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Meet Color Scientist Gillian Rose

Why embracing the right hues for your space could change your life for the better. Brain science proves it.

If you don’t already know Gillian Rose, you’ll want to. One chat with the interior designer and color specialist made us see things so differently that we couldn’t wait to share what we learned. Gillian, who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York City (woot, lucky us!), offers color services that will open your eyes to who you really are, and help you create a home or work environment that better supports you. “Our reaction to color is informed by our hypothalamus,” she explains. “We have physical responses to color that trigger emotional responses. If the vibration of a color isn’t right for who you are, your blood pressure changes and you won’t feel well.” Fascinating, right? Read on to learn how a meeting with Gillian could make your life a whole lot happier.

  “When you use a strong color like coral, an extroverted color, you need to balance it with an introverted color, like taupe, which I also used in this space. That allows each temperament to find a space that will be in harmony with them.”   “When you use a strong color like coral, an extroverted color, you need to balance it with an introverted color, like taupe, which I also used in this space. That allows each temperament to find a space that will be in harmony with them.”

You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business—John Saladino, Naomi Leff, Thierry Despont—and garnered projects like the first Armani Emporium, a triplex for a cosmetics icon and a London palace. How did your design practice evolve into deeper color study?

“Color has always been a part of me, not only did I have the ability to see its make up, but I had a fundamental understanding of how it could heal us. After 9/11, there was no design happening in New York and I had to figure out what to do next, how to survive, and what I had to offer. I also wanted to do something that brought healing to our community. My love is really in luxury residential work and creating specific designs for someone because it’s all about understanding them, and what I saw, over and over again, was people’s fear of color. I enrolled in a two-year, Master of Color Architecture course through the IACC-NA with Frank Mahnke—a comprehensive, interactive program dealing with evolution and humanity—and realized color was my mission. I launched my color consultancy, The Science of Color, in 2008. After the recession in 2008, work became not just about the bottom line but about enhancing people’s lives—again, healing.”

What inspired you to move to L.A.?

“It was a big decision to move across the country! But after coming here and giving standing-room-only seminars followed by people asking lots of questions about balance and harmony, I realized I’d been swimming upstream. I felt welcomed here. People wanted what I was talking about—creating balance and harmony through personalized color palettes. L.A. is progressive and that’s what this takes. It’s a disrupting concept.”

And has living here made you think differently about color?

“My color collection was created in New York City but it’s even more amazing out here since the quality of the light is so different. New York daylight is gray-blue but L.A. daylight is deliciously peachy. There’s more energy from the sun here, and it’s more optimistic.”

  “This client didn’t like a lot of color, so I went with creating shades, tones and textures to create a balanced, harmonious environment.”   “This client didn’t like a lot of color, so I went with creating shades, tones and textures to create a balanced, harmonious environment.”

Tell us a little about the science of color.

“When we look at any color, our hypothalamus tells our brain how to respond. The context of the color doesn’t matter, our hypothalamus just says to ‘move closer’ or ‘pull away.’ It’s not cognitive. Our responses to color are not learned, they are written into our DNA, but people never really address biological and instinctual responses.

Also, our whole universe is based on movement. Nothing is still: color, light, sound, water, sun. It’s all vibration, which is further effected by light. We have so much more information about sound—especially music—and how that impacts us, and it’s exactly the same as color. It simply hasn’t made it into our primary education paths. Unless we delve into the study of Neuroscience, we don’t have access to this critical knowledge.”

How far back does the research go?

“Every great philosopher has studied color. Ancient Egyptians even applied color as medicine and healing! German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe established our emotional responses to color in his 1810 treatise on color, and in Austria in the 1950s, Dr. Heinrich Freiling established the Institute of Color Psychology, studying the neuroscience of color. It was Goethe who said that pure white as a wall color is the least stimulating color and in his opinion, therefore, the least humane color. Pure white leaves you in your head; it’s like being in an isolation tank! And we’re taught that gray is calming—it’s been the most popular color for the last four years—but it’s not actually calming, it’s numbing, same as a cocktail. Cocktails feel calming but as neuroscientists have established, it is actually numbing. Since our evolution, color’s main purpose has been to stimulate our minds.”

  “This was my very first project on my own,” says Gillian. “It was a country house in Beaverkill, New York, on 400 acres.” Photo by Oberto Gili   “This was my very first project on my own,” says Gillian. “It was a country house in Beaverkill, New York, on 400 acres.” Photo by Oberto Gili

How is color “sold” to us?

“Color of the Year helps the economy grow because we can plan, match and buy things, and retail is important, but that chosen color is typically applied to an object—something smaller than we are—rather than to an environment that’s larger than us. It has little to do with how we wish to feel. We’ve been socialized to think of color as taste, status, class or what’s cool, and there’s pressure to get it right. That’s marketing, not evolution.”

How do you work with clients?

“Given that our responses to color our written into our DNA, we respond differently to color stimuli. Color is built into our temperament. By our very nature, people are either ‘color extroverts’ or ‘color introverts.’ As we’ve come to know, opposites attract. Most couples are made up of one of each. This is the greatest reason why couples disagree about color! It’s not about being giving or generous to our partner, it’s about our primal response to the vibration of each color.

For homeowners, I always begin every session by finding out how they wish to feel in their home, not what colors they like. By creating a ‘safe zone,’ there are no wrong or foolish responses. From there, I give each partner their own ‘Color Word Play’ list, in which they can tell me how they wish to feel–unlike most ‘color advisors’ dictating what colors you should have. My ‘Color Word Play List’ is a list of intentionally specific emotions on one side and somewhat of their opposite on the other side. For example, one side says Welcoming and its opposite side says Dramatic. Each has very different emotions, which translate into very different colors, therefor completely different experiences within the space. Without this tool, most people would say things like ‘happy’ or ‘calm’ without understanding where they’re coming from. It’s simply too generic.

From there we move on to the last step in the identity process: actual color selections. Using my palette of 48 paint colors from my collection, Color Our World with Fine Paints of Europe, I ask my clients to select colors that they are simply drawn to. In my case, this is significantly easier as all of my paint colors are what they refer to in Europe as ‘clear colors’, which means the absence of gray. Unless the color is meant to be a gray, we do not add black or gray pigment to the formula. As gray is like a veil over a color and actually slows down our primal responses to any color.

After that, we all have a clear direction for the emotional intent. Between both partners, they will generally have selected about 10-12 colors. The ability to create custom colors is always an option. These are colors we then use on our second walk-through of the home, assigning colors to specific rooms. These are limited to wall colors. The secondary colors, like trim, millwork and ceilings, are selected in our studio. On my return visit, I bring large-format painted samples for each room, as well as a detailed, room-by-room paint schedule to give to their painting team.”

  The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center designed with Rafael Viñoly   The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center designed with Rafael Viñoly

How does the process translate to your commercial projects?

Commercial projects such as developments, hospitality, healthcare and retail projects require a different more involved methodology, one that is analytical and methodical in process. These larger-scale projects are more about creating specific responses with actionable behavior. Most large-scale projects, for a whole host of reasons, err in one direction or the other. The palette either resonates with the ‘color extroverts’ or ‘color introverts’ among us, not typically designed for both. That leaves 50 percent of the population out—and 50 percent of the bottom line left on the table!

In a nutshell…

“I often feel like a giant eraser! Understanding how color affects you is a way of giving to yourself. If you’re in a space that doesn’t support who you are, you’re instantly uncomfortable. On a physiologically level alone, this causes your attention span to wain, you become tired and in many cases, it causes you to become overly emotional. Everyone has to paint, that’s a truth for all of us. If there are colors that resonate with who you are and how you wish to feel, why not extend them to your whole environment? Color controls the way we think, feel and behave. Wouldn’t you want to know what that means for you? It’s all about a higher consciousness.”

To contact Gillian, phone 917-288-0945 or email her at [email protected]. You can see her in action below.

All images courtesy of Gillian Rose

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