Selecting Paint Colors: A Cautionary Tale

The summer after my Junior year of college I had the ultimate summer job: helping to restore a beautiful old mansion in Bryan, Texas. The owner of the house was converting it into an event venue, with a little suite of rooms upstairs for herself and her husband. In this suite was a room painted in a color called Pirate Coast. Pirate Coast was the most perfect, lovely, subtle shade of aqua blue, and just being in that room thrilled my little architect heart…

That fall, my roommate Rachel and I moved into a little apartment whose owner allowed us to paint the walls. Before we even saw the place, my mind was made up - my bedroom would be Pirate Coast. Imagine my surprise when, under the glaring lights of Lowe's, the swatch looked - green. Yucky, toothpaste-y green. But, I reasoned, it was probably just the lighting in the store. In my bedroom, I was sure it would be perfect. I was determined to have Pirate Coast.

This was a mistake.

I lugged the paint bucket home and my roommate and I set to work. About halfway through, Rachel articulated a worry already taking shape in my own mind - namely, that the color was super, super light. "Is it supposed to look like this? I can hardly tell which parts of the wall I've already painted." I hated to admit that she was right. The only discernible difference between the painted and non-painted parts of the wall was that the painted parts were shiny and wet. "Keep on painting!" I urged. "Maybe it'll be darker when it dries." My aqua dream died hard.

The paint was a tiny bit darker when it dried, but it was still not the perfect subtle aqua blue I was looking for. In fact, it was...well, Rachel and I had no idea what it was. If you held something green up to the wall, it looked green. In the presence of blue things, it was tentatively blue. But only very slightly. I would've called it white, only the ceiling was white, and the wall was clearly not the same color as the ceiling. I had painted by bedroom some bizarre, nameless un-color.

Aided and abetted by the paint fumes now filling my tiny room, our feelings about Pirate Coast became progressively more absurd and existential. "What is color? Where am I? Are there walls in this room? I cannot tell because they are no color. It's almost like my dresser is floating in front of a giant void."

And then we laughed and laughed and laughed, until we were rolling on the floor, about the color that was no color at all.

For a while I was determined to live with the strangely shape-shifting color in my bedroom. After all, we had done a lot of work, and that bucket of paint cost me 12 dollars. I only held out for two days. In a way I never would've anticipated, not knowing what color my bedroom was slowly began to drive me insane. I kept holding things up to the wall, trying to determine what color it was. For a few hours, I would be satisfied that it was, indeed, blue. But then the next day, I'd wake up and think "My room is green. No, wait, it's blue. No, wait...green." In the middle of the day, the color hardly registered at all. Sometimes, right after sunset, it would even take on an odd yellowish tinge. It got to the point where just being in the room was strangely unsettling. That color was messing with my mind.

So I went back to Lowe's, and I did what you should do when picking out color - I got a bunch of paint chips, and I taped them to the wall in different parts of the room, and duly considered them, in all different kinds of lights. I finally settled on something that was comfortably aqua - that is, a blue with some green it, but very distinctly a shade of blue. (I don't remember the name of this color - probably "Gentle Breeze" or some such - but I do know it was nowhere near as cool as "Pirate Coast".) I was satisfied with the new color of my room, and I didn't even mind paying an extra 12 dollars to save my sanity. Although I did decide, in the end, to leave one wall of my room as the mysterious, shape-shifting Pirate Coast. Just for the memories.

Image: Flickr member joshwept licensed for use by Creative Commons