Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Blue Bench

Through the Front Door, 2010

Were you to visit our house, you might conclude a lot of things. But one thing you wouldn’t conclude is that we’re shy about using color.

The first place we owned, a 13’ wide townhouse on the edge of one of Richmond’s historic neighborhoods, was in a row of Georgian-style residences painted white on the outside with dark green trim. We set the neighbors there on end by hanging a set of bright red blinds in the front window.

In the next place we owned we painted the family room bright yellow. Too bright, really, by two shades. But when we put that home on the market, the eventual purchaser said it was the yellow that sold her.

The next house was a single-story brick ranch. The brick was ugly and the shutters were peacock blue. But when we stepped inside, we found that the sellers had taken out walls and extended the back of the house out into the garden. Best of all, the kitchen and dining area were painted a rich aquamarine, which helped to draw the garden into the house. Not everyone would like this color, but we fell in love with it instantly. We bought the house, got rid of the peacock blue and had the whole brick exterior painted a light yellow.

One morning not long after the painting was done, we noticed a friend parked out in front of the house. I went out to make sure she was okay and found her weeping. It turned out the yellow we’d used on the house was the same color of the house in which she’d grown up. Coming upon it unexpectedly, she’d been flooded with fond childhood memories.

Our current home is so traditional that some neighbors call it “the Martha’s Stewart house.” Just before selling it, the previous owner repainted the entire interior. The walls, ceilings, baseboards, paneling and chair rails were color coordinated in no fewer than twenty-seven different colors, most of them variations on “pistachio.” (We assume the antiseptic green palette was pleasing to the former lady of the house because was a nurse.)

Over time, we’ve covered most of that green. The family room is yellow, the dining room is best described as “burnt coffee,” and the living room took on a Tuscan blood orange red.

Living Room, 2005

Our neighbors are perplexed by our fascination with color. They're quite conservative. Except for the couple who are Coca Cola memorabilia collectors—you don’t have to guess their favorite color—the neighbor’s homes are painted in colors from the same narrow beige palette. After eleven years I think they’ve come to believe, since they’ve known so few before, that maybe our predilection for colors is just another peculiarity of Democrats.

We really got them talking last fall when my wife decided to repaint the storm door and the front door a light apple green. They tut-tutted about that for weeks.

The Front Door, 2010

The other day we took color a little closer to the street when we installed the bright blue Lutyens bench shown above in the front yard. My wife bought the bench second-hand from a local nursery. I spent several evenings repairing the structural parts, sanding all the surfaces and then putting on several coats of paint and sealer.

It didn’t take long for the first neighbor to screech to a stop in the street and back up her car so that she could peer up into the driveway and get a better view at the bench. One by one, the rest have followed suit, trying to be nonchalant as they check it out. You can almost see their lips puckering at the bold color.

The Blue Bench, 2010


  1. I LOVE the bench. How could anyone not love that? It's awesome. These colors are wonderful.

  2. I am a color junky too and never met a color I didn't like! Glad to know you all are members of my club! Beautiful bench and door

  3. This blue bench with all this bright green around looks very beautiful!
    I got just one question: where’s that flag on your front door from? It looks like, I wouldn’t like to sound disrespectful, a… watermelon?… :)

  4. Way to go! I admire bold color, but other than having a blood red front door, have never been brave enough to use color. Maybe it's from knowing that getting a room painted once was hard enough...... and probably repainting would be out of the question if I made a mistake in choosing. I loved this post.