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International Interior Design Association

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Match Makers

By Marge D. Hansen

Just as a group of musical notes can be described as discordant, so can certain design elements. On the other hand, sometimes it's the pairing of two seemingly disparate elements that leads to the most provocative, inspiring outcome. The challenge of good design is to understand the tried-and-true rules of coordination—and to reach beyond those rules to create new definitions of harmony.

"Doing things by rote or doing something because it has been successfully done before isn't really the point," says Laura Guido-Clark, a Color and Finish Consultant and Principal of LG-C Design in Berkeley, Calif.

With extensive knowledge of raw materials culled from the textile and heavy manufacturing industries, Guido-Clark translates her career-long study of people's conscious and subconscious reactions to products into winning color palettes, finishes and product designs for clients such as DuPont, FLOR, Toyota, Samsung and Mattel. For her, experimentation is everything: Because each material, finish and color communicates differently, Guido-Clark looks for breadth and choice. "I think of my studio as a lab and my medium as puzzle pieces that need to be turned and adjusted to fit harmoniously together," she says.

The Rules

Decades of continuing research done by experts such as Choku Akashi and Faber Birren show that color stimulates chemical and physiological changes in the body—whether screaming bold (a blood-pressure raiser) or whisper soft. High contrast invigorates; close values produce a subdued effect. Rough textures absorb light, while smooth ones reflect it.

Many consider "opposites attract" to be the first rule of harmony. Warm/cool, wet/dry, smooth/rough, matte/ glossy or technical/crafted create what Suzanne Tick, Affiliate IIDA, of Suzanne Tick Inc. calls the "yin and yang: the stimulating and soothing in the same breath and sweep of the eye." These fundamentals, coupled with experiential research, reveal how confidently designers expand on documented basics to capture the spirit and intent of a project.

Tick, who serves as Director of Design for KnollTextiles and has her own woven carpet company, Tuva Looms, takes her cues from trends, forecasts and analysis, but she also relies heavily on the boutiques and eclectic shops near her studio in New York's East Village. Even points as dissimilar as high-energy trade shows and hushed museum galleries provide inspiration for her textile, wall and floor-covering collections.

For example, her Adaptation and Aperture wall coverings, part of the KnollTextiles Screenplay Collection, are made of high-performance material paired with pigments and particles that make the product more vibrant. "The wet and metallic quality—and the fact that it is a large-scale texture for the wall—brings stimulation into a space," Tick says. "It invites more energy because it is light reflective. The texture itself can be read from a distance, unlike a tight-weave structure that acts like a soothing canvas."

Rule Benders

"You could have two colors that don't really go together, but adding one element might be the bridge that unifies them," Guido-Clark says.  Melissa Mizell, Associate IIDA, a Senior Associate at the San Francisco office of Gensler agrees that there are unpredictable ways in which elements can be skillfully paired to create a balanced wholeness. Using non-architecturally based images and objects, she is taking an abstract approach infused with a sense of sophistication in her planning of a Bay Area nonprofit bird observatory. Pulling shades from living nature (male birds are more colorful, while females display more of a textural camouflage), Mizell will bring complexity to a low-key palette with the added punch of a luscious, saturated red or intense blue. "Something very textured played against a smooth surface allows for the materials to show off their stuff," she explains.

The flooring she's chosen is a neutral carpet with a subtle, marsh-grass pattern. While standard fabric panels make up work-station panels, Mizell plans to add interest by wrapping the spine of the metal book cases in ceda—a wood not typically specified in commercial settings—but one that conveys a very California influence.

To make a strong statement in the lobby area, Mizell is considering natural materials encased in polymer for a screen wall behind the reception desk. "The textured materials provide depth, and because the resin is translucent, you can see through to the strong red background wall," she says. "The red, offset by the naturals, is the surprise color that draws visitors in."

Developing the character of a project such as this West Coast observatory often calls for a high-impact, customized look. Robin Reigi Inc., an architectural resource company located in New York, uses distinctive materials designed to evoke specific feelings.

If a client wants a natural spa look, Reigi might move toward an alternative material like sorghum panels. Reigi's Kirei Board is an environmentally friendly product made from compressed sorghum stalks that comes in sheets and planks and is suitable for cabinetry, furniture, flooring and vertical paneling. It can be painted or stained and resists warping.

Couplings of the Future

Doing their part to shape the rules of harmonious pairings, entities like the Pantone Institute and the Color Marketing Group present an educated suggestion as to the direction colors might take in the future. Color trends are cyclical. If you track them, you can relate them to specific points in history.

Terrie O'Dell, Senior Design Manager at surfaces manufacturer Nevamar and Chairholder of the Color Marketing Group, predicts that by 2006, designers will be moving away from safe tones toward clear colors and sophisticated but unpretentious luxurious touches. She describes the palette as "color that is rich and saturated but looks like it comes from nature. It is not intense or artificial, but clean, clear and life affirming."

In creating aesthetically appropriate color choices for visual textures and special-effect finishes for Nevamar's laminate surfaces, O'Dell looks at everything from popular culture to fashion and automotives to global economics. "You always have the staples, but fresh hues and surprising combinations produce a brand new look," she says.

Natural materials also will take a big role. "Wood is making a resurgence for its warmth and connection to nature. There is a trend toward a love of craft and things that are one-of-a-kind and handmade," Guido-Clark says. "It is the counter balance to technology. Metals are getting warmer, from nickel to copper, and color is important for its sense of optimism. Materials are constantly being reinvented and explored."

In retail settings, she adds, consumers want an "experience." Retailers are experimenting with everything from aromatherapy to color to create a more sensory encounter. "Even if colors don't change dramatically from year to year, how people use them does," O'Dell says. "Certainly this applies to retail and most especially to residential as well as commercial."

As the term "contradential" (the blending of commercial and residential) implies, there is a discernable crossover between workplace and residence taking place. A good example of this is FLOR by Interface, a modular carpet company, taking its product to the residential market. The move required a significant shift in the color palette. Pink and white—a color pairing not typically used in a contract application—became suddenly appropriate. This shift required another perspective based on the setting the product would be used in. "It was all about asking a different set of questions," Guido-Clark says. "What is soft in contract and what is soft in residential is very different."

More sustainable materials, subtler, softer textures and tranquil, spiritual colors are the pairings of the future. But as influential as those trends and predictors are, it's a user's reaction to those elements that stands as the final say. "My whole thing is about being open minded and understanding who my audience is," Guido-Clark says. "It's fun to be able to offer different things to a client. You just need to help them listen to their intuition."