Interior designer and author Sharon Hanby-Robie has an interesting take on color preferences. She maintains there are two groups of people – those who prefer blue and those who go for the green. She believes that roughly 70% of us are in the blue group, including the majority of men.
“Blue people tend to be happier with peach, mauve, gray, beige, rust, and brown tones,” she writes in My Name Isn’t Martha But I Can Decorate My Home. “Green people prefer brighter, more adventurous tones like purple, red, yellow, teal, and hot pink.” And even if you like both colors, she adds, you’re a blue person if your favorite greens have blue undertones and you prefer calmer, less radical patterns.
Hanby-Robie’s conclusions are not exactly pure science, but they work for me. Blue is universally perceived as relaxing and calming because of the cool tranquility of blue sky and azure waters. Still, not all blues are mellow. There’s the conservative, authoritarian dark blue of business suits and police uniforms. There’s also electric blue-violet, chilly ice blue, and playful bright aqua. My personal favorite is the brilliant and princely blue that adds such heart-stopping intensity to Medieval and early Renaissance paintings.
It’s exactly that range of possibilities that makes the color such a joy to work with. Blue, eclipsed by green for the last few years, is making a comeback these days, especially in tandem with its most compatible and complementary colors. Below is a range of possibilities for your own home and disposition, all suggested by the blues of everyday life. (Please click to read more about Color Theory.)
China Blue … The endless popularity of blue and white china includes Chinese porcelain, Delft pottery, English Staffordshire, and the huge range of American designs spun off from these original sources. Cool white, soft cream, and celadon green are excellent complements to these classic tones, while lemon yellow makes a pleasing and energetic contrast.
Red (or rust or burgundy), white, and blue … From American flags, country quilts and yachting duds to the urban chic of Tommy Hilfiger jackets – red and blue is a forthright and assertive combination, demanding attention and respect. For an earthier, folksier palette, push red to rust and combine with the blue of faded Levis on a ground of dark beige or brown paper bag. Or create a richer European palette in deep tones of blue, burgundy, and cream, accented with hunter green and gold. Dark blue also pairs beautifully with rust or burgundy in classic tribal and oriental rug patterns.
Yellow and blue … There’s no end to the fascination with the color scheme that pairs opposites on the color wheel; just look at the top of this page if you doubt its appeal.
Van Gogh and Gaugin were masters at combining intense versions of these colors. Hearty folk ceramics including Italian pottery, Portuguese tiles, and French Quimper tableware create warmth and energy by combining rich blues with strong shades of yellow, orange, brick, dark rose, and green.
Turquoise and coral … Another version of blue and rust, this fascinating color combination has two different moods. In its deeper, darker version, these colors evoke the rich spiritual cultures of the Native American Southwest or Tibetan dessert plateau, especially when combined with the associated colors of adobe, clay, wide blue skies, and jet black hair. There’s also a much lighter and sunnier version of the same palette, with destination associations including Miami Beach, the Caribbean islands, and the Riviera. Take your pick – each is soul-satisfying in its own way.
Blue and green … The combination of earth and sky is a natural in any decorating scheme. Now that the hot, Pucci-inspired combination of orange, pink, and red is back, can the much cooler triad of cream with pale blues and greens be far behind? Equally pleasing are dark and intense blue-green combinations like sapphire and emerald, or unexpected combinations like dark blue and olive green.
Summer stripes … What’s more refreshing than contrasting bands of white and blue? Think broad awning stripes, or a blue background lined with narrow white stripes. This cool combination is instantly relaxing and works well with outdoor colors like sand, green, clay, and even more white. Up the intensity to evoke another seaside mood: the stunning blue of Greek skies behind stark whitewashed buildings. Either way, black is a surprisingly effective accent color. For a more muted effect, try blue and gray, which can be Zen-like with accents of burgundy or black. For a crisp business-like effect, combine gray flannel tones with Oxford cloth blue and touches of power tie yellow or rep stripe red.
Black and blue … No pun intended, but this is a smashing color combination that’s high in, er, impact. Night skies that progress from deep blue to velvety black offer clues as to why this combination is so popular for evening wear, the most dramatic clothing we own. Because black and blue are so intense, they should be used carefully in home decor, where a little drama goes a long way. To tone the combination down a bit, accent with gray and softer blues. But if you really want drama, go for additions of gold, silver, or yellow.
Pastel blues … For years, it’s been hard to take these shades seriously, probably because of the excesses of a generation ago (think ugly bathroom fixtures and polyester leisure suits). But powder blue’s been out of fashion for so long, it must be due for a comeback any minute now. Combined with peach, cream, or soft gold tones, or given undertones of gray or lavender, pale blue has a naturally aristocratic appeal that goes back to Marie Antoinette and an artistic sensibility that recalls Monet. If you long for European elegance, these are the hues for you. If anyone questions your judgment, just tell them you’re ahead of the masses. Then let them eat cake.