Monday, May 28, 2012

A Person of Color

Making the rainbow connection.
 Just say it.  It’s only two words.

“Swiss Coffee,” I say, trying not to sound morose or resigned.

Swiss Coffee sounds like the canned sugary instant beverage that came out in the eighties, but it’s not.  It’s a paint color.  A bland, commercial paint color only mildly less dull than Navajo White, which is like saying it’s Hellman’s rather than Best Food’s mayonnaise. 

Our tenants moved out of our house and, after seven years, it needs a bit of freshening up before the next tenants can move into it.  The thing is, because the previous tenants were family and it was a quick switch as we moved up North, the colors were the ones I’d originally selected when we first moved into the house. 

I use “colors” loosely, but I don’t really know another term to express the situation.

Let’s start from the beginning:

I blame my mother.  That’s how it always starts, isn’t it?  Despite my mother’s dreams of me becoming a concert pianist/brain surgeon, she encouraged creativity.  During rainy days or moments of “boredom,” my mother would challenge my sister’s and my artistic visions.  She’d put on music and ask us to draw what it made us feel like.  She’d cut open brown bags and have us draw on them, sometimes together, sometimes on our own.  She gave us round pieces of paper or other odd shapes so that we’d learn how to organize space.

So, when I grumbled about the dullness of my room, my mother suggested that I paint a mural on the wall.  I was giddy with the idea.  I sketched out horses in a pasture with a hill and trees.  I painted them with acrylic paints.  I was pleased.

"Why did you make them so small?” my mother asked.

The painting was more like a frieze than a mural. Still, I liked what I’d painted and didn’t want to cover it to re-do it, although I liked the idea of doing something life-size.  When my dad cleaned out the garage, I painted a saloon scene that took up the entire wall.  It was primarily figures and the bar.  It still didn’t fill the space.

I repainted my bedroom, this time blue, a royal blue so bright that it radiated into the hallway and my mother asked me to keep my door shut to contain it.  I liked the glow.  It reminded me of television light.  When I left for college, my mother put up wallpaper on one wall.  She’s a huge fan of wallpaper.  But when she painted the other walls, she painted them a soft green, rather than white, a huge difference for her.  I like to think I inspired her. 

Several years later, I moved into half a duplex with my then boyfriend.   There was peeling grass weave wallpaper on the bathroom walls.  My rabbit chewed on the frayed edges.  I removed the wallpaper and decided to try a faux finish, which was just starting to become trendy.  I did a golden yellow for a fresco look.  And, as with every fresco, there should be angels, so I painted them as well.  When I gave notice, the landlord made a remark about the angels.  I informed him that I’d painted over them in a pale blue, but he kept my deposit anyway.

My husband started out as a “white walls” guy, but the townhouse he bought had every wall covered with blue, orange, and/or peach eighties wallpaper.  The highlight was the second master bedroom with a paper of  blue, green, and orange paint spatters.  I removed the paper, but because of the damage done to the walls, a French wash was a necessity.  I did a combination of moss greens.  He liked it.  Then I painted the tiny washroom downstairs a deep jade green.  Once the mirror and artwork were in place, he liked that as well.  Then I painted vines in the kitchen, “hiding” mice and bugs among the leaves.  The living/dining area became honey brown, which naturally requires a swarm of gold bees.

When we decided to sell, I’d watched enough HGTV to know I had to “vanilla” everything.  We hired a painter who made everything Swiss Coffee.  It didn’t bother me at that time, probably because I was ready to move on to another house, one with a yard for the Uber Hund.

Black lacquer and gold ginko leaves
have no place in a vanilla world.
The house we bought, the one that later housed the tenants, was a 50s modern and we both fell in love with it.  I saw an Asian theme. I painted the trim black in imitation of shoji screens.  The living area I painted to resemble, ironically, grass weave wall paper.  The bedroom looked like gold leaf, the bathroom glowed with a metallic mix, and the kitchen got black and white stripes with red washed cabinets.  It became a Tony Duquette japonais fantasy.

And then we moved again.

While I wanted to move to the Bay Area, I couldn’t bear to part with the Southern California house.  I loved the openness of the house, how it overlooked the Japanese garden I’d created, the quirkiness of my paintings.  It had become extremely personalized.

Perhaps that’s why I’m reticent about making this house “vanilla.” I’m still attached to it.  It’s still “ours.”  My sister suggested a compromise, “Decorator’s White,” the current “hot” neutral in the design world.  While it was neutral and “white,” it was too austere. I needed something warm, familiar, comforting and sweet.  Something that anyone could enjoy.

I needed Swiss Coffee.  So, maybe it isn’t so different from the instant beverage.

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