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Color drama: Wild paint colors and the neighbor who hates them

June 18, 2011|By R. Daniel Foster, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Karen Frid said it was impossible to find the intense cobalt blue, orange and deep pink tones that she planned for the exterior of her new home in Santa Monica. So she drove to Tijuana to buy them at Comex Paint.
Karen Frid said it was impossible to find the intense cobalt blue, orange… (R. Daniel Foster / For The…)

A fall 2011 color trend report described colors called Bracken and Burlwood this way: "A sense of protection is swathed in discreet luxury, enhanced by subtle beauty searching for a new perfection. A rough, raw dimension ... rustic yet delicate, wild yet precious."

No wonder some people are afraid of color.

Such phrasing is common in the color forecast industry, which can yearn to say nothing about everything. Although you may not desire a dining room in precious hues, you probably wouldn't mind friends saying, "Wow, great paint job."

Still, the very nature of color tends to be overwrought, kicking up drama, angst, passion — even poison.

Scheele's Green, invented in 1775, killed many in the 19th century who absorbed its arsenic-based particles found in paints, candle wax, wallpaper, food dye and toys. Renaissance painters literally swooned over lead white, unequalled for lending glimmer to depictions of silver, glass and lace.

Nearer to Southern California, the stories are not as deadly, but the passion remains. Karen Frid said it was impossible to find the intense cobalt blue, orange and deep pink tones that she planned for the exterior of her new home in Santa Monica. So she drove to Tijuana to buy them at Comex Paint.

"I especially wanted what I call Frida Kahlo blue. It's deep with a bit of violet," said Frid, who lives with her husband, Brian, and two daughters. Frid hauled home 15 five-gallon vats of Comex paint: blue for her home's base, deep pink for the middle and blue and orange for the top level of the two-story structure, finished in January. (San Diego residents have been known to cross the border to shop at Comex, but Frid cautions others to ask, as she did, if the colors they want have lead or other ingredients that may help achieve intense hues but are outlawed in California.)

Within weeks after the paint went on, two neighbors nearly came to blows over Frid's house — one man in defense, the other man in livid opposition. Another asked, "Is this legal?" Some predicted property values would plummet; others said they would rise and thanked her.

A woman in a bright yellow outfit with a golden flower in her hair scaled Frid's fence with a photographer, intent on staging an impromptu fashion shoot against the rich walls.

"One neighbor won't talk to me anymore," said Frid, who hired Patssi Valdez, the same artist and colorist behind Nely Galán's multicolored house on the Venice canals (see related article).

"Nely's colors are intense, but they're more subtle," Valdez said. "Karen's are so saturated they're like sugar candy. Very candy land."

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said painting an entire house in bold colors sends a clear message: I'm an individual and will do it my way.

"They want attention and hope to create chatter — not necessarily a bad thing," Eiseman said.

Another of Frid's neighbors lectured her: "Let me tell you about color. Color is something you keep on the inside."

Eiseman's mother did exactly that, each spring painting the inside of the family's Baltimore row house a new color. That included an upright piano, furniture, an antique toaster and other accessories.

"Oh, she was a demon with a paint can," Eiseman said. "It was always extremely well done, in great taste because she knew her colors. And she allowed us to paint anything we wanted color-wise in our rooms. It was empowering."

New York-based designer Angelo Surmelis strives to instill such color confidence within his clients. He recently chose six colors for a client in Hidden Hills who then tripled the selection, determined to conquer her color phobia. After painting her dining room a dark celery green and the living room a butter-cream yellow, "She felt really confident about her choices," Surmelis said. "She said 'I want to put all the colors on the walls.'"

All six?

"No," she said. "Fifteen."

Surmelis' client directed workers to paint rooms shades of red, lavender, blue, green and yellow.

"I jokingly said, 'I'm afraid you're going to want to paint everything white again after it's done,'" the designer said.

Within a month the client surrendered her color wheel. And all the home's walls went back to contractor white.

home@latimes.com

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