The great color swatch debate

Blue is blue. Red is red. Brown is brown. Simple as that, right?

For me, no, not really. And I’ve discovered something even stranger-my husband and I don’t see the same colors! This development could seriously hinder our progress of fixing up our home.

We’ve begun some lengthy, but much-needed, home improvement projects. We recently added new windows and doors, and we’re in the process of redoing the inside, one room at a time. The bathroom and dining room are in desperate need of remodeling, so naturally, why not start with the living room-the room that needs the least attention?

Last week, Justin came home from a trip to Lowe’s and presented me with some books and cards with paint samples on them. “I thought maybe you might like some of the these colors for the living room,” he told me, looking pretty proud of himself that he’d made these selections on his own.

Eagerly, I leafed through his choices, but my enthusiasm faded quickly. I didn’t like any of them. I didn’t exactly know what color I was looking for, but I knew none of these were it.

A few days later, we headed back out to Lowe’s to search for more paint colors. This time, we set the bar quite high, as we not only wanted to select some shades, but we also intended to get samples and paint them on our walls to see which one we liked the best.

Going in, I’d decided I wanted to find a nice, warm coffee brown color. Unfortunately, Justin heard “brown” and proceeded to pull out various brown shades.

“No,” I said at the first one he pulled out. “Too yellow.”

He pulled out another.

“I don’t like it. It’s got too much yellow,” I replied. “I don’t like those yellowy browns. They make me think of being sick or something.”

At that point, Justin disappeared to another part of the store, mumbling something about just letting me pick out the color. While he was gone, I selected several shades of brown, but after looking at them closely, I realized they were too flat-too much blue in them.

Justin reappeared, looking a bit agitated that I was still intently searching for the perfect color. “What about these?” he asked me, pointing to some ugly brown shades.

“They are just too yellow,” I answered indignantly. Why did he keep pointing to the same colors I’d already nixed?

“But it’s brown!” he said with a nervous laugh through gritted teeth.

“Are you frustrated with me?” I observed.

“Yes!” he exclaimed.

I pulled out two cards with three swatches of brown on each. One card had some caramely brown colors-the yellow browns I did not want-and the other card had flatter blueish browns. There was a glaring difference between all the colors when I held them next to each other. I might as well have tried to explain nuclear physics to a baby-Justin didn’t seem to be catching on.

“See this brown? Look how much yellow is in it to make this shade of brown,” I tried to explain anyway. “But look at how dull this one is. Isn’t it obvious there’s less yellow in it?” To me it was as obvious as a neon marquee in Las Vegas.

“It’s brown!” Justin insisted, clearly annoyed.

His head would probably explode if he knew how long it took me at work to find the right shade of the right color. As a graphic designer, colors are my life. And in order to be a good designer, I need to have a good understanding of how the colors mix together, how too much of one color can be dulling, and how not enough of another color can leave the color looking off. Because everything in print is a mix of four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), I also apply this to real life. These browns were a mix of all four colors, but more yellow would give you those yellowy browns I don’t like, too much cyan would give you the flat blue-browns, and more magenta would give you a nice rich, warm brown. See, simple!

Unfortunately, Justin doesn’t “get” color like I do. When I say “warm honey color,” he thinks “brown.” When I say “cinnamon,” he thinks “brown.” When I say “mocha latte” he thinks “Starbucks,” then “brown.” But trust me when I say these are three different shades of brown.

We eventually narrowed it down to two light browns (when I say “we”, I really mean “me”) and then attempted to find the right red for the accent wall. I wasn’t as picky about this one, as I just wanted something deep red. Justin selected two shades of red and with trepidation, he dared to ask, “Which do you like better?” In what can only be described as a miraculous turn of events, I not only liked both colors, but we also preferred the same one. I almost suggested we look for something in a nice shade of merlot, but seeing that my husband was on the verge of a nervous breakdown in the paint section at Lowe’s, I thought better of it.

The split second I agreed with him, Justin scooped up the paint sample cards and hurried over to the mixing desk. He was probably afraid I’d keep looking and change my mind again. We left the store with our paint samples in hand, and I could tell Justin was relieved to have lived through such a harrowing ordeal.

On the way home, we started discussing new colors in the bathroom. The current green color, which Justin said he doesn’t mind, is totally unappealing to me.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with the green,” he wondered aloud.

With a smirk, I held back a laugh when I answered matter-of-factly, “It’s too yellow.”