Homes reflect their owners, which is what mirroring is all about. In therapy, mirroring is used to reflect back gestures or mimic words and tones. I use color with a similar intention in mind when I’m creating palettes for clients’ homes. I want to understand them the way they want to be understood.
Sometimes, this takes understanding themselves first. Part of the journey of a woman’s life is finding her own identity, especially her identity apart from her mother’s. It’s an important part of growing up, and one that we all eventually must do. I had a wonderful client who was on this journey still, without her realizing it.
As soon as I walked through the doorway, I was in love with her place. The home was custom, truly one of a kind. Clear, cedar walls encased the main living room and dining room. The massive irregular slabs of slate flooded the entry with contrasting tones of orange and gray. A layer of shimmering, sparkling flecks floated on top, like the shimmering sunlight that dances across a lake. In fact, their house overlooked a gray-blue lake and their huge windows looked out onto beautiful green pines. From all the warm wood on her walls, the furniture, and the natural surface tones, it was clear she loved all variations of warm golden orange.
The room was an all-day sunrise-to-sunset moment.
This uplifting, rejuvenating spirit was so dominant in the space that all other colors were overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of it. The view of the lake was hard to see through the blaze.
I began by explaining that too much of the same color can cause eye fatigue because the eyes can’t find a place to rest. I said, “let’s frame and bring into focus all the rich beautiful outdoor colors of the lake and the trees outside to meet up with the colors in the entry slate by painting all window trim a rich charcoal gray. This will frame those colors like the rest of your art.”
“Thank you!” she said in an overly firm voice, “I was afraid you were going to say ‘do white,’ and I don’t do white!” Naturally, I mirrored back her tone, “why?”
We laughed. My client explained that she grew up in a home where her mother always used white exclusively in literal ways because in her religion it had significant spiritual meaning. The minute she became an independent adult, she told me, she indulged herself with lots of colors, “like a teenager.” Then, she proudly told me she had just bought a white shirt for the first time in three decades!
I could have jumped all over her and explained the merits of the color white because white happens to be my favorite color for other significant reasons. I grew up in a white home and I loved it. I look amazing in white (or so my grandmother used to tell me) so I wear it all the time. When I quit my job to stay home with my kids, I found a way to look “Chic Fresh” all the time. I wore white shirts so I didn’t have to replace colors that faded.
But, this wasn’t about me. It was about her, and what the color white meant to her.
I asked my client if she had ever considered that there was a connection between her overabundant use of orange and her mother’s overabundant use of white. I watched as her eyes looked around and she saw her reflection in the orange mirror. Something clicked. We went on to discuss that it was possible she was, in fact, a lot like her mother.
Her love of one color was suffocating other colors, just like her mother’s love of white had once upon a time suffocated her. This was a beautiful moment of realization! A moment filled with purity, innocence, wholeness, and completion—the very meaning of the color white!
Everything came full circle. With a renewed sense of understanding, she let go and once again gave herself permission to fall in love, “like a teenager,” with all colors. She was ready to let a space mirror her growth and embrace a renewed sense of what colors mean to her. This time, however, with the color white.