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Roberta Freymann, who created the lifestyle brand Roberta Roller Rabbit, prefers bright paint colors for her rooms because she believes they boost productivity and creativity.”
Jon Nissenbaum

Living in Color

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

By Caroline Biggs

Interior paint is not just decorative – it can affect your quality of life.

When Roberta Freymann moved into her apartment at the Apthorp on the Upper West Side three years ago, she knew her first order of business would be repainting the dull gray walls.

“The wrong paint color can ruin your life,” Freymann said. “Color affects the way you feel when you’re at home.”

Freymann, the woman behind the lifestyle brand Roberta Roller Rabbit, prefers bright paint colors – which she believes can boost productivity, creativity, and positivity – over traditional neutrals and earth tones.

She painted her three-bedroom condo accordingly, using a fiery red-orange in the library to promote productivity, a soothing deep indigo in the guest bedroom and a Tiffany-blue in the dining room, which she says helps stimulate conversation at dinner parties, or at least gives bored guests “something interesting to look at.”

Freymann said the Tiffany-blue walls in the dining room help stimulate conversation at dinner parties, or at least give guests “something interesting to look at.”
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.

“Color is uplifting,” Freymann said. “It improves your mood and, in turn, your quality of life at home.”

Chromo therapy, also known as color therapy, is the practice of using certain colors to stimulate various emotions and to improve health, and it is something that many architects and designers have long recognized as having psychological benefits.

“Architects, artists, and designers have treated the ills of human societies with color since the shaping of environments began,” said Donald Kaufman, who owns the paint company Donald Kaufman Color with his wife, Taffy Dahl.

Some colors, in short, simply make people happy.

For the past 30 years, Kaufman and Dahl have made mixing such paint colors their business. Together they develop custom shades for their clients based not only on the architectural details of a space, but on their clients’ personalities.

“Wall paint influences us by its pigment composition, the colors and finishes with which it’s combined, and the light that it carries to our eye,” Kaufman said. “Balancing those parts in relation to the whole is a key to our quality of life.”

Certain colors – and, more specifically, their pigments and finishes – can absorb light or illuminate a space. So not only should you take your personal tastes and color associations into account when choosing paint, you should pay attention to how a specific shade might affect a room’s lighting (or lack thereof).

For instance, while collaborating with Andrew Ballard, an architect, on a Central Park South duplex, Kaufman took care to put together a bold paint palette with colors that would elevate the architecture and enhance the amount of light various rooms received.

They used a fresh coat of mossy yellow paint in the octagonal foyer, which brightened up the windowless space and helped reflect the sunlight streaming in from other rooms.

Donald Kaufman, who owns the paint company Donald Kaufman Color, advised Andrew Ballard to use mossy yellow paint in his home’s octagonal foyer to brighten up the windowless space.
Tim Williams for Andrew Ballard Architecture & Design
Ballard's dining room was painted a burnt red to draw attention to the millwork.
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.
The bar in the dining room is also painted in burnt red.
Tim Williams for Andrew Ballard Architecture & Design

In the dining room, a burnt red was employed to draw attention to the intricate ironwork and millwork. Along with strategically placed skylights, the rich hue helped enhance the interplay of light throughout the room.

“Humans evolved under the sun, and radiant energy is the primary source of nourishment for human life,” Kaufman said. “Color creates visual impressions and shapes the ways we see and receive light.”

While the aesthetic value of color is hardly up for debate, researchers are still looking into its scientific significance.

In their 2015 study, “Chromo Therapy: An Effective Treatment Option or Just a Myth? Critical Analysis on the Effectiveness of Chromo Therapy,” Somia Gul, Rabia Khalid Nadeem, and Anum Aslam, from the school of pharmacy at Jinnah University for Women in Pakistan, looked at the physiological and emotional effects of color therapy on 200 people between the ages of 15 and 36.

For the study, published in the American Research Journal of Pharmacy, the researchers used lasers of different colors to gauge the physical and emotional responses to light and color of participants with various ailments. They discovered that certain hues have a “tremendous effect” on a person’s mind-set. Red, for example, can enhance alertness; yellow can improve focus; and blue can reduce the onset of stress-related tension headaches.

Their findings concluded that, although not widely understood, chromo therapy should be “recognized and adopted by physicians” as an “effective and potent complementary treatment option” for those undergoing conventional forms of treatment.

For those of us who just need a little mood adjustment, however, color can also be helpful. As designers have long known, by enhancing the architectural features of a space, paint can affect the way you feel in a room.

While designing the Fifth Avenue apartment of Michael Lorber, a real estate broker, Nick Olsen selected paint colors that appealed to his client’s love of Pop Art, but more important, enhanced the character of the space.

For Michael Lorber's apartment, his designer, Nick Olsen, chose colors that appealed to Lorber's love of Pop Art.
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.
Wine-colored lacquer helps brighten a dark kitchen, while black-and-white-painted floors offer a modern take on retro checkered tiles.
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.

For the north-facing living room, which doesn’t get a lot of light, Olsen chose a bright royal blue – a color that Lorber said evokes feelings of creativity in him and recalls the energy of a favorite artist, Yves Klein – applying it in a lacquer finish.

“The glossy blue reflects light from the streetscape and bounces it around the room,” Lorber said. “It feels comforting and energizing at the same time.”

Near 96th and Fifth Avenue, Katie Ridder, a designer, used ocher-yellow paint for the library of Allan Reine and Amy Mulderry. The room’s windows face another building, and the color makes up for the lack of direct sunlight, creating a warm glow in an otherwise dim space.

It has also altered the library’s ambiance, Mulderry said: “The yellow walls enhance the natural light streaming in from adjoining rooms and provide a comforting warmth during evening hours.”

The same color, though, can affect people differently.

“Color is a sensation,” Kaufman said. “And like other senses, each individual sees, feels, tastes, and hears differently.”

Freymann, for instance, once painted a bedroom bright orange, which resulted in lots of sleepless nights.

“I could never sleep surrounded by such a stimulating color,” she said. “I realized moodier hues work best in bedrooms.”

So she has made it a point to stick with cool, calming colors in all of her bedrooms, painting even an awkwardly shaped guest room with little natural light a deep indigo – her way of embracing the room’s tricky layout.

In Allan Reine and Amy Mulderry's library, their designer, Katie Ridder, used ocher-yellow paint to make up for a lack of direct sunlight.
Eric Piasecki.
Mulderry said the paint creates a warm glow inside an otherwise dim space.
Eric Piasecki.
MFreymann painted a guest bedroom with little natural light a deep indigo to embrace the room’s tricky layout. “Guests always argue over who gets to sleep in there,” she said. “It’s a dark and calming space that people actually want to be in.”
Jon Nissenbaum.

“Guests always argue over who gets to sleep in there,” Freymann said. “It’s a dark and calming space that people actually want to be in.”

While the psychological effect of certain colors might vary for different people, there is still evidence that certain hues can produce similar responses.

At the Pantone Color Institute, Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director, works closely with clients and students to better understand people’s interpretations of color. With the help of color-word association exercises, Eiseman is able to observe their responses to different colors and to identify general patterns.

When she is not teaching or researching, Eiseman, who studied psychology at Antioch University, works with clients to develop things like brand colors and wall paint, emphasizing the role of color on the success of the product or environment.

“Every color has a personal meaning that we inherently sense or learned about via conditioning,” Eiseman said. “Whether it’s ‘red means stop’ or ‘green means go,’ color is implanted in our psyche.”

However subjective color may be, there is no doubt that bold hues can leave a big impression on the people surrounded by them.

Freymann is in the process of selling her apartment so she and her husband can move to Buenos Aires to be closer to their family.

Elizabeth Spahr, a Corcoran agent who, along with Haidee Granger, listed Freymann’s apartment, has seen firsthand the positive response to the home’s colorful interior.

At a recent cocktail reception to kick off an open house, buyers “went wild” for the saturated colors, Spahr said.

“It’s so unusual for Manhattan,” she added. “People were so inspired that they were taking pics and videos of the bright décor.”

And if some prospective buyers are put off by the color, Spahr said, they know it will be an easy fix: “No one wants to have to rip out a wall, but they’re O.K. with a quick paint job. They’re probably going to paint anyway.”

Inside her Upper East Side apartment, Apryl Miller, an artist, created what might be seen as a habitable art installation, in an attempt to engage and inspire her two young daughters with the use of color.

Apryl Miller’s enthusiastic use of color can be seen throughout her Upper East Side apartment.
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.
Miller hoped that a color-filled home would inspire her daughters. “Color itself is optimistic, and the brighter the better,” she said.
Brad Dickson for The New York Times.

“Color itself is optimistic, and the brighter the better,” Miller said. “As a parent, it was important to me to spread optimism and self-expression in the best environment I could give them.”

Miller covered the walls of her five-bedroom condo with a medley of bright colors, including a sunny yellow-orange in the kitchen (with shimmery cerulean-blue cabinets), chartreuse in the living room, and a multicolored mix in the guest bathroom (with kaleidoscopic floors).

“Every single wall is painted at least one color,” Miller said. “The whole apartment was one giant emotional endeavor.”

Now adults, Miller’s children, Dylan Sparkle and Lyris Faron, still feel the influence of growing up enveloped in all that color.

“Color is just a part of who I am,” said Sparkle, 25. “I would never be able to live in a colorless space.”

Faron, 22, added: “Wherever I move, I try to make it colorful. Bare walls make me feel like I’m in a hospital.”

Miller set out to create a colorful and invigorating atmosphere for her children, but even now, when they are living elsewhere, the flashy paint palette remains intact, more than 20 years later.

“It never occurred to me that the color would impact me emotionally,” Miller said. “But the space continues to inspire me as an artist and help me grow as a person.”

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