Hue and Cry

Why Does Seattle Have Such a Color Problem?


"I wouldn't mind turning into a vermilion goldfish." Henri Matisse
Best article EVER!!!! Thank you.
I first visited Seattle as a little kid in 1957. Lived there for 10 years in the 70s-80s. Know the city 'intimately'. Mourned when the Orpheum came down, and worked at the Music Hall before it was razed.

Recently I stayed in a room near the top of the Red Lion on 5th. I was crestfallen at the view: cool monotones of non-committal color on generic structures. From this elevated perspective, the banality of the city's complexion was more nakedly revealed!

Of course, most other high-rise cities are shameless with similar 'nudity'. Boring beyond words. No doubt neutral-colored building materials are also the cheapest.

I was in Dubai recently and went up in the Burj Khalifa. The surrounding environment is monotone in its coloring, but the thousands of hi-rises make Manhattan look like a gopher hole. It's all in the style of the structures, ranging from sober to goofy. Color is neutral due to albedo considerations, but big money provides for some playful gooniness. There's a mega-sized Big Ben right next to generic glass boxes, etc. etc.

I wrote a big book on the architecture of Calcutta, India, and I never really talked about color because the city engages in it at every opportunity - it was self-apparent. The Victorian architect Halsey Ricardo (who designed the gigantic Howrah railway station opposite Calcutta, which was recently decked out in flashy but stately brick red and vibrant yellow) was a passionate advocate of color in architecture, even suggesting that park benches be livened up with any color other than black or grey. The mighty Howrah Bridge, connecting Calcutta with the rest of India, is silver by day, and lighted lavender by night.

It's a pity that, after its wild fling with the Central Library, Seattle reverted to the safe propriety of nothingness in its high-rises. Today it's all about shape rather than color: witness the Gherkin and the Shard in London, Gehry's Beekman Tower in NYC, etc.

Thanks Jen, for even bringing up the subject of color in built environments.
Why? Not enough Danish or Italian people.
I don't understand, Seattle's houses are infinitely more colorful than most places I've lived in. The very presence of colorful houses on a block are usually zoned away, or the other neighbors organize in hostility against the owner for affecting their homes and personal "values".
Just an aside, related to the Ireland comment: I've always been fascinated by the never-ending joyous color in Scandinavia, and in particular in Iceland.
I've been railing against the Seattle Good Taste Police and their penchant for beige for years. I think it's a product of the 1970's, because before that, we had some crazy fun buildings and cool interiors.

Perhaps Garner would prefer the ubiquitous beige of the suburbs?

Seattlites may choose dark colors, but they absolutely are more creative with their color choices compared to most cities I've lived in. Seattle is the first place I ever saw houses painted in dark blue or black.
The problem is that Seattle's overwhelming counter-beige vibe is hippies, especially in the house-affording demographic, and hippies have HORRIBLE color sense. Purple is not a good color; it just isn't. Don't paint your house purple. Tibetan prayer flags? If you're not Tibetan, don't. Seattle's idea of making their house look vibrant is the equivalent of sticking a goddamn Bob Marley poster in the window. That Ballard house shown in the Slog link? Frickin' hideous.

And if you paint your house bright colors, take a little care; don't slop it on like you're Tom Sawyer whitewashing a fence. Seriously, I've seen hippie houses -- goddamn million-dollar hippie houses -- with paint sploshed all over the yard as well. Use some design nous. Hire a Mexican or a Dominican or something. Get a fucking clue.

You don't see that crap in San Francisco or the Netherlands. You see interesting and alive colors, artfully applied.
The parents of my high school girlfriend (yes, I had a girlfriend in high school) had their house painted pink, and I do mean PINK! Bright, pesto-bismol pink. It was glorious. I've often thought that when it's time to paint Chez Vel-DuRay, I might paint it that color, once I have calmed Mr. Vel-DuRay down.

Or Teal. Teal would be lovely. Right now, it's just sort of a brownish red. Nice enough, but not much pizazz.
well, keep advocating for the encroaching mono-culture. Walmart and the state are taking over and spreading their tentacles around the globe [because we can never be safe or secure enough.]

as they say: "The color that sticks out gets painted beige"
Because seattle is gray and depressing and full of people who do everything they can to keep it that way. They're passive-aggressive sad sacks who won't smile or even wear a bit of color. I've had people tell me they don't want to make any new friends and it makes me sick.
Painting your house bright odd colors is quite traditional in the Pacific North West. Perhaps the real problem is we have been invaded by least coasters and commiefornians who think every building should be painted in a shade of resembling human excrement.

If Rolon Bert Garner wants to be "anti-northwest" he is welcome to hauls his stank ass to some other part of the country, we don't want him here.
I don't mind beige or green all that much. At least those are colors. But I will never understand why the fuck would anyone would paint their house grey? Grey. Our sky is suicide grey half the year. Why make it worse by painting houses grey? It's not even a color. Grey is the absence of color. A grey house looks utterly lifeless. Ash is grey. Navy ships are grey. A house should never, ever, be grey. Ever.

i painted my house black. it is the shnizz.
One thing I've learned over many many years of house remodeling is that not everything has to be special.
@8: The funny thing is that there are references in the article to "colorful Florida" when South Florida is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to association and zoning fascists who will fine you for the tiniest infraction and have a palette of "approved" housing colors you may choose from. Seattle is on the better end of expression, as sad as this might be.
Compared to my neighborhood in Irvine, CA, where all of the houses were the exact same shade of dark brown, or all of the places I lived in the Las Vegas area, where all buildings are the color of sand, Seattle is a frickin' rainbow. So many purple houses! So many yellow houses! Even the boring, muted blues and greens are a million times better than beige. You have no idea how nice it is here.
@14, I lived in a house once where one of the owners spent much of the year on grey ships. He painted the house one day -- not the outside, but the inside, walls and trim, in the same medium faintly-purplish grey. Reminded him of the ship, I guess. A form of Stockholm Syndrome.

It was the funniest thing you ever saw, unless you had to live in it -- it drained all the color out of everyone who walked in, making it look like a roomful of corpses. And it was so dark you couldn't read a book by the light of a lamp.
What cities are we comparing Seattle too? Just San Francisco? While I agree that color variation is good, I would like to see some evidence that other cities are actually more colorful than we are. I lived on the East coast for several years, and in my memory, things tended to be colored dingy brown, rust, and beige.

This whole discussion has the whiff of "Seattle Chill" rants, but projected onto house color. It may be real, but it's probably blown out of proportion.
On a different note, in support of the theory that we are anti-color here - I recall reading one of those old Ira Spring and Harvey Manning hiking guides, where the authors were complaining about too many odd colors in the wilderness - orange tents, bright blue coats, etc. It just bothered those grumbly old guys' PNW sensibilities to see anything but dark green out in the woods, I guess.
@17, when people hear "Florida" they think "Cuban bodega Miami" and calypso orange pink turquoise. But the reality is that 99% of the state is covered with gated golf course communities with mandated shades of beige.
I've never understood the trend here in Seattle of painting buildings dull colors (Grey, Greens, Blues, Browns, etc.) that read as variants of grey in the long dark times of the year.

We painted our previously dark blue home on a corner a bright historic yellow with warm white trim and complementary red and Swedish blue doors more than ten years ago. Pretty traditional in some parts of the country, and certainly not radical.

At first, cars would stop in the middle of the intersection while the drivers had a color conniption. Then, as the freshness of the paint toned down, we had a steady stream of people knocking on the door to ask what colors we used.

Having spoken to a few people at our front door over the years about house colors, I'm convinced that people find it hard to visualize something new and are intimidated by the length of time they have to live with their choice if it doesn't work out. As a result, they end up going for what they think is a "safe" option.
Not just houses. CARS. I am so tired of gray/silver/black/white cars. What is wrong with a car that has color?

I can't paint my house because it currently has aluminum siding, but at least I painted the window frames bright red. And I am sitting in a room right now with raspberry-colored walls.
Check out that block on Beacon Hill just East of Nepo house. A riot of lime greens, oranges, purples and reads. Must of been a hell of a paint sale.
This is not just a "but Seattle's houses are more colorful than those in other cities!" debate. Disagree all you want, but most local artists will agree that this is obviously a personality issue that has dominated the city and consequently infiltrated almost all of the visual and musical expression that comes from here (with a few exceptions). At the end of the day, if you're a dull person, you won't have a full personality switch with the mere decision to paint your house red. If you START there, now that's a different story.
Beige houses.. beige minds!