I harbour admiration for colour brave-hearts who embrace tones, shades and hues with gusto.
It’s a throwback to childhood memories of a gossip-inspiring neighbourhood character, who regularly propped a ladder against the front of his house, to lavish sweeping arcs of colour across it.
The effect brought life to a terrace of net curtains, earning him the moniker The Mad Painter, and the disapproval of many of the local house-proud ladies who were just buying into the idea of magnolia.
I had forgotten about him for years until I studied art history and read a quote by the American abstract impressionist artist, Lee Krasner.
She said we get used to a certain kind of colour form or format and it becomes acceptable — to puncture that is sticking your neck out a bit — but then, pretty soon, that becomes acceptable too.
This has certainly come to pass as nowadays colour blocking is the trend, where colours you thought would clash, actually work together.
But there’s a method to choosing them.
It’s all to do with matching them tonally, according to Kevin McCloud, a man who doesn’t seem to put a foot wrong when it comes to all things related to home design.
Tonal match, he explains, is using colours that are equally intense, or greyed, or tinted or dirtied.
It’s why the current trend for combining acid green and puce (not shocking pink) works so well.
The same goes for grouping pastels, with the inclusion of brown to anchor them, and for the iconic retro combination of orange and green.
Even red and green, which we love at Christmas, but wouldn’t dream of combining at any other time of year, work beautifully together when they’re on a palette that includes off-whites.
McCloud’s book, Colour Now, is my favourite so far, in dealing with the topic in a way that makes sense to the amateur home stylist, being neither preachy nor assuming the reader is a design professional.
It’s set out in accessible, easy-to-understand palettes — 67 in all — with a home interior photo to illustrate each, and four to eight colour swatches which can be matched to paint and fabric. Just take the book with you to the shops— it’s compact and light enough for a handbag or man-bag.
McCloud is certainly an advocate of colours made with muddy, traditional earth pigments, as he maintains most modern paints are coloured with a limited range of powerful synthetic dyes.
“Getting a pale green, pale blue, cream or pink that doesn’t look as though it was made in a children’s toy factory can seem to be an impossibility,” he says.
This would explain why all the colours in the book are matched to the Fired Earth range — only available in the brand’s showrooms in Dublin and Belfast.
But there’s no reason why the more widely available brands like Little Greene, Zoffany and Farrow & Ball can’t provide us with alternatives.
His palette on how to use black and white is one of the most arresting in the book.
“Black and white, when set down in a room, can seem the most brutal and unfriendly combination,” he says.
Agreed, but he has a solution, using a near-black with an off-white or beige, or black and pink, or his full palette of black, a near-black, beige, pink, and a fleshy tone.
My favourite colours have always been red and pink which I never use together, but McCloud makes them happy bed-fellows when combined with grey.
Even colours like yellow, which I only allow inside the front door in the form of lemons in a matching string bag, are less a no-no because of the companion colours he suggests, but he doesn’t insist you necessarily implement an entire palette.
He says to use the book “by copying an entire palette and employing the full force of any association or subtle value it may have, or by drawing on a smaller group of colours, or by using just one. It’s up to you.”
Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if you don’t find a full palette that appeals in its entirety.
Otherwise, it would be like having a family gathering with one person missing.
Moreover, many of these tints have been used in interiors as early as the seventeenth century, and recently on walls of contemporary art galleries.
They’re timeless, something I suspect The Mad Painter knew.
‘Colour Now’ by Kevin McCloud, published by Quadrille, €9.99.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved