Living with colour


a guest contribution by Stephan Scholz

Things often turn out differently than one thinks. We know that all too well by now. My original plan: a one-year road trip through Switzerland and Europe in my van, named Otto. I started at the beginning of September 2019. Then, in March 2020, coronavirus reached Europe, forcing me to cut my trip short.

Back in Zurich, my chosen hometown, I immediately started looking for a flat – which is not easy in this city. It was only with great luck that I was granted my current flat. The small city flat is not far from the Letzigrund stadium, in the quiet Albisrieden district. The area is characterized by unexciting buildings from the fifties and sixties. Nonetheless, my 75 m2 "bijou" is housed in a renovated building from the 1930s. The floor plan is correspondingly tidy and simple. Entering the flat, you find yourself in a short corridor. Immediately on the right, the bathroom. A few steps further, on the left, the dining room, followed by the living room. Opposite, the kitchen. At the end of the corridor, the bedroom. Nice and in a compact size. All walls in a now yellowed shade of whitish.

New rulings for the home

Living for a short time in 7 square meters has triggered a fundamental desire for change in me. Limited resources and a seemingly endless amount of time are an invitation to go back to the essential. And so months of self-reflection led me to take a big step professionally. I decided to hang up my previous career and start out on a new path. I plan to study interior design at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts from 2021. Interior design appeals to me. Because interior design influences people in all areas of life. Whether it is working, living, learning, getting healthy, in gastronomy or enjoying some cultural offer. Interior design can have a profound effect on the overall experience, ultimately even on individual well-being. At the moment, the focus is acutely on one's own home. In the Vitra e-paper "The New Dynamics of Living", it can be read that due to home office – the new working mode that is expected to become a partial solution in the long term – spatial functionality and aesthetics have to be re-evaluated. According to the renowned British interior designer Ilse Crawford, it is precisely due to the increasing isolation, intensified by digitalized interactions and the change in the aesthetics of public space, that one's own home is becoming increasingly important as a safe retreat. See the essay "How the Coronavirus will change architecture" in the above-mentioned Vitra E-Paper, pages 20 - 23. An exciting time to look at spatial design. Which brings us to the actual topic of this article: living with colour!

After all, paint on the wall or the building façade is one of the most cost-effective design tools that can also be used to improve the spatial or architectural quality swiftly and without complications. At this point, I ignore any objection that colour on the wall is just something artificial, something applied, pure decoration. I agree with Le Corbusier: "Colour is a trigger of strong effects. Colour is a factor of our existence.". So all that remains is the question of the colour tone.


The experiment with Le Corbusier colours

In every kind of change, there is also an opportunity. And so I envisioned my new flat as a yellowed, empty canvas on which I can practise using the Architectural Polychromy. So far, I had only had experience with the colours from Farrow and Ball as well as Little Greene. NCS and RAL are of course also part of the repertoire.

Looking at the Architectural Polychromy colour fan, I have been immediately struck by the unique quality of the shades. The striking 32020 bleu outremer 31 is an absolute colour classic. The earthy red ochre 32110 l'ocre rouge is a colourful embodiment of Danish "hygge". The artist also conceived a mysteriously luminous red 32101 rouge rubia, which origin can be traced back to the dyeing plant Rubia tinctorum. But I am also convinced by the logical structure and coherence of the colour series as well as the compactness of the colour system. Le Corbusier painstakingly developed 63 shades for his collection of architectural colours. The first 43 shades, launched in the early 1930s, belong to the first collection and are for most of them rather restrained. The second collection, which Le Corbusier created at the end of the fifties, includes 20 more distinctly stronger colour nuances – presumably as a counterbalance to the sober, brutalist buildings that were emerging at the time. In addition, Le Corbusier assigned a meaning and function to each shade or colour range. In any case, the writings on the Architectural Polychromy contain interesting reflections on the use of colour in buildings: colour as a means of camouflage, for spatial classification or even as a means of appealing to human sensibilities, i.e. on the physiological and emotional level.

Colour design

I quickly selected seven Le Corbusier colour shades and undertook a new colour approach. Up to now, I had used colour with the aim of creating a tectonic division of space. High colour contrasts, mostly white, in combination with partially used atmospheric nuances or accent colours, break up taut room structures and create moments of tension and surprise. Because of the simple room design of the new flat, I decided to go all out by now. I wanted to see how it looked when all the verticals were in one tone. Or even when the entire room, including the ceiling, was painted in one and the same colour. It was also my aim to achieve harmonious colour combinations both in the individual rooms and in the overall design. With the Architectural Polychromy, I honestly find it rather difficult to reduce the abundance of perfect colour combinations to just a few. The final selection resulted from the feeling of space that I wanted to create.

I deliberately kept the gesture of arrival low-key. On the one hand, because the entrance area is already quite dark. On the other hand, to build up an arc of tension. 32013 gris clair 31, the faintly luminous and airy pearl grey and the third mural 'velvet' nuance within the 1931 colour palette, was ideal for this. The colour really does have a velvety softness and discreetly underlines the white built-in cupboards and door frames. By also giving the ceiling the same shade of grey, the slender entrance area appears to be a kind of protective dome and much more spacious than it actually is. So I can completely affirm that grey, as Le Corbusier stated in his colour theory, makes walls disappear into the background.

A tribute to the 'salle à manger' of the Maisons La Roche-Jeanneret

32121 terre sienne brique is the colour I chose for the kitchen. Another classic – during my research on Pinterest and other design-related and interior design platforms, I kept discovering countless variations of this colour. No wonder, actually, as this colour shade is very flexible and easy to match. On the one hand, the light brick red contrasts with the grey kitchen furnishings and the white tiled backsplash, and on the other hand, it gives the room a cosy warmth – especially in the evening light. Moreover, this shade makes me think of caramel, which also fits in thematically. Here, the ivory white 4320B blanc ivoire can be found on the ceiling. Elegant, charming, chalky. The quiet background colour and perfect complement to the strong sienna earth.

The same versatility is offered by 32102 rose clair, my favourite shade. We now have it in the bedroom. Contrary to common usage recommendations, I used the light or medium dynamic pink here. My hommage to the pink salle à manger in Le Corbusier's Villa La Roche acts as a colourful embrace and radiates warmly as soon as the afternoon sun shines into the room. The red ochre colour with chalk makes me think of my home country, South Africa – because some of the earth over there has the same tone – and definitely has a relaxing effect due to its powderiness. This is another reason why I used 32102 rose clair on the ceiling in the bright white bathroom. By the way, Dr. Hildegard Kalthegener has written an article on powder pink that is well worth reading.Powder Pink: The evolution from a timeless classic to a trend

Inspiration from the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille

Against all expectations, the 32021 outremer moyen used in the living room polarizes my visitors more than the powder pink of the bedroom. For many, the use of blue over the entire surface is apparently unfamiliar, sometimes even irritating. That thrills me! Not because I like to annoy my guests, but because it shows me how subjective colour perception really is and that colour has the power to trigger reactions in viewers. However, I cannot understand the excitement about the sky blue, as the first lightening of the ultramarine blue 32020 bleu outremer 31 has a sublime aesthetic and evokes associations with mid-century design in me. The slightly creamy ultramarine blue, interspersed with grey, has a calming effect despite its colourful dynamism and is like the sky on a clear, sunny day in summer. A perfect scenario for a refreshing evening drink on the sofa – with the French doors to the balcony wide open, of course. Again, I use the ivory white 4320B blanc ivoire on the ceiling. A harmonious and sophisticated colour harmony.

When it came to the colour scheme of the dining room, I decided to change my mind shortly before ordering the KABE colours and put the striking 4320C rose vif on the ceiling. I moved the elegant, medium grey, 32011 gris 31, to the verticals instead. At the last minute, the long corridors of the Unité d'habitation in Marseille came to my mind. There, Le Corbusier skilfully used the interplay between light and colour. He mounted lights above the colourful flat doors, the reflected light from the door surfaces onto the ceiling. The result is a fascinating cacophony of colour that visually divides the long corridors. I took up this idea, limiting myself though to one only colour tone. During the day, the bright pink gives the dining room a modern touch and is a real eye-catcher. At dinner, the light reflected from the ceiling transforms the room and gives it a sophisticated ambiance, almost like a chic club. Moreover, my guests are spared the constant gaze of the bright pink. Instead, the gris 31 blends into the background, underlining the radiance of the colour accent on the ceiling, and thus not distracting from my fine culinary arts.

Living with colour – the upshot

Colour design is a challenge in itself and often holds surprises. Things often turn out differently than you think. Especially when you build on what already exists. In addition, you can't please everyone. And the fact is that you don't have to. Anyway, the Architectural Polychromy keeps its promise. Harmonious colour combinations can be put together in no time. Besides, the Le Corbusier colours are something special, nothing ordinary. And especially today, in our unstable, chaotic world, the stable, the genuine is very much in demand. The masterful architectural colours are also enduring. Even after five or even seven decades, they have lost none of their relevance.

Now that I spend a lot of time in my flat – which has some parallels with the Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau, at least in terms of colour – I feel the radiance of the colours and their positive influence on my well-being. I can warmly recommend living with colour. Now I'm hoping for one more thing: acceptance by the university.


All pictures: © Stephan Scholz


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