Color in Accordance with Nature

Color in Accordance with Nature

Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA

Building Biology advises us to use color “in accordance with nature” in our built environments. I never grasped the full significance of this until I was called upon to design a healthy home for a pair of birds!

The heightened sensitivities of birds have been recognized and used to human advantage for a long time.  The caged canaries carried into the mine shaft were used as an early warning system by miners to alert them to dangerous levels of toxic gasses. When the bird died it was time to leave the mine…quickly!

In my case I had a client who loved her parrots. When she learned that they could die from the fumes of an overheated Teflon pot…out went the Teflon. Because she began going to the health food store to buy them organic produce…she started eating it as well. When it came time to build her home she heard about EcoNest and figured that a company with “nest” in their name was worth checking out. When she learned that her whole home could be a natural healthy environment she knew that she had come to the right place for her parrots…and for her too.

As I designed the home I learned some fascinating things about these birds. Of note is the fact that repetitive man made patterns on fabrics, wall coverings, tiles, carpet were very disturbing to them and could make them sick. Their aviary which sat in a corner overlooking the kitchen (they like to be where the action is) was made of natural slates, woods and clay plasters. They never told me directly but I understand that they are very happy there.

As I thought about it, the parrots’ visual preference for natural materials made perfect sense and these sensitive creatures lead me to understand the wisdom of using color in accordance with nature.Nature abounds with patterns but never exact repetition. In nature there are no single stand-alone colors. Each leaf, each petal is a complex composition of blended tones and hues enriched by the play of light on it. It is no wonder that we feel enlivened when in nature. This is the environment that we evolved in. Living indoors with smooth uniformly painted surfaces and artificial light is a very recent phenomenon and environments with so little visual stimulation are deadening to our senses.

We can introduce nature’s vibrancy of color indoors by choosing natural materials; stone instead of ceramic, wood instead of vinyl, earth instead of wall-to-wall carpeting and naturally pigmented plasters instead of paint to name just a few examples. The finishes of a home can be a celebration of nature, enriching us simply by re-introducing her visual delights.