Designer Nikki Chu Brings Colour To Cautious Canadians

Chromophobia is, I believe, something that we as Canadians have no excuse for. Our Great Lakes are many hues of blue, our forests are shades of green that range from spring bud pastels to evergreen jade. Our gardens are varied and brilliant in colour, if not all year then at least for spring and summer.

And fall….well if you haven’t experienced an autumn – particularly in Ontario and Quebec – with its brilliant oranges, shimmering golds and in-your-face reds, then it’s hard to imagine what nature can do when it is putting on its last hurrah before being blanked in sparkling white snow. So how is it that when it comes to our interiors we tend to be colour cautious?

As a TV producer and writer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some impressive designers. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to get inside their heads, learning how designers see things differently. For the last two years, I have directed a series called Unboxed with the talented designer Nikki Chu. And Nikki has taught me a lot about colour.

Born a Toronto girl, Nikki has become something of a citizen of the world in her style and approach. For the last two seasons we have shot numerous episodes around areas of Southern Ontario as well as in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Chu for Cuisine Noir

Shooting in Ontario homes that vary from row houses in Hamilton to detached suburban homes near Guelph then comparing them to homes we shot across the United States, I have developed a theory: as Canadians we have a design personality which tends toward chromophobia! Yep, an ‘irrational fear of, or aversion to, colour’ is a thing!

Could it be that putting that ‘u’ into color/colour, as we do here in Canada, actually creates a fear of using colour in our homes?

I would hate to think that Madonna is right and that we are “boring!”.  Although I know that we are a bit cautious by nature and sitting here in my taupe office with my neutral couch, carpet and pillows, I am feeling very Canadian. I want to run to the closest paint store and put what I have learned from Nikki Chu to use. I want to give my head a shake – and yours too.

Come on Canada, get into colour!

A colourful room designed by Nikki Chu

Photo Courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp

A designer like Nikki Chu, who produces rooms like these, is most definitely not afraid to push her clients to take a chance on colour!

Nikki taught me, along with her viewers, to look to fashion runways for home décor inspiration. And from my own point of view I’ll add; look to the season’s red-carpet events for added inspiration!

Scarlett Johansson, Renée Zellweger, Billy Porter and Julia Louis Dreyfus are just a few big names who showed up on this season’s red carpets in a luscious blue that echoes Chinese porcelain. And sure enough, a quick bit of research shows that Dulux actually called their 2020 colour of the year ‘Chinese Porcelain’!

As well, a slightly richer hue shows up on Sico’s 2020 hit parade as ‘Cobalt’, which inspired me to come up with my theory that blue is hot this year because it calms and soothes, providing a counterpoint to our ever-evolving challenges in a fast-paced, social media-filled, multi-tasking world.

Below, Nikki used touches of blue to calm and ground the cacophony of colour.

Here Nikki used touches of blue to calm and ground the cacophony of colour.

Photo Courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp

But let’s get more Canadian and more personal.

In a country where we spend months inside and our snowy outside is white at best or, in urban areas dirty gray, we need the energy and emotion of colour. No matter how chromophobic you are if you want to recover, my suggestion is that you start by having a look in your own closet.

If you’re attracted to a colour, there is likely a reason for it and that reason is emotional. Warm colours like red, orange and yellow evoke happiness, optimism and energy. Cool greens, blues and purples are calming and can help spark creativity. This might not be ‘rocket science’ but it IS science. Everyone from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians to Albert Einstein had something to say about the effect of colour on the human spirit.

There really is something called ‘colour therapy’ (also called chromotherapy) and investing some time and courage will be the beginning of your own self-help décor colour treatment – helping you get past the Canadian propensity to be cautious with colour.

Below, this storey-and- a-half home in Hamilton, Ontario, was brought to life as designer Nikki Chu created a space where every day is an exercise in cheerful colour therapy.

This story-and- a-half home in Hamilton, Ontario, was brought to life as designer Nikki Chu created a space where every day is an exercise in cheerful colour therapy.

Photo Courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp

Before your next decorating project, spend some time researching the science of colour, sometimes called chromatics or colorimetry. Then head to your closet, learn about the colours that you love, and experiment with putting them into your space.

Here are a few tips and tricks that have worked for me:

– Using fabric or tablecloths in a colour that you are attracted to, drape them around your space/furniture and see how you feel. If it makes you happy, start shopping!

– Paint a piece of dollar store poster board with a colour you are attracted to then attach it to a wall with painters’ tape. Live with it for a few days, checking it at different times of day, before taking the plunge with a re-paint.

– Start with baby steps – accessories and accents – then measure your reactions. Just don’t take the tags off so you can return them if you have taken a colour misstep.

To learn more about colour and interior design, visit Nikki Chu Home Décor.

Interested in learning more about the use of colour in interior design? Then checkout these articles:

To see how Canadians in different parts of the country ‘do colour’, read about Colour Coding Canadians

For a real blast of colour from Canadians who do not suffer from Chromophobia, check out Jellybean Row, St. John’s Newfoundland

And, yes, black is a colour – a bold one!  Have a look at how Black Houses Are Beautiful

Theresa Kowall-Shipp is a TV producer, director and writer. Her interest in home design grew from exposure to her family’s construction and architectural woodworking firm and producing or directing dozens of hours of design TV. 

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