Color Me Indignant

My husband just loves the slightly off-white hue I’ve come to call Episcopalian cream. If I didn’t assert myself now and then, we’d be surrounded by walls painted this non-color. It’s tasteful, it’s innocuous, it’s bland, I hate it.

But every time I bring up our need for more color, my husband gets nervous. I know what he’s worried about. He grew up Episcopalian, living in a house with whiter-shade-of-pale walls and pictures hung at a very precise height. He’s afraid that, if I get my way, our environs will blossom into a carnival funhouse of bright, throbbing colors, folk art and religious objects.

Fortunately, we now have a referee in our ongoing taste war. It’s our old friend Craig, who’s an interior decorator in Houston. Craig is so prominent and exclusive he doesn’t have to advertise. Still, you may have noticed him before. He turns up in the comments section of this blog now and then, almost always following one of my more serious posts about a parent’s death. If I got worried that I hadn’t heard from Craig in a while, I’ll just write one of those posts; it’s more reliable than a warrant for his arrest if I want to get his attention.

Craig also has a rather sordid history of mayhem with my husband, who was his best friend in high school. You couldn’t pry the truth out of me with a crowbar, but I will say that if the school authorities ever caught wind of it, they would probably revoke both my husband’s and Craig’s 1968 Midland High School diplomas.

Anyway, for some reason, Craig likes working with us on our little decorating issues. He drives up here and stays with us and offers brilliant solutions for two people who have more opinions than money. Then, once Craig leaves, I’ll spend weeks quoting him to my husband to back up my opinions. For example:

“Craig is a professional decorator. He said we shouldn’t do that, remember?”


“Well, that wasn’t my idea. I’m just trying to protect Craig’s vision for our condo.”

Two weeks ago, when I was feeling stalked and creatively stifled by all the off-white walls in every direction, I decided we needed color in our living room and kitchen. I talked to my husband, who, amazingly, didn’t seem averse to the idea. Either that or he couldn’t hear what I was saying, since I was mumbling or maybe he was already asleep. In any event, he didn’t object.

Craig sent us a paint wheel and when I saw it, I realized the new color was going to transform my life. I walked around, trying to envision taupe on our walls. Free at last from the off-white curse, liberated from banality.

My husband squinted at the colors. “Isn’t it a little dark?” he asked worriedly.

I shook my head. “Of course not. Craig picked it out. It’s part of his vision.”

Two days later, the painter finished and re-hung the final pictures on the wall. It was like being in a new place. It was beautiful, with the freshly painted taupe walls.

I paced around the condo, looking at the walls from the bedroom, the balcony, the hall, the kitchen. I turned the lights off and on. It was gorgeous. I went to work, then came back to see what it looked like in the afternoon light. It was even better.

My husband came home and said it looked fine, just fine, no big deal.

“You know,” he said later, “if you hadn’t reminded me it was getting painted, I never would have noticed.”

“I find that sad,” I said. “The painter said he loved it. He complimented me on the color. You must be color blind. Have you ever been tested?”

It all reminded me of how hard it is to be a sensitive, artistic person surrounded by people who are untouched by beauty and aesthetics and folk art, but you know, that’s just my lot in life.

The next evening, our son came over and I waited to hear him exclaim about the new color, since he’s younger and more sensitive than my husband. He didn’t say anything, even though I spent a lot of time clearing my throat and flapping my hands in the direction of the new taupe walls.

“I asked him if he noticed and he said no,” my husband said later. “He said, ‘It must have been pretty subtle — just like it is when Mom gets her hair cut.’ ”

I have learned my lesson from this. The next walls we paint are going to be loud enough to wake the dead and shake the Episcopalian color sensitivity to its country-club roots. Let the funhouse begin.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

OK, so I wrote 25 Things About Me

24 comments… add one
  • The official Pantone colour of the year is Honeysuckle. They can call it honeysuckle all day long, but it is still the colour of a yard flamingo. Just a little tidbit, in case you might need it.

  • Terry Link

    tell us the color…still laughing by the way:)

  • Rebecca Link

    Such a fantastic post as always. Your blog is one of the very best things I’ve found on the internet – please don’t stop!

  • Oh, fiddle-dee-dee. Taupe is just Episcopalian cream gone sour. Paint the kitchen/dining area tangerine, arrange a collection of mandolins on the wall over the sideboard and set the table with vintage Fiesta-ware from eBay. When hubby arrives home and is seated at table, swirl into the room with a tray of lemon bars bought from Bakerman’s Bakery down the street. (I know better than to ask you to bake.) Then burst into song:

    She is all they claim
    With her eyes of night and lips as bright as flame.
    When she dances by
    Senoritas stare and caballeros sigh.
    And I’ve seen
    Toasts to Tangerine
    Raised in every bar across the Argentine.
    Yes, she has them all on the run
    But her heart belongs to just one.
    Her heart belongs to Tangerine.

    At least some color will rise in hubby’s cheeks before he’s swaddled in Episcopalian cream satin six-feet under. He might even notice the walls!

  • Steve Link

    I suspect the “taupe” is quite similar to the “khilim beige” (whatever the dickens that is) my spouse convinced me to paint the kitchen and dining room.

    Was naming your daughter a color a reaction to Episcopalian white walls?

  • Hmmm … Did you paint all 4 walls a new color? See that’s the trouble here. My DH likes some color, but only as an accent wall. SO, we have 3 white walls and one color wall in pretty much every room. Darn green in the master. A buttery yellow in the dining room, etc.

    The wildest pick I made was a shade of orange called “Navajo Pony” for my office. I kept that vibrant color for many years … until I realized it was making me anxious (more than usual), so we repainted a couple years ago to a more subdued taupe/tan, and I love it.

    Congrats on the new color pick. I’m sorry your men folk didn’t notice.

  • Cindy A Link

    Invite me over when the place begins to “blossom into a carnival funhouse of bright, throbbing colors, folk art and religious objects.” THAT sounds like an experience as well as a place! Hope you kept that mummy casket from your old house…

  • Ward Link

    I’d consider purple and/or raspberry accents. You are living above Austin, after all.

  • carla Link

    I love this! I grew up with the “color”…just never knew it was “Episcopalian cream”. Thanks for the laugh and the memory!!

  • Craig Link

    I know I’m not supposed to be here without a death in the family. You seem to have run out of topics if you are bringing me into the blogosphere, but at least it got Ward to comment.
    I have always said the primary function of an interior designer is that of a home psychologist. You try to balance the wants and needs of several strong willed individuals into a common good that each one can feel responsible for. I just dance along in the background.

    I have tried to save as many marriages as possible along the way. Yours is a singular case. It’s tough to out-psychologize a psychologist.
    Your darling husband and I get bored with asking each other “how does that make you feel?” You know he discriminates colors. He may be behind the color scheme of the new Whole Foods they are building in Kodachrome near me. You know Whole Foods would never leave those decisions to a mere designer. Just let it pass and we can make him feel important later when we let him pick the guest towel color in the powder room. He’ll swear it made the whole place just pop.

  • My son’s walls are taupe. As to my husband, he would paint every wall pale yellow, like this background on this blog, if I let him. And, the doors would all be blue. Err. Are, blue.

  • Is this a man thing!? My husband just loves white. Plain and bland white. When we sold our house in the city, the real estate agent had painters come in who painted everything a darker cream. I finally got a mocha in the bedroom and even now, 2 years later, he keeps saying to me, “I think it’s too dark.” I wish we had an interior decorator friend!

  • LL I think you’re on to something. My hubby is the same way–I convinced to go with “linen white” in one room, but of course I really wanted a deep, red wall. Ah well, we’ve found it’s easier to shake things up with color by putting vibrant pics/paintings on the wall. They’re a lot easier to switch around then repainting.

  • The haircut comment was a hysterical spot-on analogy. My husband’s family loves neutral walls. On the other hand, we throw color on anything that doesn’t move for 30 minutes. Good for you for trying. Maybe next you’ll be even more adventurous.

  • Since you were here I have painted all the walls of the guest quarters various degrees of aqua (a decorator once told me that is the “universal” color). The first wall I painted Julia said was too dark, so she mixed varying amounts of white paint into the original color. Each wall is slightly different value. The trim is sage green. It looks pretty good.

    When I was middle aged I taught art to other middle aged ladies. I used to tell them, when they complained about their pictures, “If you can’t make it good, make it red.” I have never tried that with walls. You can, of course, have too much of a good thing.

  • I am obsessively anti-white walls. When we bought our house, every room was white. Today, 11 years later, there isn’t a single white room left. And I love it. Clearly Craig needs to recommend colors for your other rooms! And then can he come here? I have a fireplace/mantel/built-in shelf situation that needs professional handling!

  • Sheryl Link

    Reading this made me chuckle and think back to my own color battles with my DH. He fought me every step of the way when I traded in boring neutrals for brighter golds, reds and blues, but I think he finally realized I was actually onto something. On the other hand, his radar is not as keen when it comes to me changing hairstyles, either. that takes a LOT of throat clearing to get him to notice.

  • HA. My favorite line was:

    “I asked him if he noticed and he said no,” my husband said later. “He said, ‘It must have been pretty subtle — just like it is when Mom gets her hair cut.’ ”

    This reminds me of my husband. And my father. And every other man I’ve come into contact with.

    Though the not noticing is almost better than the alternative. After my husband and I painted our kitchen a happy shade of green, my mother said, in her most passive-aggressive tone of voice, “Well, if you guys like it…”

  • I’m amazed to realize that my husband doesn’t fit the mold here. He generally measures up in the male-as-totally-unconcious. However, he seems to like the color on our walls–or at least he goes along. Once in the old days when we painted our own walls, we painted a whole family room orange–ceiling included. It was like living in a pumpkin.

  • Maybe this is why we have yet to paint the walls of our house? I suspect we never will…

  • I grew up with Methodist Beige, so I like the idea of color in my own house. The trouble is, every spider and bug in a 10-mile radius thinks we built this nice log home just for them, so I actually have any walls in the house white – so I can easily see those darn bugs and dispense with them. It’s really a stupid reason to keep the walls white, but there you have it.

  • My husband was scared of anything but off white walls when we met, too. I think the non-artistic sorts just need to be broken in.

  • Oh dear. I fear I’ll never be able to have the two of you over for dinner next time you’re in New York – you, definitely, but he’ll faint at our “surf blue” (turquoise) living/dining room and tangerine kitchen, won’t he?

  • Merr Link

    We live in a parchment house – color wise. I have friends who come over and say they wish their spouse would let them paint the house anything other than white, that our color is so different. Well…it’s fairly neutral, but I guess compared to white it’s really out there!

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