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Understanding Undertones

Creative Colour Scheme; Exterior

By 09/02/2009January 26th, 201727 Comments

I drove by a school a few weeks ago in Abbotsford and was struck by the colour combination so I stopped and took a picture.

  It’s rare so see such great colour on a school, they are mostly so boring and beige–as I say this I’m thinking maybe there’s something special about the designers that pick colours in that town, remember that other school I showed you? It was in Abbotsford too.

The design of the exterior with the lines stamped into the stucco to define the colour is really what makes this colour scheme so interesting. Also, the fact that they did not choose a third colour but instead used a beige.  This prevents a checkerboard look from happening which would have made it look too busy.  Also of course the cream is on the top which allows the darker colours on the bottom to ground the building.

Photos by Maria Killam

The aluminim shutters over the lower windows (to prevent break-ins) are light in colour and also visually relate to the beige on the top in addition to the fascia.  If the colorist had used a third colour that did not relate to anything else, it would have looked too choppy and busy. 

What do you think of this colour combination?  Would you have done anything differently?

Update: One reader asked why I didn’t distinguish the undertone of the beige in this post. Good question. Because the other colours are so much darker and stronger than the beige it becomes very hard to read by the naked eye.  Undertones of any colour (especially complex neutrals) change when shown in context with other colours.  On first glance I would say it’s a yellow undertone (pink always reads so much more ‘mocha’ to me, but this is quite pale so it could be pink, however it was too high for me to be able to match with my fan deck). Context is everything and in this colour scheme the undertone of the beige starts to become less important when paired with such strong colours.  It could also have a green undertone.  A greeny beige is what I use when I want the colour to read less yellow but visually paired with a strong colour it looks yellow.  I know, now you wish I hadn’t said it 🙂

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  • DesignTies says:

    I think it looks great. It could be the orange that I like (I almost always like orange!), but what I'm really taken with is the graphic nature created with the use of line and colour. This could be an interesting, modern house and NOT a school.
    Victoria @ DesignTies

  • Swapna Raghu Sanand says:

    Thanks for sharing the three pics. It was a visual treat to see various angles of the same color treatment. I think the color combination was really cool without going over the top.

    Hope you keep posting more regularly.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am surprised you didn't mention that the beige on this school is a "pinky beige" at least it looks like it to me. I do love the orange and green completing the mid century modern look. Love your posts.

  • Greet says:

    I love it. Orange is one of my preferred colours and,to me,is a colour that looks great in every season!
    The combination of this particular green and the orange is well-chosen!


  • Tracy @ comfortandluxury says:

    I think elementary schools especially should take a cue from fast food restaurants (ok, maybe not so garish) and at least look like a fun place to spend such a large part of your day. I love it when a school has a giant, colorful mural. The elementary and middle schools around here have recently replaced most of their old ugly perimeter fences with brightly painted steel in blues and greens and dark orange (not all on the same campus!) Just that small change brightened things up considerably.

  • Design Esquire says:

    I do like the more modern style of the building and the colors.

  • Anonymous says:

    I would have co-ordinated the blue garbage can with the red lid and the blue dumpster to blend more nicely into the whole scheme 🙂
    Off to tell the Abbotsford School Board about your blog. Love you, M. G

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi (first) Anonymous commenter,
    My readers are so on top of it, I love it when I arrive at a clients home that's been reading my blog, they completely get my 'undertone' lingo.

    The reason I didn't mention the undertone of the beige is because it's so light it's impossible to distinguish as the undertone becomes more obvious (and changes as well from one to another) the closer the colours are with it (well maybe I should add this to the post). To me it looks like a yellow beige but I wouldn't be able to confirm that unless I matched it and it was too high for me to be able to do that.

    Thanks for pointing that out though, my readers don't miss a trick 🙂

  • Tara Dillard says:

    Yes, love the colors. But the garbage can is killing me.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • guylaine rondeau says:

    very cool!

  • Lauren says:

    it really is fun & that's how schools should look (to trick the kids into thinking learning is fun!!;) hee hee j/k hahah

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I love the colors to that school too. They just built a new Abby Jr. and that looks awesome. I also wonder who 'does' the colors to schools out here.

  • Eliana Tomás says:

    Hello Maria.

    I like the colours' selection, but for a school it is a "playing it safe". And what I mean is that a school is a place full of emotions and i think it would be nice to see more bright colours, warmer materials and organic forms 🙂

    I love your blog: it's such a nice selection of different projects and very good tips. Congrats.

  • Anonymous says:

    Since I read your post on the pinky beige, I have been obsessed with pointing it out. My Master bath now has to be re-tiled (even though it was just remodeled right before we bought from my Father and I don't want to hurt his feelings he did such a perfect job)…so how to make it not pinky? It's Tiffany-shade Blue now to match the many Tiffany Boxes I have in the Master and everything else is beige/gold/silver..Maybe I'm just overreacting? Maybe it's not that pink, but I do appreceiate you opening my eyes to the one color I now too think should be banished from the color deck.

  • Anonymous says:

    That last comment looked like my tile is now Tiffany Blue–I meant the bathroom Walls are Tiffany blue. Bedroom walls are soft gold.

  • Kelly (Arte Styling) says:

    Maria – I'm curious what age group of students the school is for?
    Although the color design is an improvement over most educational facilities I have seen, I have to agree with Eliana that the design is still "playing it safe." Though the orange is bright and punchy, that greenish-brownish khaki color seems to really drag the energy down. And the beige seems a little bit undersaturated. It's kind of just there – doesn't have much to say. I love the color of the sky, the grass and the trees – I would love to see a brighter, clearer blue and/or green introduced into the palette. Overall, the building seems to be saying "I'm just a little too grown up for kids."
    I have to say, this color design is heading in the right direction, but I want to know WHY these colors were chosen? Was there any rhyme or reason to this particular palette? Or was it an arbitrary decision where someone – or a group of someones – just thought it "looked good"?

  • Maria Killam says:

    HI Kelly and Eliana,
    To my knowledge is a high school or technical school. The other school I linked to that I posted a few months ago was an elementary school which I thought were appropriate for that age.

    And I appreciate your opinion, that is the point of comments, thank you!

    I too would love to know what the reason for this palette was!
    Thanks for your comments!

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says: That is the website for the school it is a Traditional Middle School for grades 6-9.

  • Kelly (Arte Styling) says:

    Maria – yes, agreed! this is what the comment section is for. 🙂 It's interesting to get different perspectives. That's how we all learn. Thanks for the post!

  • Rebecca says:

    I agree with the trash can being out of place. Maybe it would get old seeing this everyday but I love the zing. It can always be painted again.

    Schools should look like a happy place. Brick is nice but add some art or happy paint on the bike racks, sign posts, etc.

  • Kelee Katillac says:

    This is a nice exterior! There are many projects and studies that reference color in the lives of kids. One
    important project was in the Bronx, NY–they changed a school's exterior from a gray–like a prison–to painted with murals. The attendance went up!

    Thanks for this post!

    love, kelee

  • Lisa says:

    OK I don't dare enter into the beige conversations above. I do LOVE the school! I remember when schools were just gray…oops…showing my age there.
    Maria you are my favorite stalker when it comes to schools.
    xo lisa

  • Live In Full Color says:

    I think this is brilliant- very Bauhaus looking. Makes the schools around NY look very boring!

  • Marlo says:

    I like the colours of the school; they are earthy like most things we find in nature and around us. Eventhough I personally like brighter colours it may not be appropriate if the school is in the middle of a neighbourhood – like they normally are. I wouldn't want to live across the street from a school painted in bright colours – what an eye sore. The colours should enhance the building and at the time blend into the neighbourhood.

  • Rachel says:

    having just finished an elementary school exterior (pics to come on my blog soon!), i am fascinated by what other schools have done to liven up these learning environments. I agree with Kelly that I think they were headed in the right direction, but maybe still a bit safe (seems kinda sophisticated for elementary age group). If you poke around, there's quite a bit of info about color in educational settings, but you have to read carefully, as often conclusions are drawn without adequate controls, etc.

    Thanks for sharing, Maria!

  • sallymandy says:

    I was agreeing with Kelly (Arte Styling). I feel this is a rather curious color combination. Maria, your explanation of it gives me an appreciation for it, but my gut reaction is that I don't like it. That's just my preference, though. Oranges make me anxious, and I would not like to study at this school. On the other hand, if it's a high school for teenagers, maybe they need orange to wake them up. 🙂

  • Ivy Lane says:

    I think it looks GREAT! I could see that combo on a mod home as well…

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