Saturday, October 22, 2011

Living Here: Embracing Color

Some foreign residents of Mérida have taken the plunge

Foreigners from cooler northern climes often comment on the uninhibited, sometimes chaotic color sense of many Mexicans. The foreigners don't always warm to it. I used to feel that way, too.

In my family home the color scheme was what I might term midwestern conservative. When I was small, our walls were always beige and furniture shades of brown. When we moved into a new house in the late '60's and my mom chose "harvest gold" shag carpet, upholstery in muted green and reddish tones and an avocado refrigerator, we thought it was pretty hip. But that was about as groovy as we ever got.

Although it's changing, where I grew up things still look pretty dull. In Juneau, shades of brown, tan and gray seem to be the predominant color choices for the exteriors of houses and buildings. I am sure these are not everyone's favorite colors. So why, in a climate where the weather is often dull and dark, do people paint their houses in dull and dark colors? And in Mexico, especially tropical Yucatán, why is it so vibrant? I suppose it has to do with culture and what we are used to, but I wonder how environment influences our feelings about color. That's something to look into.

My friend Paul, originally from the midwest, blogged about the time he allowed his maintenance man to choose colors for some accents as he painted the patio area of Paul's Mérida home. Paul was "stunned" by the choices, but they didn't seem all that wild to me.

I realized at that moment that I've changed. I have come to enjoy the cacophony of color in Mexico, and now see it as pretty normal. When I travel north on a visit, it seems like a pretty drab place. When I return to Mexico, I am immediately dazzled by not only the brightness of the sun and the heat, but by the color. No holds are barred. Rules are made to be broken. And as far as I am concerned, that's good.

When I moved here, I changed the way I did a lot of things. I wanted to be less inhibited and open to new ideas. One thing I decided to do was to paint every room in the house a different color. Now I have a red living room, green bedroom, and the kitchen/dining area is multicolored, with green and orange predominating. Tile patterns clash. Checks and curlicues abound. It's great. I love the feeling of the place.

Oh yes, although it still wears the same coat of paint it did the day I bought it, the front of my house is pink. One of these days I'll do something about that, but I am not in any hurry.

I am just one of a crowd of foreigners who've moved here and have taken the plunge into color. Embracing color is a simple way to break out of a routine and celebrate the unlimited possibilities of life. It creates energy. It's a manageable form of chaos.

In any case if you later have regrets, paint's not all that expensive.

Home sweet home


  1. Actually my maintenance guy, Claude, was shocked by many of the interior room colors I picked. Later he said he had gotten used to them and now liked them.

    Later I learned he had picked the color I didn't like the same way my parents picked their colors. "it was on sale," he said. Like Claude, I am now used to it and like it.

  2. Paul, I was grateful for your mention about your reaction to the colors because it really made me think about my reaction to color. I conclude that most of us accommodate and expand our ideas about what we like if only given the opportunity. Frankly, living in small-town America, many of us never get the chance to try out having a pink house, or bright turquoise planters. The neighbors would have a heart attack, or might complain to the city or homeowner association that we've violated some code or covenant.

  3. The use of color is one of the things I love most about this place, but so far I'm not brave enough to try anything too dramatic myself.

  4. I've wondered about the drab colors in drab areas as well. Partly it is the culture of beige up north but also I've noticed that bright colors look better under a bright tropical sun, they seem more garish in the lower light of the north. I always laugh when I see a new renovation here in the Centro that is beige on white or grey and white, how boring and unimaginative it seems.

  5. Debbie, I suspect that as you spend more time here, you will get around to experimenting with color. Like Paul said, you get used to it, and then you like it.

    Jonna, I think you may be onto something. I hadn't thought of that, but your idea makes a lot of sense. As far as the facades, I am of two minds. I think Mérida originally was really pretty much a "white city" because that was the color of the cal they had to paint with. I have been in old pueblos in other places where they keep the color scheme traditional white on purpose. As fun as the variety of a many-colored city are, an authentic, traditional white city is very beautiful.

  6. I'd have to agree with some of the other commenters. I think how good an exterior color looks depends on the light. Here in Boston, we have a fairly flat, gray light. Houses painted in tropical colors just look kind of ridiculous and out-of-place. Yet the same colors in Mexico, with its wonderful, sharp light look great.

    I also think it just has to do with the vibe of a place. I have a colonial house here, which while quite colorful by New England standards, is also pretty traditional. So while I love Art Deco style, it would look ridiculous in my colonial house. So I have more traditional stuff. If I lived in Miami, I might well have Deco furniture in a brightly painted deco house.

    Some things just seem to look better in some places. In Mexico, that would be bright colors.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we live in a Prussian Blue house.

  7. I think the title of my blog, Los Colores de Mérida, sums up how I feel about the use of various interesting colors on the facades and inside the homes. The bright tropical light is the perfect setting for bold and imaginative colors.

  8. The folks in the Canadian Maritimes often have brightly coloured exteriors. Blue, pink and bright yellow aren't unusual. It might be the same for the US Eastern Seaboard. I've never been there to say for sure. It makes me curious as to why the good people out east are less inhibited about the colour of the outside of their homes as we folks who live further west are.

  9. I love the houses here in Mexico with their vibrant colors. (Especially the bright pink in the top photo!) But my brick house always feels so dull in comparison. The inside isn't much better. It's all light blue. I would love to have a room in every color, but my tastes change from day to day, so I can never decide what color I want for each room. (The light blue was already on the walls when we moved in.)

  10. Color is just another symbol of the libertarian chaos that I like about Mexico.

  11. My house is bright red, and I like it that way. However, it would look out of place above the border.

  12. C'on Steve: "Libertarian chaos in Mexico?" Yikes! Mexico is one of the most bureaucratized, tradition-bound places around. If the strictures of the government don't get you, those of the Roman Catholic church certainly will.

    As for the colors of Mexico, it's ironic that cities in northern climes, which spend so much of the year in cold, gray weather, choose to paint so many of their buildings gray, brown or other muted shades.



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