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Is Yellow the New Red?

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


As I drove to a friend’s house last week, I noticed that her neighbor had a yellow-painted front door. I then drove to my mother’s house and passed by another house with a yellow door. Later, that same day, I visited clients and guess what I saw on their block? Another yellow door? No, I saw two yellow doors.


If you follow my column, you may know that I sometimes write it in my head while driving. This helps me stay sane especially in heavy traffic. The next day as I headed to Sausalito, I had plenty of time (and traffic) to give this yellow door phenomenon some thought. I’ve specified many red doors over the years. A few black ones, too. I’ve even chosen periwinkle blue for a door facing the San Francisco Bay. The color was as soothing as the water and as misty as the sky. Periwinkle made sense given the door’s location. But I’ve never suggested a yellow door. What thoughts swirled around my head as I inched my way down Highway 101?


Color trends come and go. Gray has been popular for both interiors and exteriors for a dozen years now. A lot of homes have been painted gray. What’s a contemporary companion to gray? Yellow. The combination has a touch of youthful rebellion and edginess. I say this because this duo has historically been thought of as clashing. So, to use it implies a bit of radical thought. Even though there are warm grays, gray is typically thought of as a cool color while yellow is always thought of as warm. It’s a common practice to combine cool families with cool families and warm ones with warm. To do otherwise is, as I suggested, a bit rebellious.


So, how did these doors look? Three were stunningly attractive. The fourth lacked a little something. All four yellow choices were similar in hue and intensity. So, what made the difference? Contrast. The three stellar houses were painted dark which made the yellow doors stand out. Two were deep, charcoal gray and the third was navy blue.


My thoughts wandered off in another direction just for a mile or two as I thought about the navy blue house. It looked very sharp, in a good way. Coincidentally, I’m currently waiting to see the results of a kitchen update where my clients will be painting their cabinets navy blue. I wonder if this deep and handsome color will be the new gray?


The three houses with the yellow doors also had two other things in common. Wood siding and selected areas of white trim. The white showcased the dark colors and enabled a smooth transition from the body of the houses to their doors.


If you like the idea of a yellow door but not a dark contrast, opt for a white house. The yellow door will stand out and the overall appearance will be bright and cheery.


So, what made the fourth house lacking? It’s hard for me to remember – which is the problem. It was not memorable. It made no impact. It was, in fact, another gray house, but the gray had the same color value (intensity) as the yellow. As a result, the two colors blended and the overall result was wanting.


There is no rule that says two colors must contrast in order to be a successful pairing – except in the case of a front door. It should be easily detected. This door is the entrance to your home and whether yellow, red, black, or any other color, it should make a welcoming statement to your visitors, “Enter here.”

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