Creating a Mughal Colorway

Color Therapy

I was approached recently about designing a yoga room in a private residence. The first thing that went through my head was this: anything but that grandma, lilac purple seen in yoga centers everywhere.

We kicked several ideas around, including the painting of mandalas or Hindu deities on the wall. What we finally alighted upon was the idea of painting birds and landscapes based on 17th century Mughal gouaches and watercolors.

As it turned out, getting the colors right was the trick to the whole project, and we tested endless sample boards. As this was a private residence, we weren’t going to go too bright or commercial with the wall color, so lilac, magenta and marshmallow peanut were out. I began with ivory in my first color sketches, but this was too cool and looked like Chinese ink on silk, and that’s when I stepped up my research.

There’s not a single ivory background in the Mughal miniatures I found, they were flush with curry-ochres, pea green in the landscape and dotted with vivid floral colors from the Indian sub-continent, so that’s what we did--our room is basically a small watercolor blown up to cover the whole wall.

This is a room for young children as much as adults, so it had to be fun. I was attempting to mimic a faux-naïve style of Indian artists 400 years ago, though I got carried away with my birds. As to the last picture, I discovered this as I was capering about looking for an eraser; I take it that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Wall color: Amulet, Benjamin Moore AF-365; trim White Dove

Images: Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter