These studies were created after the design was final but before construction began. Architect Mark English printed out CAD drawings and, using markers, created a series of overlays showing color combinations.
courtesy Mark English These studies were created after the design was final but before construction began. Architect Mark English printed out CAD drawings and, using markers, created a series of overlays showing color combinations.

Paint colors can enhance a project and a home’s furnishings, but selecting those colors takes more than just handing clients a few paint chips.

When Mark English, a San Francisco architect who does mostly high-end custom residential work, helps clients choose paint colors, he does color studies — variations on color themes that might go hand in hand with material themes.

The studies begin with discussions about intangibles, themes, and the “flavor of a space” as well as sample drawings. “My goal is to see what my clients will feel comforted by,” English says. “I like to do that before there’s a design solution, so it’s less literal and we can talk about feelings and emotions.”

Early Involvement

When finalizing the decision, English takes into account clients’ wants and needs as well as paint quality, the effects of natural light, and the interior and exterior surroundings.

He also likes to get the remodeler and painter involved early “so they and the client understand each other before construction starts.” As English diplomatically puts it, the contractor can get to know how “involved and particular” a client might be. The collaboration also helps the bid and estimation processes because different color and paint choices can influence costs.

Color Studies

The color studies shown (right) are for a space that is “all about entertainment,” English says. The clients, both wine merchants, had different wants, for which English had to find a middle ground. “The husband was in love with everything Italian. He wanted strong colors and richness. The wife was in love with Japanese design.”

“It came down to two possible combinations of the dark, the middle tone, and light tone. Then I went through the color books of paint companies and picked out what would be good for weights of color. The clients liked earthy greens, yellows, and browns. Then I had the painter paint new sample boards.”

Once the walls were mudded, taped, and primed, the painter took the color studies and rolled the paint on the walls as indicated. “Then the clients could see the real paint in place ... and we could bring all the colors together so they could be sure that’s what they wanted,” English says. In this case, he adds, “the lightest color paint had to be much lighter than what we’d thought. On the board, there seemed to be a big difference between the midtone and the light tone, but on the wall they [were too similar].”

The spaces in this project had ample daylighting. In projects where there isn’t much natural light, English sets up temporary halogen lights while picking paint colors.

-Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.