Color of the Month—Yellow 2017

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Color of the Month, Feature


Yellow! It has interesting connotations. Call someone yellow, and it’s not a compliment. Yellow journalism is known as exaggerated and false—if we wrote an article called “Lead Paint Returns to Rhode Island,” you’d read it but we’d be in big trouble. But in paint, there’s room for every color.

Dave Christiansen of our sponsor Santint steered us to Jill Morton’s blog from a couple years ago, where she points up yellow as a color of insanity. Russian asylums were painted yellow, she reported, while people on hallucinogens tended to create paintings with more yellow as the effects advanced. Some say yellow is preferred by those at mental extremes, and safety yellow, she notes, is effective because we instinctively see the color as marking danger.

This probably means that if your customers are “crazy for yellow,” you really need to be there to help! For this article we asked our experts to pick a yellow room and tell us about the thought that went into it—plus what its occupants can get out of it.


Part of the Process

Mary Lawlor at Kelly-Moore takes us at our word when we say we’re the magazine that tells it like it is, so she told it like it was. “I will preface my response with this: while the first impression of yellow is that of cheerfulness, psychologically the color is known to cause irritability when you are exposed to it for long periods of time,” she said. “The reason for this is that our eyes see color in RGB (red, green and blue) so we don’t have the natural ability to see yellow. It becomes annoying as our brain has to work really hard to process it.”

That means there might need to be some extra talk when yellow chips are on the table.

Clover Honey (KM5235) was the choice for guest room above. “The choice creates an inviting cheerfulness in a room that will not have a great deal of time spent in it,” said Mary. “It was also the perfect color to compliment the furnishings and bedding.”

From there, we asked her how turning the yellow up or down might affect the feel of the room. “While this yellow is somewhat neutralized, Clover Honey leans more towards a “beige” type color. It still has an LRV (Light Reflectance Value) of 78,” she explained. “A cleaner, more saturated yellow would be more energizing and not provide a restful atmosphere, while a lighter yellow might not have provided enough contrast.”

In this case, yellow was the first choice for color in the room, not a reaction to what else was already in there. After that, she completed the room to make the most of the chosen color. “A soft yellow was the first choice. The white trim was used to show a slight contrast with the soft color. The light fixtures, furnishings and bedding harmonize with the softness of the wall color, further creating a restful atmosphere.”


The Wilds of Tradition

British paint company Farrow and Ball is increasing its U.S. presence, and we’re excited to bring you more about them. This high-end paint can be a great offering to high-end customers and set you apart as a special destination for consumers and designers. Plus, maybe it’s someone’s birthday, in which case you can show them this photo of a door painted in Farrow & Ball’s Yellow Cake. Erica Silberman, a Color Consultant at Farrow & Ball and Showroom Manager of its New York Flatiron location (on Manhattan), gave us a slice of her wisdom on how this and other yellows can brighten up the day.

“Yellow Cake (#279) is our brightest yellow. It’s a fantastically fun color that harkens back to the energy of the ’60s,” she said. “For sure, it’s striking!” 0Note how the surrounding environment is largely traditional, yet Yellow Cake adds a wildly contemporary feel.

That’s the point, said Silberman—putting a big touch of the unexpected to create an awesome entryway. “The colors around the yellow came first, including the chairs. The goal was to create an unexpected ‘Aha’ moment. Instead of the door color quietly blending into the natural setting, it reaches out and says hello!”

If customers like this idea, but if it’s not quite the yellow they want, you can adjust up or down. “A darker, browner yellow such as Sudbury Yellow (#51), would give the space a tranquil earthy feel, seamlessly integrating the colors of the chair with the warm brick,” said Silberman. “A lighter yellow such as Dayroom Yellow (#233), would bring a lovely soft freshness.”


Why Yellow Means Caution

Kristin Summer, a long time industry expert and currently an independent consultant in the Boston area at Colors With Kristin, has been in our pages often. We baited her just a bit by mentioning that other color experts suggest being careful with yellow. She agrees, and in fact shows us why—look at the photo of the yellow door at the bottom of the page, which she snapped a picture of specifically because it set a bad example.

“This is a great example of the misuse of yellow,” she said. “I am not 100% sure what yellow it is, but the yellow which is used here is more of a life preserver color, not as a color for a front door should be: which is more warm and inviting.” On the other hand, it’s a can’t miss. “Clearly if they are giving someone directions to their house they can say it’s the house with the bright yellow door and they can be sure to find that house!”

Summer noted that yellow is not often her “go-to” for interior walls. “I would say it was more so in the late ’90s, but it’s never really been my main choice. If not used properly it can really throw off the harmony of a room.”

Seriously, is it that bad? It has the potential of being problematic, she added, but that’s why hiring a competent designer can help. “My recommendation of the use of yellow is for doors, home exteriors, and in soft shades for interior walls. It is more difficult to create the harmony in a room with yellow if you don’t know what you are doing. Poor yellow! It’s not really that irritating a color, it just gets misused sometimes.”


Prize on the Eye

Yellow stands out, she said, because our eyes are sensitive to the color. “The wavelengths of light we receive from yellow are at its peak, more than any other color in the spectrum,” Summer explained. “If you are looking at a pale shade of yellow it would appear brighter to you than pale blue, as our eyes are not as sensitive to it.”

This makes yellow a great color for murals, however, in that it stands out to catch the passing traffic, as you can see from some mural projects she was involved in recently.

“The mural I did with the kids for a community project is a great example of the impact of what yellow can do,” she said. “California Paint [a brand of ICP Construction] was kind enough to donate all of the paint for our project.” They whipped up a tasty combo of Lemon Punch (DE5398) and Banana Cream (DE5395) for the backdrop.

“The objective was to have the yellow make the rest of the mural jump out,” said Kristin. “It is along a walking trail and the main street in town. If we painted the back of the mural to blend in you would not notice it as much, but the yellow combo draws you to look at the painting, sort of like the safety yellow jackets!” However, they didn’t want too much of a good thing and calmed it down with the combo of warm and bright yellows.”

We’re stuck with yellow anyway, like it or not, she concluded. “Yellow is a staple in nature Every day starts with the yellow sunrise and sunset. How can you not love that?”



“The bathroom mural has a soft yellow base with a darker/brighter yellow and brown (to calm down the brighter yellow) blended in,” said color consultant Kristin Summer. “The client and I chose yellow for the walls to create warmth in this dark small powder room that did not have much natural light. She also wanted to incorporate a beautiful natural wood dark brown bench. The yellow gave it a feeling of natural light even though it was very dark.”

Photos for this section courtesy of Kristin Summer, photo of the mural courtesy of Cass Summer.


A few years ago people were looking for super neutrals…stark white and grey still being the everlasting staple color. Fear had set in and look what happened? We need to get people back into color, living life and exploring again. Which will be first—times getting better or people getting bold with color? Can we create the “better” by started to add color to our environment and lives? I believe so. Great colors and color combos make me happy.
    – Kristin Summer