ColorTherapy: Le Corbusier, Kt. Color and the Villa Savoye

Last week, I was grumpily dispatched to Aronson’s Floor Covering on a bit of nonsense, which quickly turned into a meeting with good fortune. Therein, I was reacquainted with the KT paint line and a year-old desire to write about the Villa Savoye outside of Paris…

The architect Le Corbusier developed two color palettes over the course of his career, one in the 1930s and one in the 1950s. The first was reactive and was made as a purging of bourgeois taste. As he reclaimed architecture from decorators and paper-hangers, he also used color to emphasize structure based on its formal and emotive qualities.

The 1930s palette (KT 32) is the softer of the two and contains warm and cool blue, light and dark green, deep reds, brown and neutrals that enhance natural materials used in construction. The red ochres in particular stand out as the undiluted cinnabar of classical palette.

The 50s came along, and Corbusier shifted his philosophical stance slightly. He’s less antithetical and reactionary, but the colors from this palette (KT 43) are brighter, more saturated and, dare I say it—more decorative. They include vivid yellows, aubergine and orange. You might think this palette was dated until you think of how undiluted color is today in its present use. I’ll suggest here that Corbu is the father of the modern “accent wall” as an isolation of color, but will willingly stand corrected on this point.

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The Villa Savoye is an early modernist masterpiece, examplifying Corbusier’s tenets of a new architecture. In part, this meant the exterior and interior walls were white (clean, new, pure, Modern) highlighted by planes of pure color. In his view, cool colors are calming and warm are stimulating (nothing new here) and that color in general is a strong modifier of mood. The pink wall in this photograph gives a center to the space and suggests intimacy and stimulating conversation. It also seems to bridge the gap between the warm coral pinks of William Morris and Art Nouveau, and the cooler, steely pinks and lilacs of Art Deco. The dark green around the exterior links the pure white of the building to the natural landscape; the blue next to the window stands purely as an accent. Note that it’s not the whole room or whole building that’s pink, but focused, prescise areas that direct how we conceive of and relate to living spaces.

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The paint itself is produced by KT (ktcolorusa.com) and unlike other paint products it is made with the natural pigments used by artists since time immemorial, and is distributed by Aronson’s Floor Covering. The pricing plan favors mathematicians, and starts at $2.80 per square foot. I’ll close with a photo of Le Corbusier and his shark-bite.

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- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter