His & Hers of Color Design

“We need the marriage counselor” was all I heard her say when I answered the phone. I knew the voice immediately and thought how honest this client was to acknowledge the couple's impasse. We laughed, and then made a plan for the three of us to meet for a weekend appointment to discuss the renovation that she and her husband were about to embark upon.

What makes color so contentious between couples? (Disclaimer - I'm not a therapist!)

The task to make choices for a new roof, siding or hardscape without clear ground rules for an assured outcome can become more than a mere tussle between the sexes. Making color choices for architecture is hypothetical. We use our “mind's eye” to imagine results based on our previous life experience of color outcomes. Sharing a mental image with someone else is hard to do and especially difficult for couples. Add the high cost of materials for home maintenance and the battle lines get drawn.

Some couples just don't want to talk about it. They put off home improvement decisions that require color choices until the very last minute, often making selections of building materials without a plan at all. No one wins when a poor color choice is the new feature of the shared home environment. The less-than-successful result becomes a visual reminder of an area of contention.

If only the couple in the color quandary understood that successful choices do not come from having “good taste” much of the struggle to make renovation plans would seem less personal. Unfortunately, manufacturers flatter and encourage customers to express their style by shopping their way to a solution, rather than seek help to create a plan based on design principles that can craft one that is collaborative and well suited to the site.

It wasn't until neuroscience research using MRI's provided data to prove that men and women experience color differently, that I felt comfortable sharing my observations with clients about the distinct perspective of men and women from my own organic research. As an architectural color designer who works with couples, it was obvious to me from the start that the two don't see eye-to-eye when talking color. Now, we have brain scans to explain why women place so much importance on a hue for their home, and men not so much.

What you need to know to make your home color harmonious:

Women have more color receptors than men and therefore “see” nuances that can affect the experience and use of an interior space or the expression of a color palette for the exterior presentation of their home. Women's keen interest in hue should be employed to help shape the atmosphere and tone of the family nest to reflect the lives that the couple are creating together.

Men's vision is shaped by having more value receptors, known as rods. This distinction means that males are adept at linear proportions of architecture and they focus their attention on the darkness or lightness of a color.

Sometimes men will give-in to their mate's choice in hue and direct their preferences to structural materials or the size of the architectural elements. The building profession is dominated by men, so the extent to which a couple can navigate the process to make color choices onsite with respect for the importance that color plays for the female inhabitants, the better.

I have found that the usual power struggle that can accompany a major expenditure for home materials can be eliminated if each individual is acknowledged for their strengths and the decision reflects cooperation. There is nothing more frustrating when helping a couple design a change for their home when one individual's ideas are shut down or dismissed. Color isn't superficial to her and proportions and material preferences are not just a matter of taste for him. Once everyone in the process acknowledges the importance of the site conditions and inherent architectural cues that make up the design of the property, everyone can participate in a collaborative effort that uses color as the tool that it is for making a house a home.