Mood Indigo

by Vinny Lee

Published by Pavilion Books

192 pages, 2001

Buy it online







The Color of Style

Reviewed by Monica Stark


Using deep, bold colors in home design can be inviting and frightening all at once. How many among us have contemplated painting that feature wall a deep, delicious aubergine or an enchanting forest green only to bail at the last moment and settle on some uninspiring, uninspired but ultimately safe shade of white? When you think about it, deep colors are like committing to a relationship: it sounds exciting and full of potential, but will you be able to live with it? And, if you can't, how difficult will it be to extricate yourself from the situation? With white, beige, dove gray or pale taupe you know that it'll be easy to get out of: you can always paint it over with Winter White later on. But magenta? Chocolate brown? Black? Those are commitments you'd best be sure of before you slather it all over your home.

In Mood Indigo, British design expert Vinny Lee has addressed these fears and how to deal with them. She also makes it quite clear why she thinks it's worth the risk:

Many people are wary of strong colours and of making such an assured statement when decorating their home, but the effect can be dramatic and rewarding. If you have been used to living with white or hints of colours it may take time for your eyes to get accustomed to rich, dark shades, but it is worth trying.

Because she understands people's potential reluctance to make the commitment to real color, Lee advises taking it in stages:

It can also take time and courage to build up the impetus to put strong colour on your walls. Try taking it step by step. Paint one wall the deep colour and live with it for a few weeks until you get used to it. Or start with an undercoat of a paler shade and add a top layer of the darker colour later, so that you have time to adapt and become familiar with the change.

As the interiors editor of The Times Magazine, Lee is in a position to launch educated trend guesses worth paying attention to. In Mood Indigo, Lee predicts that, since recent trends have focused on "minimalism and schemes that emulate the fastidiousness of industrial design" as well as the pale tones associated with Scandinavian style, "a period of rich, dark colour is ready to return."

While Lee's historical notes, futurizing and reasoning are compellingly told, the real riches in Mood Indigo is the graphic way the author attacks the topic at hand. An introduction and four chapters comprise the majority of the book. The chapter titles tell it simply: "Blues & Greens," "Reds & Purples," "Browns," "Greys & Black." As the titles suggest, each chapter deals intimately with the colors mentioned and begins with a paragraph that neatly sums the colors to follow. For instance, on the title page of "Reds & Purples," Lee writes:

Red is the colour of passion and fire, of warning and rage yet it can be a relaxing and enjoyable colour to live with, whether it is just a single element such as a bowl of deep red roses, or at full volume with walls and ceilings in a rosy hue.

She follows with fairly specific instructions regarding that color. How, for instance, red is color that "should be handled with care" and how to "cool red by adding earthy tones such as greys and browns." She discusses how to use red to achieve various feelings and styles, for example, using red to help create an oriental or rustic feel. In all chapters, Lee has a section discussing the "sources" of the color under discussion. And here we learn that cochineal red was traditionally made from the "crushed dried bodies of female insects reared on cacti in Mexico." It's pretty interesting stuff.

Lee also discusses the moods created by specific colors as well as historical connotations and color combinations; how to finish and how to light. All of this is illustrated by glorious photos of deep colors in action: a perfect and impossibly red rose next to a chair and pillow in the exact same tones; a blood red wall covered with gilt framed paintings; a leopard print chaise on a magenta floor; a red-walled kitchen with coral-colored metal cabinets: the photographs have been culled from various sources but work well here to illustrate all of Lee's design points.

The resulting book is beautiful, instructive, interesting and useful. Vinny Lee is the goddess of bold color in the home. | March 2001


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.