes) innovations. Currently used for accent lighting, LED lighting is also available as an under-counter task lighting source, and is coming on the market as a general lighting source.

The Power of Color

Of course it’s also critical to understand the power of color. Over the next 30 days, organize retail visits to various merchants in fashion, as well as the home furnishing and decor categories. Consider all of the retail stores available in your market and categorize them – not as good/better/best, but as basic, comfort, premium or luxury.

While visiting the retail stores, observe how color and texture is used to create an overall welcoming retail environment, as well as highlighting various merchandising displays for room settings. There may be differences in different regions, which is why I suggest you visit stores within your own community. Look for subtle differences in how color is used within these four economic/use categories. This will help you focus on better understanding color preferences for your targeted consumers who shop at these stores.

Equally as important, familiarize yourself with major color companies that have introduced color palettes that have done all the work for you! Today’s color companies offer more than an intimidating fan of hundreds of colors or a color card categorized by hue. Major paint companies have been working hard to introduce water-based paints that are more environmentally friendly. They have also created new color palettes that are fresh and appealing to consumers ready to move beyond safe colors from the past.

They are being sampled in new ways, as well. For example, the new Benjamin Moore Affinity low VOC paints are sampled in 24" x 18" sheets. These are far easier to work with than the small jars of sample paints available in the past.

I’d also like to add a word about water-based paint: As part of the green movement, oil-based paint and latex paint are being replaced with or having an additional formula offered with low – or no ­– VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). The paint industry is facing a dilemma: the VOCs in traditional paint enhance coverage and durability, however, they release harmful vapors and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing health risks.

Paint manufacturers are furiously researching technologies that will allow them to provide high-performance, full-coverage, low-VOC paint.

In March of 2008, Consumer Reports released an assessment of 57 interior paints currently on the market, including low-VOC ones. The report evaluated “hiding performance, surface smoothness, and resistance to staining and scrubbing, their gloss change, sticking, mildew and fading.” The testers gave mixed marks to most low-VOC paint. However, several brands received high ratings, so avoid generalizations about these new paints. Get the facts!

Experience Color

Of course it’s not enough to research color. You need to experience it. Move beyond your comfort zone in a safe environment (this means do not experiment on customers’ homes). When it comes to cabinet finishes, study photographs of other designers’ projects to identify how color has been used. Visit showhouses that spotlight different color applications, and look at how color is used in everything from retail stores to museums.

Consider the photos in this article showcasing real kitchens – many of them 2008 NKBA Design Competition winners or finalists ­–­ that go beyond the typical approach of simply contrasting the island color to the perimeter cabinets.

Suggesting such a unique application of a different finish or color on the casework (whether the client actually follows your recommendation or not) will increase your value in the consumer’s eyes. Why? Because you took the time to think about defining the space with color…just for them.

Experimentation will also help to hone your color skills. Can you experiment with color in your home, your office or your showroom? This is an excellent way to refresh your showroom space with a minimal investment.

First, one of the best things you can do is clean your showroom. Next, unclutter all public spaces. Then, consider adding drama to several walls with new paint colors. Complete your “refreshing” activities by replacing old accessories with new items, creating a theme for each display.

If this is not possible, working with past plans, experiment with changing the focal point and enhancing it with color.

The perspectives in the article have highlighted possible focal points that can be showcased with alternative surfacing or finish material.

Take the time to learn more about color. Experiment with color in your life so you fine tune your skills and learn from your actions. Then, begin introducing more colorful solutions in the conceptual plans presented to your consumers.

Suggesting to your clients how their kitchens can be so uniquely created just for them is a winning strategy in any economy. It will serve you particularly well over the balance of 2008 and into 2009.