Friday, September 21, 2012

Chip Tease: On Paint Colors and the Coast

Note: Buckle up, my friends.  We're in for a long one.  I've been away for ages, I know, but mostly because we've been painting.  And painting.  And painting.  If you're as crazy about paint and colors as I am, or if you want some interesting links to things paint- or Maine-related, then read the text.  If you just want to see colors and pretty pictures, please feel free to skip my ramblings!

I have a longstanding obsession love affair with paint, as does Mr. Magpie, and we have been talking nonstop about colors for the cottage ever since the day we stood in its kitchen with our realtor and emailed in our offer.

Ultimately, I think every color we've chosen has been inspired by one thing: the coast.  More specifically, we've been inspired by two coasts, one we live on and one we've never even seen in person before.

Photo I took on the island three years ago.  On the right are mason jars filled with the sea glass we gathered that fall.

Ever since those four months that we spent on Peaks Island here in southern Maine three years ago, I have dreamed of a room painted the color of my favorite pieces of sea glass.  Benjamin Moore's Palladian Blue is just that color.  As soon as it went up on the walls of our living room, I knew it was right.  It shifts all day long in the changing light, from blue to green to both, combined with a touch of soft gray.  Sometimes it feels like the sky, other times like the shallows of a sandy beach.

Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue

Oh, I should mention that we've done all our walls, including the kitchen, in a matte finish using Benjamin Moore's Regal Select paints.  This paint is very durable and washable.  Yes, we've already had to wash some spots--moving is dirty business!  This paint is also incredibly easy to work with.

If you're a local reader, you might be interested to know that we've bought all our paint at Maine Paint Co. on Forest Avenue in Portland.  Working with a local store has been wonderful.  Folks there knew us by name after just a couple of visits, and they have been helpful with every question we've had, whether practical (Q: "When is that floor paint ever going to cure?"  A: "Fifteen days.  Be patient." And they were right.  It did take exactly fifteen days.) or aesthetic (Q: "Should we dare to paint our dining room a very dark and dramatic color?"  A: "Yes."  Emphatically.  And they were right.  Or more precisely, she was right.  Tanasia at Maine Paint has been a color consultant extraordinaire).  And this dining room color question leads me to the next chip: Newburg Green.

Benjamin Moore Newburg Green

There is a story behind this beautiful color, which, on our dining room walls reads sometimes as navy, sometimes as deep teal, and sometimes as nearly black.  Gasp.  Serious drama.  I am in love. Remember how I mentioned a coast we've never seen in person?  Over the summer, the Portland Museum of Art hosted an exhibition called The Draw of the Normandy Coast, featuring French and American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries who were inspired by the cliffs and ports of Normandy.  What impressed us upon first arriving at the show were the walls of the gallery themselves, which some brilliant people at the museum had painted a very deep marine blue.  Against this backdrop the Monets, Whistlers, and Dufys were stunning.  Again and again we found this blue in the paintings themselves--sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, but variations on deep, briny blue with hints of green.  Wouldn't we love a room in a color like this, we wondered.  Well, yes, but we hadn't found a house yet.  We were putting the cart well ahead of the horse.  In fact, the horse was still nowhere in sight.  

And then we found the house.  And then we thought, it's a little cottage.  It should be all light-filled rooms and whitewash and sea glass.  We forgot all about the Normandy coast.

But there sat our dining room in the darkest corner of the house with two windows, one of which lets in little light at the moment due to an overgrown (not for long) viburnum rubbing against its panes.  A dark room, indeed.  We decided to fight the darkness.  We talked with Tanasia.  She sent us home with lots of wonderful samples in light and bright colors.  None of them worked in the room.  We went back to the store.  We talked some more, and the ever-patient woman asked us questions, offered ideas, and listened to our color woes.       

And then it happened.  There on the table in the paint store was a copy of Maine Magazine.  I absentmindedly flipped through it while we chatted, and I was about to set it aside when it fell open to a page advertising the upcoming Winslow Homer exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art.  It's difficult to describe the buzz surrounding this exhibition.  Pretty much everyone I know can't wait to go; nor can we wait for the tours of his famous studio at Prout's Neck.

Winslow Homer, Eight Bells, 1886

But that's not what I was thinking about at the moment.  All I could see was blue.  That spot of blue in the break in the clouds.  And suddenly the Normandy coast was back.  And the Maine coast.  And I showed it to Todd, and we both knew.

So the color we chose is called Newburg Green, and there is green in there, but only to serve the blue, and like the ocean and sky along a northern coast, that blue is ever-shifting and changing with the day and the whims of the weather.  I can't wait to show you our dark dining room.

Benjamin Moore Mountain Peak White

Now onto trim and ceilings and doors and even the brick fireplace.  I love white for trim and doors, especially in a cottage, but I know how hard it can be to choose.  Too much yellow in it and it can feel dirty; too much blue and it feels cold, etc.  I think we simply must test it at various times of day against the other colors we plan to use in a room.  A white can look hideous at the store under their fluorescent lights but be a stunner in sunlight or under incandescents.  The opposite can be true, as well.  I've fallen in love at the store only to find once I get it home that the crisp white I thought was the color of sun-bleached seashells is actually the yellow of a chain smoker's fingernails.  

I wasn't expecting to like Mountain Peak White, but its sample was the one color that matched the bead board cupboards (be still my heart) in our kitchen, and I knew I wanted to paint the kitchen walls the same color as the cupboards to make the whole room light and bright and airy, so I went with it, and guess what?  In our house it looks clean and fresh without being blinding.  And it may have an alpine name, but it feels wonderfully seaside cottage-y, so it soon spread to the living room and beyond, until before we knew it, we were using it on trim (in semigloss) and ceilings (in pearl--after reading this post over at For the Love of a House, I don't think I will ever paint a ceiling with flat paint again) throughout the house to unify all the various colors.  In fact, we worked hard to find colors that we loved and that also resonated with the white as well as all the other colors in the house.  Against the Palladian Blue, Mountain Peak White feels soothing and creamy.

Dream Beach, Reid State Park, Gigi Thibodeau 2010

Have you ever been to a beach in Maine?  The sand here varies from beach to beach, depending, of course on the rocks found surrounding the beach.  We don't really have white sandy beaches; they tend more towards pale grays and grieges.  One of my favorite beaches is Reid State Park, where I spent countless hours in the waves as a kid.  I took a series of photos there a couple of years ago, and I find myself thinking often of the color of the sand at Reid.
Benjamin Moore Pashmina

And so, my study is in Pashmina, also by Benjamin Moore.  It's a warm greige that sometimes feels much grayer, depending on the time of day.  And it always reminds me of the beaches along this part of the Maine coast.

Farrow and Ball French Gray

And for his study, Todd (aka Mr. Magpie) choose Farrow and Ball's French Gray--another very Maine coast color with a touch of green in it.  In his study it is warm and rich like moss, and just perfect for a reading room.  I promise to give you a peek soon!  

I haven't mentioned yet that we've turned our entire upstairs into a sort of work/sleep/hangout space for the two of us.  When you climb the stairs, you enter a large room with skylights, which is paneled entirely in bead board that we've painted with the Mountain Peak White.  That's our bedroom.  Love. Serious love.  

The floors in there are hardwood, but the boards were in rough shape, and we have a limited budget, so we decided to paint them.  And what cottage is complete without at least one painted floor?  With the white walls and the navy blue bead board bed we're soon to have--after 22 years we have bought our first new bed--we decided to go with a beautiful neutral floor color: Thundercloud Gray.

Benjamin Moor Thundercloud Gray

On our floors it is even softer and lighter than this sample.  And while that Mountain Peak White sample looks very cream against the white of my blog, it looks much whiter and crisper beside this gray.  Have I ever told you that as much as I love a sunny day by the water, by far my favorite days along the coast of Maine look like this:

Thus Thundercloud Gray and also a lighter, even softer grey with a touch of violet:

Benjamin Moore Bunny Gray

Bunny Gray is in our front foyer downstairs, which is a very small, but light-filled space with arches leading into the dining and living rooms.  We knew we needed a very neutral color here to allow the eye to move comfortably from one room to the next, and Bunny Gray did the trick. We tried it in an interior hall as well, but without much natural light, it actually read as violet rather than gray.  In a room with lots of sunlight, it reads as a beautiful driftwood color that connects with all the other ocean colors.

Last but not least is the room we are finishing later today--the guest room.  When we moved in, this room was painted a deep burgundy red on the walls with a very orangey-gold ceiling.  Not at all cottage-y.  Not at all coastal.  Not at all us.  This room was the hardest for us to re-imagine.  It is on the first floor overlooking the garden, so we knew we wanted to connect it to all the beautiful greens right outside the windows.  The winner was a green that Benjamin Moore calls Spring Meadow, but it reminds me of the lichen that grows on the rocks near the ocean here in Maine.  

Benjamin Moore Spring Meadow

Hmm . . . I'm not happy with this sample.  It's nowhere near as lovely as the actual color, which is greener and richer than this.  One more reason I can't wait to show you the actual rooms, but I wanted to share some of our inspirations first.  I promise before and after photos (one room per post) soon!

Monday, September 3, 2012

On Teaspoons and the Blue Moon

I saw this weekend's blue moon rise through the skylight of our new bedroom as I rolled a fresh coat of paint over the ceiling's slope.  The radio was playing "Tiny Dancer," and I was belting out my best Elton John impersonation for Mr. Magpie, "Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band . . . ."  My own jeans were spattered in shades of Mountain Peak White (BM), French Gray (F&B), and Palladian Blue (BM).  Every bone and muscle in my body ached from the past week* of painting, cleaning, hauling, weeding, and mowing.  My shoulder protested when I swiped the roller yet again over the ridges in the paint tray, but as I glanced back up at the skylight, the moon stared right back at me.  I shivered.  Suddenly it hit me: I was home. 

And then again yesterday as I alphabetized spice jars and sorted through teaspoons in the kitchen, I felt it.  All around me loomed the chaos of boxes and tables and chairs piled in precarious pyramids, yet I knew just where my favorite teaspoon was.  Somehow this knowledge translated to something bigger; I knew just where I was, too. It's atavistic, this sense--as primitive and visceral as the feeling of sharing a meal around a campfire.  

I've lived many places, but not all of them have felt this intensely like home, no matter how lovely the floors or sturdy the walls.  For a few years before we moved back to Portland, we lived in a beautiful loft in an old mill beside a canal.  It certainly looked like a home, but for us it had become a prison, simply because of the circumstances of our life at the time.  When we had the opportunity to move, we seized it with both hands.  We knew that meant renting an apartment for a couple of frugal years rather than living in our own home, but all that mattered to us was the chance to rebuild our lives, to start making a new home within ourselves.

I believe a place can save you, if you let it.  This city where we met a lifetime ago as students has always called to us to return.  When we finally were able to, we did so with our hearts and eyes and minds wide open to the changes this return would bring.  Have I ever told you Portland's city motto?  Resurgam, "I will rise again."  It refers to the four devastating fires the city has survived, especially the great fire of 1866, which led to the building of Portland's famously beautiful West End.  We have always found that motto fitting for our own lives, and I suspect we are not alone.  This city at the far northeastern edge of the US is a good place for starting over, for rebuilding, and for making an even better go of things a second, third, or fourth time around.

Over the past two years we have revisited our favorite haunts and discovered countless new ones, mentally bookmarking certain leafy neighborhoods as we went. And now we are here in one of our favorites of those neighborhoods, in this little house with its maples and white pines and its gardens full of hydrangeas, lilacs, and nasturtiums.  I know that like anything real and good, home is a feeling that grows over time, but it has already begun to take root, and I think this is the realization that made me shiver as I watched wisps of clouds drift past the moon's surface the other night.

I like that a blue moon is rare.  I like that we must remember to pause and look or else miss it and have to wait years for the next one.  The past couple of years have been a lesson in taking the time to pause and look.  This means noticing the moon rising as well as the sun setting.  It means listening for the sound of a fog horn on a damp night or watching out my window every morning for the baby herring gulls to take their first flight.  And it means searching through the piles of moving boxes for the one marked "silverware," so I can find my way home at last. 

*Note: We got to close on the house a week early, so we've been here since the 23rd.