ASK A PRO: Q: What are some driving forces behind color choices for an architect?

by inPAINT

InPaint_May2017_FINAL_singles_Page_08_Image_0001A:  A lot of what drives color choice has to do with the type of project we’re working on. For example, we do a lot of work for K-12 schools and colleges. We’re often asked to paint using a school’s colors, so the project is personalized. In commercial settings, companies often want to use their logo colors.

Also in those settings, as well senior living or memory care facilities, color is chosen as a way-finding mechanism. In lower grades, clients often choose a primary color like yellow as an accent along a wall to ensure that children can get back to their classroom by following the yellow line.

Color can also be used to create ambiance. In high schools and higher education, they’re looking for a more subdued palette and often focus on secondary colors and jewel tones to create a calm atmosphere. If a school wants students to focus in a particular area, such as a SMART Board hanging on the teaching wall, we’ll choose a bright color to grab their attention. But we stay clear of red. It induces appetite and you often see it in restaurants, but it may also increase agitation, so we don’t use it in schools.


Sometimes clients have cabinetry or furniture that will remain in the space, so we choose colors that work with those features. The same goes for artwork. You don’t want to take away from the aesthetic view of the art, so we may choose a color that does not compete with the art, such as white.

Especially in residential, a room’s function can indicate whether the walls should be painted in light or dark colors. A bedroom can go pretty dark, as opposed to the living room, which most people want to feel light.

We ask clients to show us inspiration photos from when they’re choosing colors. If it seems like a bad choice, we suggest trying it on a 3′ x 3′ area on the wall to see if it’s something they think they can live with for the next 10 years. Sometimes we’ll ask a contractor to paint a sample panel for clients to put up in their home so they can see how the color reacts
in different light and at different times of day.


We’ve noticed people are personalizing a little more; there’s a trend toward more individuality, especially in tract neighborhoods where all the houses are so similar. People are choosing to paint their front doors bright yellow or aqua, for instance. I also see that people are painting window mullions in a dark color and keeping their trim white. They’re adding color for a quick change that won’t break the bank.

In some regions, people choose an exterior color because of the weather. I live in a hot and humid climate, where a dark-colored house will absorb heat. Here, there are a lot of white homes with white trim and galvanized metal roofs to reflect the heat.


Popular colors are influenced by our experiences … travel, the colors we see at local farmers’ markets, and even in textiles. When selecting colors for a client, it’s important to recognize and reflect those influences and preferences.


InPaint_May2017_FINAL_singles_Page_08_Image_0002When Emma Souder, AIA, GGP, GGA, principal and owner of Red Iron Architects, was five, she knew she wanted to be an architect. “I used to draw floor plans and play with Legos,” she says. Fast-forward to the present and Souder—after receiving a masters in architecture from The Catholic University of America and working with a large firm—is now with Red Iron Architects in Charleston, SC. The firm works on educational, government, commercial and residential projects, offering architecture, interior design services and space programming, facility studies, and construction administration.

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