Color Matters to Jill Morton

We tap an expert on everything from creating color harmony to color symbolism and myths.

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A pleasing palette of carefully chosen colors and patterns makes this Jean Alan room inviting and harmonious. (Photo by Michael Robinson.)

Want to know what colors will look good on you, in your bedroom, on your million-dollar product? Or what colors are popular or taboo in other parts of the world? The symbolism of orange, the power of pink? Jill Morton has the answers. A former professor at the University of Hawaii School of Architecture, Chaminade University and Matsuda Technology Center, Morton is a modern-day color guru.

Today, she presents seminars about color and marketing and theory, provides color consultation for a variety of clients such as Tylenol, Nokia Mobile Phones, Eastman Kodak and Dow Chemical, and has a line of e-books called Color Voodoo. Her website, www.colormatters.com is full of fun color factoids and science.

We hooked up with her recently to discuss the latest in color.

How can color help create harmony in the home?

Harmony can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts — whether it’s music, poetry, color or even an ice cream sundae.

In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something isn’t harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer isn’t engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information.

At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain often turns away from what it cannot organize, what it cannot understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

Does color impact different personalities in different ways?

I personally believe that personality type, whether you’re an extrovert and introvert, plays a significant role in color selection. I generally recommend that people follow their hearts in terms of color choice and take their personalities into account when decorating their homes. 

Speaking of color’s impact, can it actually help dieters lose weight?

Of all the colors in the spectrum, blue is an appetite suppressant. Weight loss plans at times will suggest putting your food on a blue plate. Or even better than that, put a blue light in your refrigerator and watch your munchies disappear.

Here's another good tip: if you really want to do a double whammy on your appetite, add black to the blue, this appears totally inedible to humans.

No edible objects are naturally colored blue, not even blueberries, which are really a dark plum color. So, when it comes to eating, humans have developed an avoidance of blue objects.

Can you give us an example of how different cultures view colors in different ways?

Yes, color has a significant impact symbolically in different cultures. You can often see this in the color choice of outfits for brides. White would be an inappropriate color for a wedding in China, for instance. It is the color of mourning. If a bride chooses a white wedding gown, her parents would probably not allow her to get married.

In Celtic myths, the Green Man was the God of fertility. Because of that, the color green was a frequent choice for the bride's gown during medieval times.

In India, even in Christian weddings, while most brides wear white, it is usually relieved by at least a touch of some other color. If a married woman in India wears unrelieved white, she is thought to be inviting widowhood and unhappiness.

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Your bedroom may be pretty in pink, like this inspired cheerful room designed by Steven Miller, but research shows that pink doesn’t have a calming effect in prisons.

Are there any apocryphal legends about color that you’d like to dispel?

The biggest one that I can think of is about pink. I’ve heard how people paint their rooms pink and expect a certain effect. Even different football coaches are painting the opposing team's locker room pink as a supposedly calming effect.

And it was reported in the 80s that the color pink was used in jail cells to calm violent prisoners. That was only half the story. Initially the prisoners were calmed down, but later returned to an even more violent state, so pink has no effect in that area.

Any color news you’d like to share?

One of the most interesting developments I’ve seen lately are the new light-emitting fluorescent dyes that can change their hue. There potential uses are quite interesting, according to the polymer scientists who developed the materials at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Just think, when this technology is applied to fabrics, now you can change the lighting in the living room and your sofa will turn from red to green.

Mark McCauley, ASID, is a writer-designer in the Chicago area.

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