The N-Aughties: A Decade In Color

The N-Aughties: A Decade In Color

Mark Chamberlain
Dec 22, 2009

The Decade of Decadence is about to flame out in a stupendous blaze, and in many ways it feels like the end of the great Kali Yuga. Inversion, iconoclasm, apostasy — choose your own key word to sum things up, but it's a new landscape out there. Print died, the web took over and we woke up to a Wiki world. As I look back at my own trajectory, I see that in many ways I was in lock step with the changing of the guard, much to my surprise. In 1999 I was still a wee, small promising painter, pounding on a great door with two tiny fists. Here, in part, is the world of color it opened onto.

Fourteen years ago I started painting apartments part time during a change of life. Everything I did was white — off-white, chalk white, Dover white, plain white and linen. I think that changed with Ralph Lauren once his new line of paints caught on in the late, late 90s. It was once the worst product on the market, but has since improved; and though I may have snorted in disgust, this is a great color deck to carry around. Under his moniker of ersatz pedigree, he introduced a restricted palette of deep, saturated, old-world colors to the market, and a nomenclature to match: Café on the Riviera, Windsor Pink, Edwardian Burgundy, Tuderic Pewter. The public went nuts, Benjamin Moore countered with their own Color Preview label and we were off to the races.

But what really changed things was the internet. Suddenly, every Mrs. Hutznklutz had unrestricted access to unlimited glamour. We saw black rooms, brown rooms, antler chandeliers, digital wallpapers, mirrored consoles and repurposed wood — it all suddenly made sense, even in fly-over country. There were no more trends, other then full-on style. And colorwise, as Kay Thompson said: "Banish the Beige."

Personally, I did what I wanted to, and no one objected. I started with dark brown, both as accent walls and whole rooms and people loved it. To that I added plum red, and I've done at least one magenta room a year. Next came the underwater blues, which look a little bit like old Europe, a little Mid-Century, and also seem to be the next big thing. Lately, I've been in a "black is beautiful" phase, and am known for my bold super-graphic retro patterns, based on various historical motifs.

I try to keep my ear to the ground in a variety of media — film, theatre, fine art, design, print, what's happening abroad. A friend in fashion told me recently that we're in a grey decade, and personally I think I agree. Don't think of "service elevator," think Paris salon, putty, pearl, smoke, Dior, Payne's Grey, off-black or charcoal. Grey was the background that allowed Teal and Aubergine to take center stage, and replaced beige and pancake-batter yellow as the default go-to color for the urban set of the last ten years.

What's next is anyone's guess, but the pundits now are you-tube and i-me, so let's hear it for the peanut gallery. Next month: Color Preview, 2010. And keep those e-cards and letters coming.

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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