Where has all the colour gone?

We did some drawings recently to assist in the restoration of a turn of the century villa in Mt.Victoria.

As it neared completion, I offered to do a paint colour scheme free of charge. To me, colour is a really important dimension of design.  I never heard back from the owners.

I wasn’t going to propose garish primaries, but but a sophisticated, refined colour palette to enhance the basic shapes, elements and decorative elements, but I didn’t get the chance.

A subsequent drive-by revealed that purveyors of pallid from the institution of insipidity, had got the clients ear. (Certainly not his eye, I thought.)

The first house I owned in Mt.Victoria, was painted an ochre colour when I sold it (a reflection to material it was applied to) but it has recently been painted various light shades of beige and grey.  As the inner suburbs of Mt.Victoria and Thorndon gentrify, the traditional pastels, dark greens, rich creams and red browns of settler housing is fading, replaced by what I would call ‘non-colour’ – shades that you choose because you can’t think of any proper colours.  Fear of colour is not new as the cartoonist Mordillo pointed out some years ago.

Visitors from San Francisco, Bermuda, Cuba, South America, or Italy could be forgiven for thinking that they had gone colour blind on their  flight to Wellington.

I wonder if this evaporation of colour is the same syndrome that afflicts new cars. DuPont in the USA have been tracking north American car colours since 1953. In those days there were a lot of  teals, aquas, blues, reds and yellows. But in the companies 2011 colour popularity survey, the top four colours had become white, black, silver and grey.


This can’t be due to austerity. Walk into any Mercedes-Benzes or BMW showroom and you will see what I mean.

These non-colours can’t be anything to do with safety. Black cars are invisible at night; grey and silver cars dissolve in motorway spray, and if white is a safe colour, why isn’t it used in hi-viz jackets?

Tellingly any car salesman will straight-facedly tell you that ‘bright’ colours are for ‘young people’. Does this mean that as you mature, your hair colour should match your car?

The Japanese and Korean manufacturers are following hue abandonment, because they admire Germanic product. But Australians, bless their individuality, are bucking  this trend, with various greens, golds and oranges.

If it wasn’t for the lovely owners of most of our buildings respecting our colour advice, I would feel  very redundant indeed. If one has occasion to visit the doctor,  we like to hear them say ‘ your colour is good ’.  We become slightly fearful when told ’ you look pale’.

Our physical environment is getting progressively paler, which is not healthy  at all.