The Right Color Is Not (Always) The Pretty One

Too Bright Blue

Perhaps the most beautiful shade of blue I’ve ever seen. Too bad it’s so wrong for this house.

Exhibit A: This may be the most beautiful shade of blue I’ve ever seen. Too bad it’s so wrong for that house.

Hmph, you say. Isn’t this a matter of Personal Taste? How dare you criticize?

Truthfully, I have Nothing Against bright colors. But the Beautiful Blue on this Philadelphia row home is clashing with the brick—and with the climate.

Color, you see, is a matter of physics. It’s about light, value, saturation, and hue. The strength of ambient light in the vicinity determines how a color shows up in your perception.

🎨 Value: its position on a scale of black to white.
🎨 Hue: its position on the color spectrum.
🎨 Saturation: the strength or dilution of the hue, relative to black or white.
✨ The strength and quality of natural light determines how much of the color is expressed.

Which is to say that color is relative. How it behaves is a function of its context.

What’s the problem with the blue on this house?

Its value is very close to the value of the brick; its saturation, likewise. The hue is so bright that there are not enough ambient photons to fully express it. The two hues are thus warring for the same visual territory, instead of complementing one another.

If this house were located south of the tropic of Capricorn, the blue would behave much differently; the strong sunlight would create an incandescent halo of Blueness in the surrounding area. It would soothe your spirit in a hot climate.

As it is, in the soft slant of an East Coast autumn, this blue radiates with the chill of an aluminum ice tray. Brrr.

What works better, then?

Behold, Exhibit B: This navy blue with brick red trim, on a converted carriage house, inspires admiration every time I pass it. Value: much darker. Hue: sober. Saturation: such that even an autumn fog will not obscure it.

Navy Blue Hue

The deep value and dusted-down hue of this navy blue works beautifully with the natural light.


Related: How to Choose a Room Color

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