Architectural coloration isn't new. The Greeks began experimenting with pigment on buildings thousands of years ago. But, as Maggie Toy, editor of architecture at London-based John Wiley & Sons shares in Harold Linton's book Color in Architecture, "Color is often considered merely as an afterthought, as the domain of the interior designer, cast out with other forms of decoration by Modernists at the beginning of the century."
The architectural philosophy of Le Corbusier espoused that for those of a civilized society, the less "decoration" the better. But color does more than decorate. It enhances, defines and amplifies the built environment at an elemental level. It also clarifies shapes and highlights architectural details, and diminishes the inevitable mass of today's sprawling suburban developments and huge luxury homes so a sense of community can emerge.
While Linton reports that "architectural colorists" did not appear in the United States until after World War II, European architects' appreciation for color began to bear fruit long before. Since the 1950s, home builders worldwide have been applying color to structures from Mexico to Finland, and London to Los Angeles in increasingly artful, purposeful ways.
Larry Webb, chief executive officer of John Laing Homes in Newport Beach, Calif. says, "In California, color is definitely a part of our standard operating procedure. More and more builders are going that route. People are desperate to have individualized homes — and color is a wonderful way to accomplish this."Color as the Ultimate Secret Weapon
Color enhances individuality and community — it establishes a sense of place, while elevating each buyer's unique identity.
Arlo Braun, AIA, president of Braun + Yoshida Architects in Denver, says, "Color reinforces the intention of our projects and urban planning ideas at the neighborhood scale. Today, jurisdictions want their towns to be and look better. With color, even modestly priced neighborhoods can be more authentic and have a richer look and appeal."
Architectural color consultant Miriam Tate, founder of Costa Mesa, California-based Miriam Tate Company explains, "Color can be utilized, much like a billboard, to announce that 'this place exists and is singularly special.'"
"Color brings out all the attributes," she adds. "An evolved use of color can bring balance to a community and make a marked difference in the endurance of the aesthetic and how people feel. It can instantly evoke a sense of permanence within the new built environment."
Eric Mandil, AIA, architectural colorist and founding principal of Denver, Colorado-based Mandil Inc. notes, "The creative use of color takes communities to a higher level of appeal. When everything is beige and gray, the result is blandness, rather than 'artfulness' and 'delight.' It's unfortunate that color is often an afterthought, because it helps create a sense of place."
Tate, who pioneered the architectural coloration industry and has consulted on more than a half-million residential units since founding her firm in 1985 explains, "We've evolved from homogeneous street scenes to a huge mix of styles over the years. Homes today have different material details co-mingled, so they're looking more customized all the time. As a result, streetscapes are much more interesting, but that makes colorizing them more challenging too."
Mandil adds, "The traditional historical context of color must also be considered, but with a modern twist. Color is the unifying factor for what we call 'hodge-podge.' Because of the many scales and styles in our neighborhoods today, color is only thing that can truly achieve a greater contextualness."
Paul Johnson, senior vice president of Rancho Mission Viejo Company, who oversees urban design and implementation for southern California's famous master planned community, Ladera Ranch, shares, "At Ladera, we brought back authenticity in our architectural design [and] color execution, resulting in a huge reception from the buying public."
"We've done extremely well with color in the marketplace," continues Johnson, who turned to Tate to create the master palette for Ladera's 8,100 residential units. "We've had great sales, and our price appreciation exceeds other communities."
He concludes, "Color differentiates. It evokes feelings of history and rootedness...and elicits warm feelings of the past in a contemporary way. Color brings freshness, excitement and a sense of longevity — sustainable, fun energy."
Mark Buckland, founder of The Olsen Company based in Seal Beach, Calif. agrees, "Color is the most prominent part of the project — the finishing touch that ties the project together so everything works. It can make or break a project."Timelessness, Adjacency, Authenticity and Balance
As with any area of professional specialization, the art of colorization is guided by reliable, repeatable principles and conceptual codes which develop over time. Concepts like timelessness, adjacency, context and balance are only a few that come to mind when a colorist's work begins.
Mandil has designed and colorized award-winning retail, restaurants, office and residential developments that range from hundreds of production units to individual custom homes. Not surprisingly, he sees color principles in much the same way as Tate, who has a solid background in real estate marketing and interior design, with a long list of national awards of her own.
When working to achieve a sense of timelessness, both colorists look at the architecture in a historical context, then how their color choices will impact the streetscape and community over time. "External color should grow better with age," says Mandil. "Architect Louis Kahn once said, 'I built buildings to make beautiful ruins.' We need to consider the elements and how they intersect with time — color can integrate age, a sense of permanence, and quality."
Along with timelessness comes the challenge of authenticity, balance and adjacencies. Colors must be architecturally authentic, yet properly balanced on each individual home and throughout the streetscape.
"When we first considered using a colorist, it was because we didn't want to stop at the architecture. At Ladera, the artfulness is well-grounded in days gone by," says Johnson. "We knew we needed to finish the product right — with bold, bright, authentic colors.
"In the past, most houses carried one or two colors — a base and a trim color. But today, we are carrying three, four, sometimes even five color variations — plus the brick, stone, roofing and more. It's become so much more complex."
Dennis Rodriguez, product development manager for Shea Homes LLP in Highlands Ranch, Colo. says, "People value authenticity. The trend is toward the richer, deeper, more regional tones. In our case, we prefer hues regionally responsive to Colorado light and topography, rather than the monotony of washed-out beige."
Mandil notes, "It would be real progress if urban planners understood color balance — how color works with regional palettes and light, proportion and scale. In America 'bigger is always better,' but that's not always true. Color must achieve balance with its surroundings; an overall contextualness involving regional palettes and their history."
He explains that artful spaces are created by balancing the architecture, streetscape and natural landscape so a community feels both comfortable and appropriate — yet with a distinct flavor the buying public won't tire of living with every day.
Tate adds, "Actually, selecting color is the last thing we do. First, we study the architectural details. Color emphasizes one part of the architecture or another, so we try to pop the lovely refinements and details like doors, windows, shutters — the jewelry the builder intends on each individual home.
"Balance on the full streetscape must then be weighted as well, animating positive details and acknowledging the historical precedent of the architecture as intended," she continues. "We work toward a successful co-mingling of architectural details, materials and colors — as in a streetscape with Spanish, Tuscan and Craftsman styles."
Mandil explains further, "Crafting of color adjacencies — as they apply to the continuation of neighborhoods, flavor of final product, sense of proportion, and context within which it resides — is, in essence, about painting streetscapes and blockscapes. It's about how color moves up and down streets vertically and horizontally.Using Color to Brand
Color is more than guiding principles and codes, it can actually help brand a home builder and its product while helping to maintain resale value.
"Color not only brands our product, but also creates greater value," shares Rogers. "It creates an aesthetic, street appeal where buyer profiles, uniqueness and individuality matter."
He explains, "People want to relate to a particular lifestyle. Think traditional, contemporary, cultural creatives — or non-married, single with children, traditional family, older-committed, empty nesters, etc. The right colorization allows you to have the same basic floor plan but with 24 different looks. It's just like clothing — each group leans toward different styles, feelings and perceptions, which can be enhanced through color."
Mandil shares, "Color, when used strategically, can attract the profile of buyer a builder prefers. It reinforces the builder's brand and product through a contextual consistency of architecture, color and feel.
"Ultimately, color is the cheapest way to customize; the best way to create a flavorful, visceral, viable product that's competitive," he adds. "But paint is expensive, so it's important to paint it right the first time."
Rodriguez adds, "In these new developments, color is also the landscaping until the grass and trees grow in. It may take 10 to 20 years for some homes to feel fully grounded. When there's no mature landscape and much smaller yards, color must hold the community together.
"With monochromatic palettes, the value of the community begins to drop — there's a lack of character and differentiation," he continues. "Colors should be compatible, yet differentiated. Like one leaf — versus the fall color variation of leaves on the whole tree, it's about both the unique color of each leaf, and the tree as a collage of integrated colors.
"Our homes sell better because people really like the colors; it enhances the community and their property values by extension...there's more character and texture."
Rogers adds, "Colorizing is cheap. If you do colors right, you create value — like cosmetics, or an extreme makeover. If you do the right thing — with the right colors, and the right product, toward the right market at the right location — you'll be successful."
Tate notes, "Ultimately, we all work for the home buyer — they pursue the products. As colorists, we're seeking an emotional reaction from the buyer...where they feel an appreciation for the refinements and feel proud of the identification and joy at finding a new home.
"We want the buyer to know that here, finally, is a builder that understands his or her values, with the result being an immediate sale," she concludes.
|Cynthia Kemper, principal of Denver-based Marketekture, is a market development consultant and strategist for architecture, urban planning, and design-related firms.|