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June 14, 2011

How Many Ambiguous Colors Can You Name?

Lucianna Samu

When my children were small, instead of playing "Punch Buggy" on a long car trip, they would test my knowledge of the Benjamin Moore classic color fan decks.  The old fan decks were a pair, and each of the kids would flip though their chosen collection of color chips, and call out the number of a color that I was supposed to identify in the passing landscape.  The old fan deck colors didn't have names--numbers only.  So it was especially funny to hear two small kids sigh and moan from the backseat and then begin to shout; "307! 307!  It's such an easy color!"  FYI, Benjamin Moore's Classic color #307 would be stands of sunflower fields as far as your eye can see.


Corn Husk 307

Classic color # 307 (since named) Corn Husk

My children are grown now, but put to the test I'm sure they could both rattle off the numbers for a few colors they know are especially difficult for anyone (including me) to name or identify.  Here are a few of my favorites from the Classic color system, all of which have since been awarded very fancy names!

New Age 1444, Nature's Essentials 1512, Bashful 1171, Somerset Peach 163

Every one of these colors is a great example of a complex shade.  Each is derived from an already tricky mixture of tints and then softened to a shade with liberal amounts of white.  So for example, New Age 1444, is not merely purple and white.  (I'd guess it's violet, red, yellow and umber, plus white.)  Fortunately, Benjamin Moore has figured out the tinting formulas for us.  For those of us who are on the hunt for fascinating colors to complement our rooms, these nearly unidentifiable shades of ambiguous colors, are powerful indeed.  These are the colors that will draw your eye fast.  They usually require more than a passing glance to figure out, and often appear at first to be a little "off."  What these colors do in a room setting is give your eye a place to rest.  Your brain will quickly dismiss relying on an ambiguous color for reference, which is why such colors will always stand on their own, interjecting themselves into a well-balanced palette quietly.

It's magical to add such colors to a room, both to stimulate the eye and create a colorful departure.  This is how color can energize a space, sort of cranking up the palette without making any mischief.  Think of these ambiguous pale shades as being like an understated perfume or a subtle yet glamorous piece of jewelry in your wardrobe.

Often, fabrics are tasked with adding this finishing touch to a room.  For a kitchen, where art, accessories, pillows and the like are not practical, I find it's best to select a single understated color departure into the overall palette, repeating the chosen color now and again, if possible, for balance.  For my kitchen, I chose Crisp Straw 2157-50 as my hard to identify, not exactly perfect matching shade of color, to liven up the cool neutral palette.  The color is a warm pale shade of my painted range, which is August Morning 2156-40.  Here's the range, my test sample, and a little extra help from a china platter in peachy-orangey-cantaloupe.

Crisp_Straw_2157-50 test sample

My experience in working with carefully formulated complex shades, is that what we're really finding in the paint is the "essence" of a color--sort of like the gold glow a marigold will leave on your fingers after it’s fallen from your hand.  Because Crisp Straw is the only warm paint color in my kitchen, it stands out just the teeniest bit extra.  Of course, it helps considerably that it's a color I happen to love.  I think it looks fantabulous in the company of the freshly painted cool gray walls in Shale 861.



Not only does Crisp Straw add extra pattern to my monochromatic backsplash, I'm hoping it helps explain why there is a rather large stove painted August Morning in the kitchen!  August Morning is intrinsic to my whole house palette but I prefer to relegate the color to a supporting role in the kitchen.  Notice too, how the softer side of Crisp Straw makes the tiniest reference to the brass lighting and pulls out the undertones of the copper sink.  Isn't it amazing what a single great color you can’t even name can do?  If you have a room that isn't quite as lively as you'd like, seek out one of the cusp, ambiguous pale shades of color, and include it in your room.  Very pale peachy-pinks or blue-greys, will work well in any green room.  A single understated buttery or even sharp pear yellow will perform beautifully in red, blue, or brown spaces.  Try to mix a warm with a cool, or vice-versa, for extra pizazz.  Here's a hint: To perfect your ambiguous color picking skills, when at your paint dealer, choose from the chips that occupy the place on the display where one color ends and another color begins--same idea works when selecting from a fan deck.


You can experiment with this concept by moving your accessories around to explore the power of subtle color departures.  I hope you’ll share your ideas with us here for working small doses of a subtle shade into your rooms and head over to Facebook to post your photos depicting your success stories for us all to admire.

Remember, don't get yourself in a twist worrying about complementary colors or complicated palette definitions--all you need is the essence of a single fabulous color, preferably one which you, or I, can't quite name. 


Stay colorful!


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Thank you so much Jane that means a lot to me coming from you! Couldn't you imagine this idea on an entire wall or old boring paneling too? Thanks for sharing your comments I'm enjoying your posts very much.

Lu, your kitchen is so beautiful. i love the faded spectrum on the beaded board as backsplash. just dreamy.

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