Monday, May 13, 2019


The Yonghe Temple in Beijing: No fear of color.
What could be more personal than a favorite color? Yet more and more people choosing exterior colors for their homes are finding this most personal of choices being restricted by their local design review board or their homeowner's association. It’s an imposition that’s fundamentally no different than having a stranger dictate the color of your clothes. 

All this is justified in the name of that contemptible concept, “good taste”, which at any given time is nothing more than the taste of those in authority. And the plain fact is that most design review boards are controlled by persons with a decidedly mainstream sensibility, which they righteously attempt to impose on everyone else. To their great dismay, not everyone’s color preferences are as sedate as those of central Europeans like me. And thank God for that, or America would be a pretty  boring place.  

A street scene in Burano, northern Italy. Why do we find color
charming in other places, but not next door to us?
Vivid colors are an integral part of many cultures, and always have been. The deep burnish of Chinese red bespeaks the whole rich history of that ancient culture; the gaily painted facades of certain Italian hill towns bespeak the humor and exuberance of Italy. Even the architecturally staid Swedes have a delightful tradition of painting their rural houses a blazing red—not, as I’d always thought, to furnish some winter color, but because the historically high cost of red paint long ago made it a status symbol.

Reconstructed actual colors
found on the frieze of the Parthenon.
Even the pristinely white temples of Greece, long held by highbrows to represent the apex of good taste, turn out to have been originally tarted up in an eye-popping array of primary shades.  So much for aesthetic pronouncements.

Colors have played such a large role in design history that some have lent their names to historical periods. In the United States, the proliferation of brownstone architecture during the 1870s earned that era earned that era the name Brown Decade; likewise, the 1890s were dubbed the Mauve Decade for their love of that royal shade. In fact, the entire Victorian era was notable for its lavish use of rich colors. 

Times change, however. Since Modernism swept the U.S. after World War II, mainstream architectural colors have seldom wandered too far from off-whites or mild pastels. Unfortunately, this fashion—and make no mistake, that’s all it is—has been institutionalized by civic officials who now feel entitled to nix any colors which cross the boundary of Butter-Mints pastels. Consequently, cultured people who deserve the freedom to make their own color choices must instead submit to having “acceptable” colors dictated to them on the grounds of good taste.  

Stortorget Square in Stockholm, Sweden: Red isn't the
only color the Swedes paint their houses.
But whose good taste? Taste varies the world over, and America is nothing if not an ethnic microcosm of the globe. It’s no coincidence that the colors often frowned upon by design review boards are the same vivid hues favored by many people of African, Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander heritage. It’s nothing short of veiled racism for such colors to be banned on the basis of some arbitrary standard of taste that was most likely established by a bunch of Wasps decades ago.  

When confronted with this obvious bias, defenders of color restrictions retreat behind the same tired hypothetical question, along the lines of: “Well, how would you like it if your neighbor painted his house purple with green trim?”

Actually, these colors offend me much more than
any of the ones above. But no doubt the design review board
just loved them.
My response remains the same:  I’d much rather have a purple and green house next door to me than deprive any person—including myself—of the right to make his or her own choice.  Taste varies the world over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nobody’s business what color I paint my house, and frankly, I don’t care what color you paint yours.  

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