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Colour Expert Interview

Interview with Colour Expert; Lori Sawaya

Lori Sawaya is a Color Strategist and her company name is Color Strategies.  You will understand what this means when you get to the end of this interview.  She is a fellow IACC member.
The International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers  is an organization that trains colour professionals on the impact colour has on the human spirit and the built environment.

The goal of the IACC-NA is to use color in a more effective way and to create more human, user-supportive environments through the educated application of color. The reason I’m telling you this, is because Lori is all about the science of colour and helping people and organizations to select colours based on what is appropriate NOT by what is trendy.

Lori sent me an email just a few weeks ago and that was how we ‘met’.  She is fun, generous and highly talented! See her amazing gallery of before and after’s (which we all love!).

[MK]  What’s your favourite colour?
[LS]  From a whimsical, fun perspective, I’d have to say periwinkle. Pale to super deep. Love to look at it, love to paint with it, love just saying the word.


I even like to type it,                       periwinkle
periwinkle                                                           periwinkle

Everything about it makes it a fun color.

A more technical point of view would be the range of 420 nm to 495 nm in the visible spectrum is my favorite place to work, play, and experiment.

[MK]  What colour would you like to see banished from all paint decks?
[LS]  Banish a color!? Heck no. From ugly colors and fugly color combinations come the best color epiphanies. I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the opportunity.

[MK]  What was your biggest colour/design mistake?
[LS]  I’d have to say it was the polka dot nursery. Not necessarily a color/design mistake. More like an error in execution. Coming up with stellar color combinations and harmonies is just peachy but if you can’t execute and effectively manage deployment of your color visions then it really doesn’t matter how color-clever or talented one might be.

Reflect with me back to 1999 as I recant the fateful event. The plan was white polka dots on walls each a different color: periwinkle, mint green, blush pink, and butter yellow.

I got the idea that removable (post-it-note type adhesive) 3″ circles would be the genius way to go about polka dotting walls. Apply the stickers to freshly painted white walls, paint each wall a different color, remove the stickers and voilà instantly perfect white polka dots. Sounded good. I was thinking it was one of my most brilliant ideas.

However…ends up that was the day I learned that paint is a SOLVENT. The stickers started out removable but the paint reacted with the adhesive and the reality of it was one hot mess.

What was supposed to be 300 perfect 3″ polka dots on each wall ended up being 1,200 chemically induced splotches of goo.  Picking the stickers off the walls one millimeter at a time without damaging the painted surface surrounding the dots was daunting. After about 50 dots, it hit me that it was waterborne paint and the adhesive probably was too.

The solution was to soak each dot for a minute or so with a damp terry cloth and gently wipe the sticker and the adhesive residue away. Thank my lucky stars that I had used top quality paint; it dried quickly and even though it had not fully cured, it stood up to a damp cloth and gentle wiping.

[MK] What is the most important colour lesson you’ve learned?

[LS]  That color is not one-size-fits-all. There are some general color assumptions that are reasonable to make and we humans do share certain commonalities when it comes to color expectations, tolerance, innate responses and interpretations, and vision system. Yet every color decision is unique. Even though there are aspects of coloring that are universal, it is not correct to believe that they can be applied universally without introspection and informed consideration.

[MK] When it comes to colour, what’s hot?

[LS]  What’s hot is individuality and authenticity. Discovering and understanding your authentic sensibility of color and affinity to light and then using that alignment and synchronicity to improve and customize environs.

[MK] Which colour do you think is timeless?
[LS]  Dark navy blue is timeless in my opinion.

[MK] Which colour trend would you love to see disappear?
I wouldn’t  mind if color trending as a whole just kind of dissolved away into the ether. I find it to be mostly hype. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the purpose of it for industry and manufacturing, but what else is it good for?

Color trending is a marketing mashup of idiosyncratic color opinion that really serves no one but the persons and industries who create and collate the trends.

The “in trend” colors were of no use to me as a graphic designer and they are less meaningful in my now primary capacity as an architectural color consultant – I customize environments and create unique atmospheres. Trends are fun to read about and I guess you could say they are entertaining but that’s about the extent of it for me.


I see the hot color trend announcements come out in regular intervals and I honestly think to myself “who gives a flip and are there real people who actually DO something with that information?”

I just do not see how color trending is useful or is of value to the average person and professional color specialists who are in the trenches working hands-on with color and actively contributing to re-coloring our world with intention and for the better.

[MK]  What do you think is one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make with colour?
[LS]  Wow. Big question. I have TWO points I’d love to squeeze in here:

1) Trying to make color fit a room instead of fitting a room with color. Pulling a color out of an ‘inspiration piece’ customizes a room for said inspiration piece. Using a pre-made ‘perfect palette’ is simply a transfer of obtuse color thoughts on to a space.

The humans, the light, the structure, and the dimensionality of the space is completely ignored or at best is afterthought.

People, inherent light, and architecture should get the lion’s share of contemplation. It is important and necessary to consider the inanimate contents of a room because they matter – just not as much.

Color Coordination by Colour Strategies

2) Thinking they lack something when it comes to coloring for themselves; that their color inspiration lies with some outward source. Every single person came here perfectly well equipped to self-color at each stage of their life; even if they are colorblind or color limited. Everyone has what’s needed to experience and live a robust color journey.

Of course, tapping into that inner guidance system isn’t always easy and most everyone can use a little help refining their color sensibilities and confidence. That’s when consulting with a color specialist can be worthwhile.

Color Coordination by Colour Strategies

Contributing to the conflict homeowners experience in making color decisions are many outside sources of ‘color expertise’ and resources that are fighting for their dollars and attention. That external noise and chaos distracts from the natural, inherent color guidance system.

My specialty when I work with homeowners is first deprogramming and then educating. The focus isn’t on picking out the paint color. Picking out a paint color is the easy part. The hardest part is clearing out all the misinformation and memes adopted relative to color. The clearing away of pedestrian modes and rules of color gives us an open path, liberated spirit of color, and fresh eyes to work with. Showing homeowners how color can be customized for them and fit and enhance their 3D spaces is very rewarding.

[MK]  What are the 5 things in life you cannot live without?
[LS]  Course my husband, kiddos, and dog are a given.

Other than them:
1) Color. My work truly is my passion. I’ve been a professional color strategist for over twenty years. I can’t imagine my being anything else but Color Strategies.

2) DVR. Simply life changing.

3) Mani-Pedi. I live in a land where shorts and flip-flops can be worn almost year ‘round. I like to try out different nail colors – purple, yellow, and even black. Personal color is a whole other world and it’s fun to tip-toe into other color genres.

4) Swiffer. I’m a clean, neat freak and enjoy cleaning and organizing. It’s therapeutic. I’m actually typing with one hand right now and Swiffering with the other. (kidding)

5) Sun. A mostly sunny, warm climate with fabulous light. Winter weather is nice to visit, just don’t care to live with it.

[MK] What’s next on the cutting edge of color?
[LS] For professionals working in the field of color, I think it’s all about authenticity, pure (not produced) passion, and a level of expertise and knowledge beyond anything we’ve known or seen before. If you want to claim color as your craft, you best know your craft well because the bar is being raised by the minute.
We can thank color experts like Maria for helping to inch up that bar. Just look at how much we have learned here at Colour Me Happy.

For everyone else going about their merry business of carving out a color path and creating a history by fulfilling desires to bring color to the places they live, work, learn, and play, color’s future is going to deliver wonders. Technology will enable us to color our world with amazing precision and exciting innovation.

The color of now is fabulous but the color of the future will be exhilarating. I can’t wait.

Related posts:
Interview with Colour Expert: Joanne Day

Interview with Colour Expert; Janice Lindsay (Washington Post Blog Watch, July 9)

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  • Avatar Hudson Goods says:

    love those colored cabanas!

  • Avatar magnaverde says:

    I've been a big fan of Lori Sawaya for a long time, now. I first met her–so to speak–on a decorating message board, where her responses to even vague or poorly-framed questions–say, "Can anyone recommend the perfect yellow?"–not only provided practical guidance to the questioner but also addressed the larger, broader issues that often lay behind the original question, increasing everyone's store of knowledge in the process. Being an expert is one thing, and being willing to share your expertise is another, but doing it in the always articulate & interesting way that Lori does it is another thing entirely. Thanks for inviting her to join you, and for letting the rest of us get to know her a little better.

  • Avatar Design Esquire says:

    What an enlightening post! I am guilty of picking a color and then making it fit into the room in my own home, so I need to take Lori's advice. Another wonderful interview, Maria. Thank you!

  • Avatar Sedona @ MyDivineDelights says:

    Great interview! How exactly do you become a color expert?? Seriously, I love color, I love experimenting with it, I love helping my friends and family pick paint colors, I love colorful clothes…you get the picture. I connected very deeply with several things that Lori had to say, and I obviously connect regularly with what you say Maria, I'm sure you feel stalked! Thanks for the quality content you continuously have on your blog!

  • Avatar viera says:

    Thanks for the great interview Maria & Lori.

  • Avatar Kate Smith says:

    Maria, so fun to hear from Laurie on your blog. I interviewed her myself a couple of years ago so know she has many great tips for choosing paint plus it is always inspiring to hear from anyone that share our passion for colour! xo~Kate

  • Avatar Tracy @ comfortandluxury says:

    "Every color decision is unique" Perfectly said and so true. What a lot of great information here, Maria! I appreciate Lori's "real" approach to color and that she'd like to free us from the notion of color trends being so important. And I love that she loves periwinkle! Me too! Fantastic post.

  • Avatar Design Wanna-be says:

    Interesting point of view. I have to agree about color trends, the problem I think is how hard it is to find a certain color once it is out of style (that goes for clothes too).

  • Avatar Karena says:

    I love periwinkle,! It is a favorite of mine!!

  • Avatar Kelly (Arte Styling) says:

    Lori, your answers to these questions were exciting to me. Yes – actually exciting! As I scrolled through this interview each Q&A just got better and better. (Great questions, Maria!)

    "What’s hot is individuality and authenticity."

    You are SOOOO singing my tune on this one!

    And I love your take on color trends – couldn't agree more. Color trending certainly doesn't help us create unique and authentic – REAL – environments.

    But, it's your answer to the "biggest mistakes homeowners make" question that almost makes me cry.

    "Thinking they lack something when it comes to coloring for themselves; that their color inspiration lies with some outward source. Every single person came here perfectly well equipped to self-color at each stage of their life"

    Love it. Just love it. So right on and exactly what I believe in, not only with color, but with design, as well.

    Thank you, Maria and Lori! I hope many, MANY people will read, and really THINK about the amazing responses given here!

  • Avatar Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I'm always amazed at how different everyones opinions are about colour theory. I always think there would be something similar in the interviews but they aren't! I love it. Always something new and interesting in colour.

  • Avatar chanteusevca says:

    Maria, Love this brilliant interview and post with Lori. What radically refreshing color paradigms she espouses, especially about the yearly trends in color and how the market tends to brainwash us into recreating or wanting to recreate all new color palettes every year because of them. I would love to hire both of you to really "brainwash" (wash my brain) into the reality of how to use color in my home and life without paying attention to the trends.

    You always knock it out of the ballpark with Color Me Happy, Maria! Thanks again for sharing and bringing us the best.


  • Avatar Rachel says:

    Lori is fantastic- thanks so much for sharing her work with everyone. In addition to being a wonderful, giving person, she's an amazingly knowledgeable, insightful, creative designer. Yay for Lori!

  • Avatar Danica says:

    What a great interview, Maria! Although I did cringe at the nursery story, it's reassuring to know that everyone makes mistakes. Also, I'm quite tempted to paint my toes purple now! The colour I have is more of a dark royal purple, but that picture just looked so fun!

    Thanks again Maria, I love all your interviews!

  • Avatar FROM THE RIGHT BANK says:

    Another great interview!

  • Avatar Kim says:

    What happened to the before and after gallery? Ugh. The link is broken. 🙁

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