Color, Design and Memory

Mimosa1As a professional interior designer, I spend so much time churning out color plans for projects – everything from how a color will sculpt and carve an interior, to how it will correct a problem or unify rooms, to how it can affect brand perception for a commercial interior design client. But today as I drove past a mimosa tree in bloom at the side of the road, my mind skipped quickly from the tree’s lacy form to its great color combo of pink and green. Pink and green. And with that, I was transported to the backyard of my childhood. I am nestled there under my mother’s own pink and green mimosa, but I am here in my pink and white  pajamas delightedly hunkered down with my grandmother Anna, who is herself clothed in her pale pink house coat. The summer is long and life is good. Pink and green. Color. Memory.

And in that yard, Anna the grandmother rests on a white metal chaise lounge that boasts a soft turquoise blue vinyl body cushion (this is before the days of indoor/outdoor fabric). The white and turquoise combo is so beautifully fresh, and Anna, the wrinkled but beautiful, who is all wrapped in her pink house dress, looks like a mimosa flower herself perched on the turquoise chaise cushion. She is reciting for me one of the children’s stories she wrote. And I love it. And I love her. Turquoise and white. What a happy time. Color. Memory.

And years later the teenage me will see that vinyl cushion faded by the sun. Anna is in it once again, looking faded herself. She is weeping silently, one arm draped across her forehead, and in her free hand she holds a wad of  crumbled tissues. Her eldest son had just the day before lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and now the only words Anna can say to me is, “This isn’t supposed to happen, a son dying before his mother.” I lack the wisdom or courage to say anything. I awkwardly stare at the now faded cushion, its once vivid color now looking so drab and gray. It looked sad and tired, like my grandmother. I don’t remember what Anna the lovely and fragile was wearing, but I can see still that awful cushion. Gray and worn and beaten. Color. Memory

And decades later I will be at a funeral. My mother’s. Because she chose an above ground interment, I am forced to look upward at the sky in order to watch her coffin fade from view. I hear myself sobbing and feel my heart breaking. Yet I inadvertently take a surreal moment to note to myself how beautifully and unnaturally blue that particular Florida sky looked. On this sad, deep day I am forced to look high up at a richly hopeful blue, the color of Mary. We are Jewish, but no matter. It’s a captivating hue and my mother has wisely directed my gaze at it, and upward, in her parting. What a heartbreakingly beautiful blue it was. I cry still when I see it in my mind’s eye. Color. Memory.

I studied and practiced hypnotherapy once, for a brief time when I was trying to figure out a next career move. Working with hypnotherapy, I could successfully use color imagery to relax people, to calm them, to comfort them, or to invigorate them. It was all possible with color. And from their deepest place of relaxation, these same people could recall for me with outstandingly vivid detail a long ago memory. When they did, so often it was color that they spoke of first. Color. Memory.

The interior design books point to studies and findings that “green can soothe” and “orange stimulates appetite” and so forth. But I think, too that there is unique personal history and  specific color memory that programs us.

I can’t help but wonder if the colors my residential clients feel drawn to, or a strong aversion to, are not from early memory…both the good and the not so good. I wonder.

Take a drive in your mind back to some earliest time and revisit the colors that you see there. Do they show up in your world today, or do you intentionally reject them?

…the purple floral wallpaper in the kitchen of my childhood home. I would one day unconsciously create a kitchen for myself that had a purple floral accent in the wallpaper.

…the black wrought iron light fixture in my parents’ dining room. I would one day unthinkingly put a black wrought iron chandelier in my dining room.

Color. Memory.

…the black and sandy brown leopard print dress I wore the night I met the man I’d fall in love with and marry.

…the ocean green water and bleached white canopied beds on a beach in Puerto Plata where my mind and body relaxed recently for the first time in too long a time.

…the richly faded saffron of the palazzos, the pine green cypress trees and the wheat colored hills of Tuscany as my happy heart sat next to my very own Mario Andretti as he drove us and our children on a magical family trip.

Breathe deep your colors.  They are your past, they are your memory.