Articles by Rosemary Phillips

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Eleanor Brown - Color Consultant

Color - Trends, Psychological and Physical Effects

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, 1978

Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown as she
appeared in 1977
Photo by Fraser Day

INTRO: A new interior design magazine, Canada Home Décor, made its debut on the Canadian market in the late 1970’s filling the void at that time for Canadian information on quality residential interior decorating tips. When Eleanor Brown was interviewed for this article for the Fall/Winter 1978 issue of the magazine she was just about to retire from her position at the Robert Simpson Company in Toronto. The article gives a brief outline of colour trends of the time, and use of color in our lives, and makes a prophetic statement about how colour would be used in the future. Eleanor was right on the mark. Do things ever really change?

“Just as no two people have the same body chemistry, no two people use color alike,” said Eleanor Brown, colour consultant, lecturer, interior decorator and advisor for 30 years with the Home Furnishings division of the Robert Simpson Co. in Toronto. Eleanor, a native of New York City, had been interested in colour studies since her enrolment at Parsons School of Design 40 years ago (1937). At that time colour psychology was in its early stages. It has since matured into the study of color as related to language, human behaviour, personal choice and even medicine.

As a language colour is important in our lives for transportation, the navigation industry and safety. Yellow and orange warn for such as traffic aisles and signals. Red signals danger or hot, and green shows safety or cold. Purple warns us of radiation. Color provides quick recognition. However, that recognition comes primarily from positioning, such as in traffic lights, not by what the colours are. Red is always recognized as red but how we see it depends on the individual. Each person sees the colour differently. Eleanor explained she speaks of persons with average eyesight, not those who are colorblind.

Brown eyes see differently than blue eyes. Studies have been done of athletes in the southern U.S. to analyze the behaviour of people with different coloured eyes. For example, Jack Nichlaus, the golfer, with blue eyes, is self-paced on the green, whereas Travino, with brown eyes, is spontaneous, yet precise.

Colors affect people

Colours do definitely affect people. Blue, contemplative and intellectual, the most popular colour at present, is cool, subdued and gives an open feeling. It is known to decrease tensions and lower blood pressure. Green can be soothing and passive, yet at the same time be fresh and springhtly. Spring leaf green is replacing avocado green, a move which reflects the growing interest in houseplants. This green is cool and ideal for rooms with too much sunlight. Yellow, the color of remembrance, is cheerful and warm. This is an excellent colour for brightening up dull areas. Reds are excitement, drama and aggression. They should be used cautiously because of their dramatic effects.

Eleanor related a story of her work with a chain of New York restaurants and the use of reds during the Depression. These restaurants were rather elegant but because of the time, the owners were unable to afford expansions. Consultants were approached to investigate colors that would stimulate customers and therefore have them move through the restaurant faster.

By changing the color scheme to predominantly warm coral walls (instead of pure red) customers found themselves feeling very comfortable and delighted by the menu. Warm colors, however, have a tendency to pull in space and subconsciously one gets the feeling of being smothered. The rationalization for this is that the customer has eaten too much and must leave the restaurant to get a breath of fresh air. Over a period of six months the owners found that not only was there a greater turnover in the restaurant but customers went out with higher checks.

Supermarkets use the same approach by having warm colours for the entry to give customers a feeling of well-being.

Color determines personality

Eleanor had, for many years, been able to tell so much about a person simply by looking at their color preference. One way of determining personality is through color testing, by picking five colors from an assortment. The colours and the order in which they are chosen tell Eleanor whether a person is outgoing or reflective. If a person is well balanced and they choose a warm color first, they will pick out a cool color second. The body has its own thermostat.

Eleanor has yet to receive a choice of red, orange or purple this year (1977). Blue, the color of truth, appears to be predominant. There is a definite change towards browns and beiges, a change that is exceedingly noticeable in schools and universities where color preference used to be a distinct purple.

The blues and greens of last year are being replaced by shrimps and pinks. There is a movement to strong contemporary, uncluttered design, with a minimal amount of pattern, and small accents of color. There is such a broad scope, all depending upon one’s lifestyle. Any color that one wishes to use is going to be acceptable. Eleanor stated that right now (1977) there isn’t a right or wrong colour. Each person has their own particular emotional feeling towards colour, so a person’s immediate environment should be attuned to this.

Revolution and Color

A great shock to the color world is that all previous theories and applications are being thrown to the wind. Eleanor explained that colour isn’t working. This could be due, in part, to the fact that we are going through chaotic conditions economically, socially, politically and spiritually. We in Canada are also experiencing a tremendous influx of new Canadians from all over the world who bring their own heritage and color preferences.

We have also been so inundated with color over the last twenty years that we are overexposed and will no longer react.

An example Eleanor gave was of walking into people’s homes and seeing green images on television. To the average person it no longer matters if skin tones are pink, purple, blue or green.

Recently, supermarkets have introduced unlabelled products. Some have white packaging and some have yellow with just the name of the product printed on them. People are buying these products but it has nothing to do with color. Those products without fancy, expensive colorful labelling have brought down cost.
This is a strange revolution. It is hard to predict what will happen. There is no formula. We are on the threshold of big changes developing in color. We will either become more knowledgeable by using color more scientifically, or, through overexposure, we will ignore it completely.

This direction may have already been determined by the advance of colour use in medicine for therapy. The Greeks used color extensively and are not, as we often were led to believe, surrounded by white. Color was used as therapy. Rooms were decorated entirely in reds or blues, and other colors. Yoga studies involve the concentration of absorbing color rays from the sun into the body for health. In medicine today blue/grey is already used for jaundice. A baby born with jaundice previously had to undergo complete blood transfusion. Now the child is placed in a cubicle with an arc of blue light.

Strange, mystifying. Do you suppose that color might cure the common cold?

As a follow-up to the effects of color in the home and in life, check out Colour You Healthy - A Pocket Guide - to the use, effects and healing properties of colour, a wee book in FREE PDF download format. It's published in Canada where COLOUR has "U" in it. (Sorry, I'm a writer, and play with words.)

NOTE: There are many more articles on this site - see Index of Articles.

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