Eve Ashcraft provides architectural color consultation for interior and exterior environments – which basically means that when you’re staring at the wall wanting to paint it but have no clue as to what color it should be, she’s the person who could solve it for you. She says for her ‘color is like breathing,’ and unlike the rest of us, has never found the idea of color perplexing or panic-inducing. She has developed paint lines and consulted for the likes of Martha Stewart and Benjamin Moore & Co., as well as working with a host of well-known names in design and architecture. Although she has thought very deeply about color and its huge significance in our lives, we didn’t have to contend with any color-related psychobabble mumbo-jumbo – she’s too much fun and too down-to-earth for that (thank goodness).
The first thing we’re curious about is how you got into this line of work.
Yeah, people always ask me that. I’m actually working on a book and I’m working on the introduction, and I’ve started to really think about how I got involved in this. Some people think that it is a very difficult world to work in. People get paralyzed by color and I’ve just never really had that. That was starting point number one. Then I went to art school and came to New York with the usual flock of art school grads and hooked up with a lot of my friends … I spent three or four years doing freelance decorative painting, which was the big thing in the late 80s. And then I was the site foreman for a big decorative painting company – and then when I started working for myself, my mantra was: Well all you learned there was what not to do.
And what kinds of things did you learn not to do?
Oh you know … alienate the clients, act like divas, drink your profits … oh, it seems like a whole lifetime ago.
How do you think that happens, where at the time that decorative look was cool and now it’s just not, but in 30 years’ time it might be cool again?
You know, it’s funny, I tell my clients that a lot, like certain colors they’re really super- excited about, I say: Isn’t that sort of like that radio song that you can’t get enough of for about a week and then you don’t ever want to hear it again. But then you know, you hear it again ten years’ from now and you have some nostalgic feelings for it … but I do think it’s all sugar and no substance.
What was it like working for Martha Stewart?
Oh, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was before the company went super, uber corporate … I consider her a real genius. She’s quick and decisive and she really tapped me and said, ‘you’re good at this, you’re going to do this.’ She really gave us a lot of room to develop [the paint line]. Developing paint lines is formidable.
What would you do all day?
Well, when we were developing the paint line I literally stood over buckets all day. I just mixed colors and I matched colors. Martha would hand me buckets of things or say, I love this china, I love this drabware, come over to my house, look at my cats …
Is color for you like a language? Do you speak ‘color’ – is there a better metaphor for it?
It’s like breathing … it’s the irony of all ironies but I’m not obsessed with color. If anything I’m more obsessed with context. It’s sort of like saying if you’re a musician, would you be obsessed with notes? I’m not obsessed with the notes—I’m obsessed with how it all works together.
When you walk into a room, how do you make the decision?
[laughs] I’m writing a whole book about that! That’s a big mystery for people. There’s sort of an angst and a fear and a paralysis about it … people call me in a panic.
Well color carries so much significance.
Exactly. And I’ve done all this research lately on what one author calls ‘chromophobia’ and it is a kind of fear or disdain for color, and then you start reading things, like architects, Corbusier, for example, saying that color is for peasants, it’s for simple, cheap people that like shiny things …
But color goes straight to the core of what we are, the primordial brain.
I think that is one of the reasons people react to it so [strongly], because it’s hard to control …
We also associate color with taste…
Everything … taste, social status …
So why are we so frightened of color, as a culture? I mean Indians aren’t frightened of color.
No, and I think other cultures have very distinct symbols, the symbolism of color is important. We tend to have a more superficial symbolic sense of color. It’s not deeply engrained in our religion. Part of it is cultural, but one of the angles I explore in my book is that the more choices we ended up with, the harder it got. I think the paint companies have tried to alleviate some of these problems and they’ve actually mucked it up … you know: ‘Look! Here’s 12 000 colors! Good luck!’ – Over 80 percent of all paint sold is white or something close to white.
So how do you begin to find out what a client wants?
Sometimes the only clue I get about my clients is really what they are wearing. I may say, do you always wear that color sweater often or do you always dress in black? It’s to do with people’s comfort levels. I’m just working on a chapter in the book about translating inspiration because people are very literal about what inspires them. They come back from a trip, with what I call ‘vacation colors’ … you know they’re relaxed and they’ve had a 100 margaritas and they think that blue is the most incredible color they’ve ever seen … and I say well, guess what? Your Tribeca loft cannot be this color, it just can’t!
[Sian] Oh, I’ve done that! I came back from Indonesia when I was student and I was living on Christopher Street. I painted one wall salmon pink and the other wall purple.
I love stories like that! People always confess to me their paint stories.
I’m thinking as we are talking about how language, the names of colors matter. I suppose that’s why so many companies resort to numbers instead.
I often will only talk in numbers with my clients. Some clients will reject a color based on a name … and then sometimes I feel a little bit cheap and I’ll use the name to drive an idea. I tend to speak in pigments not poetry.
I’m fascinated by the names they give lipstick. How many ways can you describe pink? [Sian] Yeah, but Nars Orgasm is the probably the most popular lipstick on the market! It’s the name!
Right! Who doesn’t want one?!