Eleanor Brown - Colour Consultant
Colour - Trends, Psychological and Physical Effects
interview article by Rosemary Phillips, 1978
INTRO: A new interior design magazine, Canada Home Décor, made
its debut on the Canadian market in the late 1970’s filling
the void at that time for Canadian information on quality residential interior
decorating tips. When Eleanor Brown was interviewed for this article
for the Fall/Winter 1978 issue of the magazine she was just about
to retire from her position at the Robert Simpson Company in Toronto.
The article gives a brief outline of colour trends of the time,
and use of color in our lives, and makes a prophetic statement about
how colour would be used in the future. Eleanor was right on the
mark. Do things ever really change?
Eleanor Brown as she appeared
Photo by Fraser Day
“Just as no two people have the same body chemistry, no two
people use color alike,” said Eleanor Brown, colour consultant,
lecturer, interior decorator and advisor for 30 years with the Home
Furnishings division of the Robert Simpson Co. in Toronto. Eleanor,
a native of New York City, had been interested in colour studies
since her enrolment at Parsons School of Design 40 years ago (1937).
At that time colour psychology was in its early stages. It has since
matured into the study of color as related to language, human behaviour,
personal choice and even medicine.
As a language colour is important in our lives for transportation,
the navigation industry and safety. Yellow and orange warn for such
as traffic aisles and signals. Red signals danger or hot, and green
shows safety or cold. Purple warns us of radiation. Color provides
quick recognition. However, that recognition comes primarily from
positioning, such as in traffic lights, not by what the colours
are. Red is always recognized as red but how we see it depends on
the individual. Each person sees the colour differently. Eleanor
explained she speaks of persons with average eyesight, not those
who are colorblind.
Brown eyes see differently than blue eyes. Studies have been done
of athletes in the southern U.S. to analyze the behaviour of people
with different coloured eyes. For example, Jack Nichlaus, the golfer,
with blue eyes, is self-paced on the green, whereas Travino, with
brown eyes, is spontaneous, yet precise.
Colors affect people
Colours do definitely affect people. Blue, contemplative and intellectual,
the most popular colour at present, is cool, subdued and gives an
open feeling. It is known to decrease tensions and lower blood pressure.
Green can be soothing and passive, yet at the same time be fresh
and springhtly. Spring leaf green is replacing avocado green, a
move which reflects the growing interest in houseplants. This green
is cool and ideal for rooms with too much sunlight. Yellow, the
color of remembrance, is cheerful and warm. This is an excellent
colour for brightening up dull areas. Reds are excitement, drama
and aggression. They should be used cautiously because of their
Eleanor related a story of her work with a chain of New York restaurants
and the use of reds during the Depression. These restaurants were
rather elegant but because of the time, the owners were unable to
afford expansions. Consultants were approached to investigate colors
that would stimulate customers and therefore have them move through
the restaurant faster.
By changing the color scheme to predominantly warm coral walls (instead
of pure red) customers found themselves feeling very comfortable
and delighted by the menu. Warm colors, however, have a tendency
to pull in space and subconsciously one gets the feeling of being
smothered. The rationalization for this is that the customer has
eaten too much and must leave the restaurant to get a breath of
fresh air. Over a period of six months the owners found that not
only was there a greater turnover in the restaurant but customers
went out with higher checks.
Supermarkets use the same approach by having warm colours for the
entry to give customers a feeling of well-being.
Color determines personality
Eleanor had, for many years, been able to tell so much about a person
simply by looking at their color preference. One way of determining
personality is through color testing, by picking five colors from
an assortment. The colours and the order in which they are chosen
tell Eleanor whether a person is outgoing or reflective. If a person
is well balanced and they choose a warm color first, they will pick
out a cool color second. The body has its own thermostat.
Eleanor has yet to receive a choice of red, orange or purple this
year (1977). Blue, the color of truth, appears to be predominant.
There is a definite change towards browns and beiges, a change that
is exceedingly noticeable in schools and universities where color
preference used to be a distinct purple.
The blues and greens of last year are being replaced by shrimps
and pinks. There is a movement to strong contemporary, uncluttered
design, with a minimal amount of pattern, and small accents of color.
There is such a broad scope, all depending upon one’s lifestyle.
Any color that one wishes to use is going to be acceptable. Eleanor
stated that right now (1977) there isn’t a right or wrong
colour. Each person has their own particular emotional feeling towards
colour, so a person’s immediate environment should be attuned
Revolution and Color
A great shock to the color world is that all previous theories and
applications are being thrown to the wind. Eleanor explained that
colour isn’t working. This could be due, in part, to the fact
that we are going through chaotic conditions economically, socially,
politically and spiritually. We in Canada are also experiencing
a tremendous influx of new Canadians from all over the world who
bring their own heritage and color preferences.
We have also been so inundated with color over the last twenty years
that we are overexposed and will no longer react.
An example Eleanor gave was of walking into people’s homes
and seeing green images on television. To the average person it
no longer matters if skin tones are pink, purple, blue or green.
Recently, supermarkets have introduced unlabelled products. Some
have white packaging and some have yellow with just the name of
the product printed on them. People are buying these products but
it has nothing to do with color. Those products without fancy, expensive
colorful labelling have brought down cost.
This is a strange revolution. It is hard to predict what will happen.
There is no formula. We are on the threshold of big changes developing
in color. We will either become more knowledgeable by using color
more scientifically, or, through overexposure, we will ignore it
This direction may have already been determined by the advance of
colour use in medicine for therapy. The Greeks used color extensively
and are not, as we often were led to believe, surrounded by white.
Color was used as therapy. Rooms were decorated entirely in reds
or blues, and other colors. Yoga studies involve the concentration
of absorbing color rays from the sun into the body for health. In
medicine today blue/grey is already used for jaundice. A baby born
with jaundice previously had to undergo complete blood transfusion.
Now the child is placed in a cubicle with an arc of blue light.
Strange, mystifying. Do you suppose that color might cure the common
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