Purple Passion: Decorating with Purple

Posted In Design - 08/29/2016

A small teddy bear sits in the corner of my bedroom. A wonderfully strange iridescent violet, it’s the first thing you notice in the room. Just an accent, a toy really, yet it stands out dramatically against the white and blue room, bringing in the same warmth as the sun coming in the nearby window. I love its color and all it represents, from the regal robes of kings to the mysterious alternative world of psychics.

Purple can be traced back to the ancient Mediterranean, where the deep violet dye was extracted from the murex sea mussel. This expensive process produced one of the only colorfast dyes of the time, making purple a status limited to the wealthy. The Roman Emperor wore the color to symbolize the god Jupiter, and some shades of purple were strictly reserved for the Imperial family and officials. Unauthorized use or possession actually resulted in severe punishment.

During the United States’ formative years, purple asserted its presence early. The Purple Heart, the world’s oldest military decoration, was created by George Washington in 1782 after the Continental Congress ordered him not to award commissions and advancements to soldiers. This token of valor was originally a heart made of purple cloth.

Purple turned up in colonial homes when clear window glass was imported from England. A defective batch, made with too much magnesium, was shipped to New England, and windowpanes made of the stuff turned purple when exposed to the sun. Many people disliked the effect and replaced the faulty glass, but some preferred the beautiful light purple hue. When the company was asked to produce more, they could not replicate the mistake. Today, passersby in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill are still intrigued by the mysterious lavender-tinted panes accenting brownstones close to the Statehouse.

This color is as prominent in nature as it has been in history, and nature is a good source of inspiration when designing with the dramatic color. Brilliant violet pairs with the palest of aster yellows, and vibrant pink and purple reveal the prickly green and brown leaves of an artichoke flower. Sage combines dusty purple and green, while white and shocking yellow contrast with an iris’s deep purple. Cut open a purple cabbage to see the velvety swirls mixed with white, and do the same with an eggplant to admire the contrast between its deep, almost black skin and off-white interior. All of these are clues for using purple in your home, what to mix them with, and in what proportions.

Despite its regal heritage and mystical connotations, purple maintains a whimsical character. Because purple is a combination of blue and red, it can work as either a warm or cool color. Violet and plum hues (with higher concentrations of red) can help warm a cool blue design, while indigo’s higher concentration of blue provides cool visual relief in a warm orange interior. Paired with its complement, yellow, purple provides a dramatic but balanced interior. Combining various shades of lavender and lilac with deep plum accents can create a tranquil space with undertones of romance and mystique befitting a bedroom. On its own, pure purple lends itself to strong lines and authoritative designs.

A predominantly purple scheme creates an extremely dramatic interior, so be sure you really like the color and will be able to live with it. But with its regal history, how can you not want a little purple in your life? From kings to war heroes to Barney, purple has quite the pedigree. Power, spirituality, lust, secrecy, mourning, and mystery have clung to the color through the ages; ironically, it also holds a youthful, whimsical place in pop culture through characters like Tinky Winky, McDonalds’ Grimace, and the “Purple People Eater.”

With a pedigree like that, it’s no wonder that purple — especially in home decor — can be as dynamic and versatile as all its meanings.

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