For this month’s Book Club, we’re looking at something a little different. It’s not your typical Interior Design book that’s full of examples and ideas to help improve your home. Instead, it brings you inspiration in a slightly different way. In The Secret Lives of Colour, author Kassia St Clair tells the story of seventy-five glorious colours, from Chalk to Kohl, and what you’re left with is an urge to get out there and immerse yourself in a world of colour. I’ve picked out a select few colours, and some snippets of their history, alongside some inspiring and creative ways to use them in your home.
St Clair begins Ivory’s journey by recounting the discovery of “treasure that had been hidden in a small stone chamber in a sandbank for 700 years”, a collection of chess and game pieces and a belt buckle. The origins of the pieces is unknown, and their journey to the Isle of Lewis, where they were discovered remains a mystery. The hunger for Ivory is exemplified by the account that as many icebergs and glaciers melt, the discovery of Woolly Mammoth skeletons begin to reveal themselves, causing a surge for the Ivory.
Bed Bath & Beyond via Pinterest
Using Ivory in the home can be a delicate and softer replacement of white. The subtle milky tones of the Ivory create a romantic and dreamy setting; and can easily be layered upon with varying shades and tones, to create a warm and tranquil space.
The Royal family of the Netherlands, The House of Orange “are proof that personal branding isn’t new. In portrait after portrait, its members are gilding in shades of orange”. St Clair writes about the flamboyant past of the vibrant colour orange, and how it came to represent a proud nation. Dutch Orange, is a bright, vivacious shade that lends itself to some of the happiest and positive emotions. Its role in Dutch history brings about some proud and humorous details, the story of the carrot for example; “prior to the seventeenth century it was, usually purple or yellow. Over the next 100 years, however, Dutch farmers selectively bred carrots to produce orange varieties”.
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The addition of Dutch Orange can add a sophisticated pop of colour that a contemporary setting is looking for. The painted staircase in the home above is the perfect counterpart to the thick black railings, light wood floors and clean white walls. It’s this kind of additional colour that can give a home a new lease of life, and keep it from looking flat.
Fluorescent colours burst onto the scene in the 1970s, St Clair notes that Crayola even produced a special edition set of fluorescent crayons, which including the zingy fluorescent pink. The colour is closely associated to the Punk era, having adorned Mohicans and featured on classic punk albums. It’s through this shade that pink, in a sense, found its relevance again, hitting a goldmine for the young and wild; no longer being limited to the confounds of the pale and baby pinks, fluorescent pink packed a punch. St Clair notes that fluorescent pink became so intertwined to pop culture that it even translated to the “humble highlighter pen”, with sale of the colour pink leaping well above the rest.
Freshome via Pinterest
In the distance a bold room is encompassed in fluorescent pink, but as we view it from through another room, the white borders the pink, giving a flash of life. Painting a room in a wild colour such as fluorescent pink is a brave choice, and not for the faint-hearted. But a gutsy choice like this one can do wonders for the overall scheme of your home.
“Mary carefully removed her sombre outer clothes to reveal a bright scarlet under gown… Scarlet was closely associated in the Catholic Church with martyrdom”. Here St Clair retells the story of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. This can be seen as just one of the reasons that the colour scarlet has a rather elusive and eventful history. Scarlet has mostly sinful, seducing or salacious connotations, which gives the colour a rather rebellious streak. Perhaps this is why a scarlet interior is considered full of drama and romance. In today’s modern world, and contemporary taste, scarlet red can be a little hard to pull off while still keep the functionality of a room intact; a room that is head-to-toe in dark red make come across a little too much like the setting of a romance novel. An alternative option to an all red room, is accessorising in the fiery shade; these bright red chairs had a touch of drama to a modern interior, without any overkill.
Living at Home via Pinterest
Purple has always been a regal colour, for a long time the colour “still retained the imperial glamour of its ancient status”. Though its royal reputation powered alongside the colour for many years, the colour became more accessible among the rest of society towards the end of the nineteenth century. Heliotrope, a shade of purple found itself mixed into colour schemes of light green and apricot, “canary yellow, eucalyptus green, art bronze and peacock blue”. This combinations may seem a tad intense for a modern palette, but for the Victorian’s it fully played out their ‘more is more’ vibe that turned their homes into over embellished, highly adorned and decorated caves of treasures and trinkets. St Clair writes of one commentators thoughts, “no colour seemed too bright”, but “the combinations of them are sometimes starling”.
Ideal Home via Pinterest
Using purple in an interior these days, can create a feminine, welcoming feeling that will give your home a relaxed, approachable feel. Above, the purple walls are met with the perfect accents of dark brown picture frames, cushions in alternative shades of purple, and crisp blue velvets.
The story of cerulean features the world famous Pablo Picasso; the story goes that his good friend “Carlos Casagemas, a Spanish poet and artist was having drinks with friends in the smart new Parisian café l’Hippodrome… when he pulled out a gun and shot himself in the right temple”. This sad event effected Picasso so much, that he reduced his palette to only blue, “the one colour that could adequately express his grief and loss”. It’s through these series of events that we have some of Picasso’s most powerful and famous works of art.
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Just a touch of the deep, sparkling cerulean blue against this aged white door, gives a new and exciting element to a traditional setting. This stylisation of the door is the perfect way to accessorise and give some character to the feature without altering or changing too much.
Emerald has always been a wild and enigmatic colour, from Shakespearian times, when the green eyed monster was first created to the mysterious story of the Bahia Emerald. St Clair tells the event to the largest ever Emerald to be discovered in Basil, and go on to have a whirlwind of intrigue and deception.
Using a bold green like emerald in a home can make a confident and glamourous statement. The richness of the colour can either be played up or down, but just like the image below, playing up to the drama will always make for an intense and desirable look. The green is vividly contrasted against the pink, giving the whole room a contemporary and eye-catching feel.
Conde Nast Traveller via Pinterest
The Secret Lives of Colour is an exciting and inspiring book. So often people shy away from colour, especially in their homes, but this book teaches you a greater appreciation for a wide and diverse colour palette and can encourage you to bring it into your own interiors. Whether you’re in it for the bright and bold shades of oranges and purples, or you prefer the dramatic tones of blue and grey, this book gets you thinking about the endless possibilities that comes with colour; and hopefully gets you thinking about how you might put it in your home.
The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair from John Murray Publishers