Between Unity and Complexity: Achieving Balance
As discussed in previous posts, color balance in our environments can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. The “emotional loading of a space” in architectural psychology terminology, is the emotion we feel when we perceive color in a space. Perception happens in the brain, and is a process. What we perceive, as regards to color, and thus the resulting emotion, may be influenced by many factors, such as the size and shape of the space we are in, the interplay of the colors that are there, our state of mind, and, of course, the light. I would go so far as to include pattern and texture, weather (affecting the natural light which may be entering and thus informing the space), cultural associations with the colors used, and our own personal associations with them.
So complex! But also, so much fun. Evocative. Provocative.
Unity and complexity are two opposite poles, unity related to parts fitting into a coherent whole, and complexity involving variation. Both are important. Too much unity, and we can experience monotony and sensory deprivation, in a word, under-stimulation. Symptoms can manifest such as irritation, restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, and interestingly, excessive emotional response. Why? As I understand it, because we do not have enough to capture our attention, indeed, perhaps to distract us from our emotions, or to direct them. As color consultant Helen Gurura says, “People expect all their senses to be moderately stimulated at all times.” What is the key here? The word “moderately”. As the saying goes…“All things in moderation…even- moderation!”
On the other end of the spectrum, we have complexity, which in the extreme, can lead to over-stimulation. and increase muscular tension, pulse rate and blood pressure. Hmmm…not good. Too much saturated color, brightness and pattern demand attention both voluntary and involuntary. This can mess with our capacity to concentrate visually and thus interfere with tasks that require this, resulting in among other things, lowered productivity.
Thus we see that both over and under-stimulation can impair our concentration..one by not giving us enough to focus on, the other by giving us too much. In both cases we get distracted…by having not enough to see, or by being inundated by too much visual stimuli!
Our goal is balance, the balance between these two extremes, and apparently our minds, bodies, and perhaps our souls and spirits too, crave it.
Let’s see how balance, or, “the securing of unity in the midst of variety”, is achieved in the following spaces, visual environments, and color schemes. We are all human, and require certain things to stay alive, and to thrive. However our personal tastes, needs and requirements may differ, based on our genetic make-up, backgrounds, psychology, and cultural influences. There is no one-size fits all for design. Most of us know this from experience. We may need to “play around’, to discover what fits, or “works for” us best at any given moment, knowing that this may very well change over time!
The inhabitant of this sleek urban space wanted a minimum of color. Warm wood, and neutrals punctuated by crisply framed black and white photographs gave her what she wanted, and saved her from the dangers of monotony, sensory deprivation, and under-stimulation. A favorite painting adds a tiny pop of color, and a variety of materials and light-reflective sheens add visual interest without bringing too much complexity into the space.
Red plays a starring role in this open plan kitchen/living room, adding strength to both spaces in the accent wall below the bar. The warmth of red, wood and rug is offset by the white trim, and cool metal of the bar stools. Red is often used as an appetite-stimulating color in dining spaces. Here it is kept to an accent, so as not to overwhelm the space and our senses.
This bedroom is in a condo that serves as an “urban getaway for its owners, who wanted a space both warm and restful for their city place, and high on the “unity” end of the color balance spectrum. Use of creams, ochres, and warm woods achieve this, while the painting brings in some drama and contrast (IE variety and thus complexity), while staying within the chosen color scheme.
Another use of red as accent, doors are a popular surface for red hues. (Why? Check out this Houzz article on the subject!). The red door of Soulful Pilates Studio in San Francisco (painted red on both sides) ushers students and practitioners into a serene, yet energetic space. Like the bedroom above, warm, creamy ochres are used, but the palette is enlivened by colorful mats, and equipment sporting a variety of textures. The red, intense by contrast, adds complexity by creating a focal point expressing the idea of passing from the outside world to the internal realm, both mentally and physically. A multitude of windows add more visual interest, and plenty of light to the space during the day, as well as framing street “scenes”. Below, the purple mat provides pleasing and complimentary contrast to the golden walls.
Cream, red and strong pattern are used to great effect in this Parisian-inspired living/dining area, another example of an urban “get-away” for the owners. Detail, but a minimum of artwork was added to the walls to break them up visually, and our eye is drawn down the “walkway” to the brilliantly colored and patterned curtains at the end of the corridor. The hue on the wall matches the cream in the curtains, reducing visual complexity through a limited color scheme, and the smooth, polished wooden floors warm and ground the animated, yet elegant space. The heavy, dark painting is offset by playful patterns, streamlined ornamentation, and an illusion, of retrained opulence. Comme que c’est tres-francais!
There are many ways to visually balance an environment, and the approach may be different for each person. You may try changing paint colors, adding or subtracting pattern and texture, curating works of art, decorative items or textiles, rearranging furniture, or even changing your floor surface…with a rug, a coat of paint, or just a bit of “spit and polish”.
I hope this series of posts on Color: A Balancing Act has offered some insight into how to better live and thrive in your environment, and have more fun in it too. Color, like most things worth investigating, is a life-time study. Mysterious,energetic, scientific, emotional and physical…it truly seems to weave its own magic, and power.
May You use it well!