Colour Story: Green
Did you enjoy my last Colour Story feature on white? It definitely sparked a little bit of discussion (which I loved) and it helped me re-think my own relationship with white. This week I'm very delighted to bring to you the very talented Charlotte Argyrou who can tell you a whole lot more about this week's colour than I can! Green (along with blue and grey) is my favourite colour to decorate with. I have mint green wallpaper and crackled-glazed tiles in my bathroom and a rich dark blue-green for our new kitchen. I'm also hoping to incorporate Arsenic by Farrow and Ball into our new mid-century reception room. Green is known for being calm, a colour on nature's side (think of the re-cycling logo) and maybe even a little bit jealous but let's not leave our definition for green there. I am already a fan of this hue and I think by the end of the post you might be to as we look a bit deeper into the different ways green can make us feel.
Have you ever experienced a sensation where you crave a colour? I am a botanical artist, which means I obsess about colours and textures and how they fit in the context of the contemporary home. It is a thought-process that manifests likes a yearning, and often compels me into action. Let me give you an example. There’s a lyric in the Disney movie Moana, which presents itself to me in beautiful ombre of sapphire to turquoise blue:
“See the line where sky meets the sea? It calls me.”
That could be written about my friend Julia. To her, these blues are magnetic. A couple of years ago, she packed her bags and moved to the coast, choosing a house that allowed her daily walks on the beach. I think she always knew this move would happen one day, but when her boyfriend suffered the most horrific paragliding accident (he’s now recovered), she had a “life is short” revelation and instantly responded to the call of the blue.
But for me, the colour I crave is green. I live just off an “up-and-coming” stretch of polluted main road that links gloriously green Greenwich to downtown Woolwich, via the Charlton retail and industrial estates. A new IKEA is currently under construction a few minutes away, threatening to increase the grey stench of smoggy suffocation with additional carloads of squabbling couples. But the main road offers a silver lining, as it’s just minutes in the car to retreat into Kent: “The Garden of England”.
Green is the colour of gardens, of fertility and new life. While our planet may be predominantly blue, our species dwells within the green, and biologically we are rooted to its bounty as a source of food and means of survival. We are now all very familiar with the idea that green equals good, and from diet to mental health we understand that concepts of wellness relate to our proximity to green. I use greens in every botanical illustration I create. Even if I’m drawing pink cherry blossom, I will see greens in the shadows – often quite unintentionally. Could it be this be my constant craving for green revealing itself?
History tells us that green is also the “mystery colour”, and here I am paraphrasing from the exquisite reference book Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. The ancient Chinese prized a specific shade of brownish-green, revered to such an extent that Emperors would be buried surrounded by porcelain in this shade, know as Celadon. In the years that followed, the Chinese even created a snappy marketing slogan “secret greenware only fit for a king” to ensure relics were exported for the highest prices. Centuries later, fashionable Parisians coveted the same tone, keen to be dressed à la celadon. “Celadon is so simple, it’s about nature and harmony”, describes the guard in the Famen Museum, where just seven pieces of this prized original porcelain remain. The book unravels many of the theories of why this olive tone is associated with mystery, secrets and illusion, should you wish for deeper reading. It also explains the literal connection with nature for tones of verdigris, terre-verte and Lincoln green, the chosen hue of Robin Hood - legend states.
So let’s talk about interior design specifically. “It’s not easy bein’ green”, famously crooned Kermit the Frog. In terms of the history of green dyes for paints and wallpapers, that is most certainly the case. Do you recall seeing a vivid green tone called “Arsenic” on the Farrow & Ball colour chart? It alludes to a celebrated shade of green of the 1700-1800s. Created in 1775, a new astonishingly vivid green tone was created by a chemist using arsenic, which was then used to manufacture both paints and wallpapers. Only in the 1960s was it realised that the green wallpapers at Longwood House on the Southern Atlantic Ocean island of Saint Helena, may have contributed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s death in 1821. Even though the colour’s own creator was himself suspicious of the poisonous effect of the pigment, people – even doctors - were willing to overlook this in favour of the fashionable and vibrant quality arsenic contributed to colour.
Luckily, in 2018, we can now utilise the most glorious spectrum of greens without risk to our health. I would like to present three green colour palettes for your home, that link to these ideas of mystery, new life and nature. For ease of reference, I have labelled them ‘Botanical’, ‘Jewel’ and ‘Spring’, though of course there can be crossovers between the palettes.
1. BOTANICAL: Serene, sophisticated, cool, timeless
Brand inspiration: Farrow & Ball, Little Greene
This palette features shades of sage, eucalyptus and olive-tones, against deep dark grey greens such as Farrow & Ball’s Studio Green. It’s smart with navy, grounded with terracotta, and brought to life with metallic accent of any shade. Design Seeds gives a great example of the basic palette, selecting the tones from an Echeveria succulent. Then look how the coolness of this palette is revived by introducing a brighter tone – a brickish orange, bright moss green, or a rich lilac as suggested here by Finnish designer Reeta Ek.
I adore this palette and it is very prevalent throughout my home. I especially like it in a the ground floor living space as it can be so easily switched up as the seasons change. In the spring, our indoor plants add a vivid lime accent, while in summer I introduce white linens and a throw into the scheme. By Autumn, the tomatoey orange I have in my Liberty curtains and artwork is accentuated by the turning of the leaves outside and often with candlelight. At Christmas – well this palette just loves adorning with gold, silver and brass.
2. JEWEL: Rich, exotic, cosy, vivid
Brand inspiration: Zoffany, Cole & Son, Manuel Canovas
This is a popular palette, though sometimes a daunting one to implement in your home. I know so many people who adore the colours of a magnificent peacock – and he really is our inspiration for this palette.
In terms of creating a colour scheme, I believe there are two ways to go, and it is where Donna and I are amicably divided. My accent of choice would be a vibrant pink, or some might choose a royal purple. But SB&C fans rejoice, for this colour spectrum also sits as beautifully with dark charcoal grey and smoky mustard too. A rich emerald green is a beautiful backdrop to so many colours, because, as Donna once suggested to me, it is ‘the’ colour of nature. Every colour sits beautifully against it.
3. SPRING: Lively, uplifting, fun, young
Brand inspiration: Designer’s Guild, Matthew Williamson
This energizing palette is all about balancing the vivid greens with neutrals like light grey or stormy grey and natural textures such as wood, wicker and glass. It pairs effortlessly with light blue and sunshine yellow and it softened by dusky pink. I love this scheme in a kitchen, because it instantly conjures images of healthy eating and feeling good. But please don’t be concerned that this palette only works well for half the year. A flash of rich red is a powerful juxtaposition, and actually balances well because scientifically, they are opposite colours.
Donna's asked me how I choose greens in my illustrations. I can't tell you. My hand just selects from the pencilbox and it's rarely something I pause to reflect on. My style is observational, so I suppose that means my colour selection process is guided by what I see. Occasionally, I steer the palette of an illustration if I am working for a client and I know the palette of the room where the final illustration will reside. Or if I'm drawing for a bride and she had a certain accent colour at her wedding, I will deliberately find a way to subtly incorporate that shade perhaps more than was reality. But when I am drawing for myself, I rely on instinct and observe the natural rhythm of the illustration as it appears on the page.
Other than Chinese White, Spruce Green is the most used colour in my pencilbox. It is a deep, muted grey-green tone which I find is the base of most of the darkness in my work. It's equivalent in paint is Farrow and Ball Smoke Green. I barely touch black. But Spruce Green, sometimes layered with Grape purple or Blue-Grey gives a complicated richness to shadows and textures. Translated to interior design, I would go as far as calling this tone a neutral, because of its ability to make other colours sing.
- Guest written by Charlotte Argyrou, Botanical Artist
Massive thanks Charlotte for some serious insight on using green for our own homes. If you want to follow her (which you definitely should!) then you can find her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. As you can see there are a multitude of ways that you can incorporate this earthy, natural colour into your home for very different effects and moods. Remember that my starting point with any interior design project is 'How do you want the room to feel?' and as Charlotte has so clearly show, green can add atmosphere and colour to a room in a variety of ways. The real beauty is that you can easily make a few little updates to your home with some artwork and living greenery rather than needing to re-decorate if money or time doesn't permit that. What is your favourite of the 3 themes?
Yours in colour and creativity,
P.S. You can still enter my 'blogiversary' competition to win ME for 2 hours in your home to help you learn more about your own unique style and to create a room concept just for you. Just head here to enter!