It's not about the house.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Little Yellow Pills

Here’s the thing:

I’m reading this article in The New Yorker about color ("Made in the Shade," Erik Konigsberg, January 22, 2007). Paint colors, mostly - exterior house paint and siding. There’s this woman in it who calls herself a "color consultant" - which means she gets paid to decide what a company’s palette will be, and what each color will be called, based on little more than her own gut instincts and those of other women in the focus groups she monitors. And it is always women, apparently, otherwise how else would they end up with a shade called Brokeback Bronze?

This woman claims to have invented, sometime in the 1980s, a faux-finishing technique that she calls "smooshing," whereby plastic wrap is used to marbleize wet paint. The magazine presents this as fact - as in: "her first major contribution ... was to have invented 'smooshing'- both the term and the technique."

Now, I do assume The New Yorker has fact-checkers up the wazoo. I'll even accept the notion that this woman had never seen this kind of marbleizing done before she thought of it herself. And she can keep her claim to the stupid name she gave it. But my husband is a master painter/decorator with a City of Guilds degree from Bolton Street College in Dublin, Ireland, and he claims to have learned the technique there back in the 1970s.

(I use the word "claims" here because I don’t feel like calling Bolton Street College to find out whether or not smooshing - actually, they called it "pulling" - was on the curriculum in 1976 and whether Johnny really took the class that taught it. I'm not The New Yorker, I'm his wife, and I'm inclined to believe him. But you've never met him, so for your sake I say "claims" (and by now the word is starting to sound odd to me, like a sexually transmitted disease - "ew, she's got the claims").)

Anyway, Johnny says "she can call it whatever the hell she wants, but she didn’t invent the bleeding thing." I say: seriously, I put ice in my coffee before I'd ever seen it done - also in the 1980s - because I was hot and I don't like iced tea. And you want to know what I named it? "Iced Coffee." But you don’t see me in The New Yorker claiming to have invented it. (Though if The New Yorker would like a quote or something, I can be reached at

Anyway, sorry, I got off track a bit. I'm supposed to be talking about this whole color thing. It just so happens we're painting our house this summer. We bought it almost three years ago and it needed a paint job then, but it needed a bunch of other things a hell of a lot worse and so we put it off. Now it's time (provided nothing else disastrous goes wrong to eat up all our cash and energy), and we don't need to look at paint chips to know what color we want. Barn Red. A basic color that has been around for I-don’t-feel-like-checking-how-many years.

But this whole article kicks off talking about something called Wasabi Green - which, if you eat sushi, you know what that is, but for those of you who prefer your dinner cooked, it's what Ms. Consultant describes as "a light, yellow-based green." My first thought, of course, was "oh, give me a break." Everybody’s eating sushi now, so we take the same old Avocado color that we've been making fun of for almost thirty years, give it a new name, and voila - hot new shade (hot... wasabi... get it? Oh, I’m so clever.). But at least the name makes sense, not like Brokeback Bronze.

My second thought, though, was about my bedroom. One of the above-referenced "worse things" the house needed when we moved in was a gut-out in what is now my bedroom. Not one of these, I-own-the-house-now-and-so-I-have-to-rip-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together-because-it's-what-you-do-when-you-buy-a-house kind of gut-outs, but more along the lines of oh-my-god-what-is-that-Amityville-Horror-looking-black-shit-dripping-down-the-walls kind of gut outs. We ripped it apart, we put it back together, and when it was finished I trusted my in-house guild-trained painter-decorator to pick a color for it. The color he picked, which we know was Benjamin Moore because it's the only paint he ever uses, we would both swear was something called Burnt Sage. Except we've never been able to find it again on any color chart. I always did think that was a rather straightforward, descriptive name to find on a paint chip, so maybe it's just something we came up with. It could have been called Brokeback Green, for all I know. Anyway the cans are long gone, so I guess the name is, too.

I loved the color from the moment he laid it on. It's warm and cool and soothing and I never would have thought of it myself but he was right. He always is. About paint. I can't even bring myself to hang a picture over it and mar that wide expanse of breathy calm. One tiny joy I have counted on in every day of this ongoing renovation hell, is when I lie in bed at night and stare at the walls and remember what they used to look like...

But last night, I saw Wasabi Green.

Last night I read the first half of this article in the living room, then took the magazine to bed, and suddenly the room was not an oasis of serenity anymore but a giant, Brady-Bunch refrigerator.

I'll get over it - I hope I will. I'm sure as hell not asking Johnny to repaint because of something I read in some stupid magazine (yeah that's right, I said it, what? stupid New Yorker...). I'll sleep on it a while, maybe actually burn some actual sage in there to chase the was-vocado demons out, maybe finally hang a print or two to tone down the Frigidaire-ity. I'll get over it. I will.

But in the meantime? I finished the article this morning and it turns out our Color Consultant also works in pharmaceuticals, picking pretty shades for little pills...

I'll take twelve in Mother's Helper Yellow, please. Fork 'em over, and you can call the color whatever the hell you want.

How about Brokeback Gold?


DonnaStaf said...

EGE, nice post! I loved it. So true that the longer you live, the more you'll see the reinvention of the wheel. Hey,just think, if it weren't for Al Gore, there would be no blog! Luv ya, DStaf

Bob said...

HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!!
Love it, and so true.
Maybe Barnyard Brown is something she could use??

Pat-Man said...

I like to think I'm an educated man, but the names granted upon some of today's modern paint colors leave me neurologically challenged.

Although I have no artistic abilities, even I can figure out that "Water Flow" is some type of blue, and "Skyline Steel" resembles silver. But who among us would be brave enough to paint their bedroom "Friendship" sight unseen?

To me, the color of friendship is directly proportional to the friends I'm hanging out with at a given moment. It may be the deep green of fine marijuana, the pale yellow of dog-eared pages of old books, or the deepest blue late summer sky above you at Yankee Stadium.

Turns out that the Interior Latex Paint PhD's have seen fit to make friendship an anemic mauve. Well, I'm definitely NOT going to any of their parties.

miss mary said...

This article reminds me of the time we painted our den "Buttercream" which to me sounded like a nice soft pale yellow with a creamy buttery consistency. Instead it was like the sun had risen and parked itself in our den. It was so bright, our eyes hurt! A rose by any other name still has thorns. Thanks for the laugh.

marie of roumania said...

an all-day sucker for paint names, i actually picked one trim color over another because it was called something vaguely Cape Cod-esque ... something something ... clams? i forget.

allow me to recommend Farrow & Ball: Manufacturers of Traditional Papers & Paint, whose descriptions of historic hues -- usually along the lines of "dead rich people used it, so should you!" -- i could read for days:

"Monkey Puzzle®
A typical 19th century estate colour which has, like so many successful colours, endured the generations. Good with both brick and stone and indeed furniture."

"Joa's White®
Warm. For devotees of No. 3 Off-White, Joa's White, though just darker, has none of the coolness or perceived greenish nature of No. 3 Off-White."

"Octagon Yellow®
To match the colour of the Octagon at the Bath Assembly Rooms as repainted in 1990."

and yay! E! blog!

Kathy said...

for 6 mths searched for the color on a local public building, finaly received a phone call from a local official, "are you ready? I've got it." "OK, I'm ready." "Got a pencil?" "Yup, got a pencil" "OK,write this down, Benjamin Moore, .....GREY, got that?" By now I'm on the floor, "yuh, yuh!" "And the trim, you ready? Benjamin Moore, DARK GREY".
Sometimes the simple things in life are what's waiting for...