As a professional interior designer, I spend so much time churning out color plans for projects. I strategize how a color will sculpt a space, correct a problem, unify rooms or affect brand perception for commercial clients. Color is often on my brain.
But today as I drove past a mimosa tree in full bloom on a highway of all places, my mind skipped quickly from the tree’s lacy form to its great color combo of pink and green. Pink and green.
And with that, I was transported to the backyard of my childhood. I am nestled there under my mother’s own pink and green mimosa, but I am here in my pink and white pajamas delightedly hunkered down with my grandmother Anna, who is herself clothed in her pale pink house coat. The summer is long and life is good. Pink and green. Color. Memory.
And in that yard, Anna the grandmother rests on a white metal chaise lounge that boasts a soft turquoise vinyl body cushion (this is before the days of indoor/outdoor fabric). The white and turquoise combo is so beautifully fresh, and Anna, the wrinkled but beautiful, who is wrapped in her pink house dress, looks like a mimosa flower herself perched on the turquoise chaise cushion. She is reciting for me one of the children’s stories she wrote. And I love it. And I love her. Turquoise and white. What a happy time. Color. Memory.
And years later the teenage me will see that vinyl cushion faded by the sun. Anna is in it once again, looking faded herself. She is weeping silently, one arm draped across her forehead, and in her free hand she holds a wad of crumbled tissues. A day earlier, her eldest son lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, and now the only words Anna can say to me are, “This isn’t supposed to happen, a son dying before his mother.” I lack the wisdom or courage to say anything. I awkwardly stare at the now faded cushion, its once vivid color looking so drab and gray. It looked sad and tired, like my grandmother. I don’t remember what Anna the lovely and the fragile was wearing, but I can see still that awful cushion. Gray, worn and beaten. Color. Memory.
Decades later I will be at a funeral. My mother’s. Because she chose an above ground interment, I am forced to look skyward in order to watch her coffin fade from view. I hear myself sobbing and feel my heart breaking.
Yet for some reason, in a surreal moment I note as I look up, how beautiful but unnaturally blue that particular Florida sky looked. On this sad, deep day I am forced to look high up at a richly hopeful blue, the color of Mary. We are Jewish, but no matter. It’s a captivating hue and my mother has wisely directed my gaze at it, and upward, in her parting. What a heartbreakingly beautiful blue it was. I cry still when I see it in my mind’s eye. Color. Memory.
I studied and practiced hypnotherapy once, for a brief time when I was trying to figure out a next career move. Working with hypnotherapy, I could successfully use color imagery to relax people, to calm them, to comfort them, or to invigorate them. It was all possible with color. And from their deepest place of relaxation, these same people could recall for me with outstandingly vivid detail a long ago memory. When they did so, often it was color that they spoke of first. Color. Memory.
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The interior design books point to studies and findings that “green can soothe” and “orange stimulates appetite” and so forth. But I think, too, that there is unique personal history and specific color memory that programs us.
I can’t help but wonder if the colors my residential clients feel drawn to, or have a strong aversion to, are from early memory – both the good and the not so good. I wonder.
Take a drive in your mind back to some of your earliest times and revisit the colors that you see there. Do they show up in your world today, or do you intentionally reject them?
…the purple floral wallpaper in the kitchen of my childhood home. I would one day unconsciously create a kitchen for myself that had a purple floral accent in the wallpaper.
…the black wrought iron light fixture in my parents’ dining room. I would one day unthinkingly put a black wrought iron chandelier in my dining room. Color. Memory.
…the black and sandy brown leopard print dress I wore the night I met the man I’d fall in love with and marry.
…the ocean green water and bleached white canopied beds on Puerto Plata beach where my mind and body relaxed recently for the first time in too long a time.
…the richly faded saffron of the palazzos, the pine green cypress trees and the wheat colored hills of Tuscany as my happy heart sat next to my very own Mario Andretti as he drove us and our children on a magical family trip.
Breathe deep your colors. They are your past, they are your memory.