Why Orange Exists as a Color

Somewhere out there right this minute, a realtor is advising a homeowner to paint the inside of their house in a neutral palette before they put it on the market. Conceptually, it’s a good idea. Neutral is. . . neutral. Non-offensive. Unnoticeable. Calm, even.

I have nothing against neutral as a genre.

But I enter my plea with all realtors, homeowners, and interior decorators to please not ever allow anyone to paint ALL of the walls, baseboards and ceilings the same dirty shade of off-white.

“Swiss Mocha” my ass.

Tinting white paint with a spot of brown and covering all available surfaces in it is exactly the same as rubbing your walls, baseboards, and ceilings with sponges dipped in mud puddles.

Although, this isn’t anything you notice at first. Not until you get all the boxes unpacked anyway, which takes about a year if you’re really lucky.

Then you start painting the kids’ bedrooms. One per extended school break, because kids are naturally good painters and will totally bust their butts for fifty bucks. And with each gallon of paint you shake and stir, you start to dream of other colors in other rooms. Soon, every room in the house that you, personally, never spend any time in is painted. Excellent colors. Colors that fit the personalities of the people who do spend time in those rooms. Colors you would be proud to show off if said rooms weren’t otherwise so offensive.

And you start to notice Swiss Mocha.

How it makes your 1970’s suburban split-level look its age and style; how no number of pictures on the walls can prevent it from sucking your soul out little by little. How it never looks clean, no matter what you do to it (although, in Swiss Mocha’s defense, most of what you do to it is resent it and deem it unworthy of washing one more freaking time).

This was my state of mind regarding the Swiss Mocha on my walls when CC left for Denver for six weeks at the start of last summer break, leaving me in charge of a household of five kids and two puggles. It was the first of many extended trips he had scheduled for the year.

The morning he left I woke up in a blind panic, drenched in sweat, from a dream in which I was standing at the edge of a cliff with one foot in the air. I had just started to lose my balance and the adrenaline jolt woke me up. I knew that the only way we were going to make it through him being gone was to stay busy. But how? How was I going to keep five kids with no itineraries occupied all summer without myself going crazy?

Then #2 and #3 spent a Saturday helping the youth group paint a lady’s apartment and they talked about how much they enjoyed it. Now, I’m a terrible painter. I’m impatient. I can’t paint a straight line nor can I tape one. I don’t enjoy it.  Yet, at dinner that night it was out of my mouth before I could talk myself out of it.

Me: We should paint the house while your dad’s gone. You know, as a surprise.

Them: That’s crazy.

Me: Isn’t it though?

Them: Okay. Let’s do it!

We made friends with Bryan, the guy at the paint store. I brought all the kids in and we let him in on our surprise project for CC. He was fantastic.

As you can tell from these pictures, there is no greater joy in a child’s life than painting. Especially painting one’s own house during summer vacation. For free.

#2, crying out of pure joy
#2, crying out of pure joy
#3 can scarcely contain her excitement
#3 can scarcely contain her excitement
#5 is so happy to help!
#5 is so happy to help!

The puggles helped, too.

Ear paint.
Ear paint.
Butt paint.
Butt paint.

CC and I had been fighting about colors since we bought the house. He was a neutral advocate. I wanted statement walls. The longer I looked at Swiss Mocha, the greater I wanted those statements to be. The golds I chose for the main areas were tame for me, but would be a stretch for him.

When it was time to move on to the hallway, I had an idea. I was thinking: ice cream; I was thinking: sunset; I wanted something amazing in this dark hallway with no natural light; something joyful that would be the first thing we saw when we walked out of our rooms in the morning. The plan was to extend that color out to the first wall you see when you walk in the front door.

The day I went in for the paint, Bryan wasn’t there. There was another guy. Another guy who was not in on the plan, not part of the surprise, who didn’t offer me encouragement or help me make decisions. A guy who, when he looked at the close-but-not-quite-right colors I had hoped for guidance with, had an opinion.

Guy: I don’t even know why orange exists as a color.

All my confidence fell away. Maybe I should go with beige. What if CC totally hated it? What if my surprise for him just ended up being a huge waste of time and money and started a big fight? But then I had another thought.

Me: Umm, do you know when Bryan works again?

I went back the next day and Bryan helped me with the orange that CC would never have signed off on in a million years. As the kids were putting it up on the walls they kept commenting.


#2: Oh my god.

#3: Wow!

#2: Dad’s going to divorce you.

#3: Yeah, he probably won’t like it.

#4: Oh my God. Dad’s going to divorce you.

#5: I love orange! Dad’s so going to divorce you.

#1: Holy Crap! What did you to to the wall? Dad’s going to divorce you.

But I loved it. I would literally clap my hands and jump with glee every time I looked at my orange wall.

It took the bulk of the time that he was gone to do this project. We all worked really hard. I got some form of dinner on the table  every day, wherever the table happened to be that day. We had the Summer Olympics on TV the whole time we were painting. We painted at 2am watching the replays of the female Chinese weight lifters. We taped the trim at 7am when #5 got up. Every kid got to paint a door in the downstairs hallway any way they wanted to, and #1 put a mural on one wall.

We banded together and we stayed as busy as possible, which lessened our awareness of the very noticeable absence in our midst. We all knew that over-noticing that absence would be our downfall.

He was blown away when he got home– mostly grateful that he didn’t have to do any of the painting.

He liked the orange wall. He said, “It looks a lot less crazy on the wall than it did in your head.”

Welcome home. To Crazy Town.
Welcome home. To Crazy Town.

And that, Guy Who Is Not Bryan, is why orange exists as a color.

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Have you ever planned a surprise for someone you weren’t sure they would like? What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever put on your walls?


42 thoughts on “Why Orange Exists as a Color

  1. Hooray for orange walls! Please don’t tell me that trim is still Swiss Mocha. In our house, we call that color “band-aid.” It still exists on some doors and the insides of the closets. It’s taken years to liberate the walls.

    1. No, the trim is Blinding White. As are the ceilings. We still have Swiss Mocha in the kitchen, on the parts that aren’t covered with hideous country heart motif wallpaper (half-eaten by the puggles). Band-aid is the perfect name for that shade. Dirty Band-aid, even better.

  2. Our house is on the market now and our basement is painted in an orange. With the right shade (like the one you have) it adds character and is distinct in a good way! Every buyer has loved the basement…

  3. Looks awesome! When I bought my house a few years ago, the sellers had painted EVERYTHING, iterior and exterior, dirty white. Sigh. I’ve spent the last few years undoing it. Can you send your kids to California to finish up for me over their summer break?

  4. I love it!! And the doors! What amazing works of art. The mural is divine as well, although it looks a little like an eye in the sky. Watching. Always watching. Ok, maybe it freaks me out a little as well. 😉

    My 2 story living room wall is BRIGHT blue. It was like that when we moved in. All the other walls (except the bedrooms and office) are swiss mocha. I’m ok with it for now, because the blue pretty much makes up for all the rest of the blandness. It is seriously bright.

  5. I once painted my bedroom Pepto-Bismol Pink. Well, maybe it was just a tad darker, but not much. When I told people about it they would get a funny look on their face. Kinda like the look you get when you need a little Pepto-Bismol. But I have to say, when the sun dipped low in the sky (around 6 PM or so) that room actually vibrated, it glowed so much. I woke up every morning feeling totally energized. OK, maybe that was because I was 20-something, but still. Best bedroom color ever. Today my kitchen is russet red. It’s a keeper, though I lean more toward earth tones now.

    1. Probably pretty close to #3’s door. I can imagine how it must have felt at sunset. Russet red sounds great for a kitchen. That’s last on our list, after our bedroom.

  6. Orange is my FAVORITE color, so I am definitely not the one to ask. I love your house, I love the kids’ doors especially and I LOVE the way the kids jumped into the Orange Wall Project! When we moved to our house (the the college owns) the only thing I was allowed to do, budget-wise was paint — so the downstairs rooms are all my favorite colors: Hunting Jacket Red in the dining room (the best red ever, by Ralph Lauren) .. Khaki Sun in the living room, chocolate brown in the den that looks out over the garden, and a light yellow-green in the kitchen … but the upstairs are all restful colors (with the exception of my closet which is an awesome fuscia). The painters kept saying to me — are you sure?? — but I WAS sure and I love LOVE the colors. Nobody should ever be talked into just doing white, or off-white unless you really love that. Color adds so much LIFE!

  7. Out here the color is Navajo White, and the only way I can best describe it is to have you imagine a perfectly pristine white room that you let 500 smokers come in and chain smoke in until the nicotine stains the walls for all time and eternity. I have an orange wall too, and I painted it myself, six months pregnant, while my husband was riding a scooter to Canada. I also have some lovely grey walls in the bedroom, painted for me as a gift while even more pregnant (and not allowed on giant ladders) by a friend who hates to paint but is excellent at it. She knew what postpartum does to a family…and wanted to give the gift of not getting angry every morning when I looked at the walls. She is a very good friend.

    1. You nailed it. That is exactly what Swiss Mocha looks like. As if it were the walls of a church basement that held five AA meetings a day back when we could still smoke there. You have some excellent wall art in your place, from what I remember of FB pics. And that is a very good friend, one who will paint for you.

  8. I LOVE orange! It has adorned my bedroom wall in 2 homes and I once picked an iffy apartment as a student solely because it had an orange pillar in it.

    The doors are fantastic and I must admit I like the eye-in-the-sky 😀 It’s such a benign-looking little eye that it’s almost asking for a hug (the face that owns the eye, that is…)

  9. I moved into a house ten years ago with mustard colored walls in the large open space. Maybe you are thinking Grey Poupon. No – French’s Classic Yellow. Blindingly yellow – the sun would hit the walls at a certain angle, and anyone who walked into the room would immediately go and try to turn off the lights, which weren’t actually on. That room is now painted cream, because the ceilings were so high my estranged husband had to help with the painting, and I might be dead and he in prison had I suggested anything more interesting on the color wheel. And after the blinding sensation of living inside a liberally condimented hot dog bun for several years, it was a terrific relief to our retinas.

    I have always thought naming paint colors would be my dream job. Caribbean Sunset? Euphoria? Sophistication? What colors are those, and who cares, the names are enough.

    My friend Kristen, of the band-aid colored doors, suggested I look at your blog, due to my slightly related obsession with ridding suburban HOAs of white carpet, and I’m hooked.

    1. My stepbrother just painted a bathroom that color. It’s actually too bright for me to be in without sunglasses. I told him I had half a gallon of orange left if he wanted to paint polka dots. Naming paint colors and lipstick colors would be a damn fine gig to have!

      1. And I am a huge fan of orange – your wall is almost the same shade as my spring/summer bedding. Polka dots would be good in the bathroom, my first thought with the mustard walls was to fill a condiment bottle with ketchup red paint, another with relish green paint, and spray away….

  10. The colours look great – I love them. We have a terracotta orange wall in our kitchen that blends with the tiles and already we have been advised to paint it (the house is on the market) NO WAY! x

  11. I love the orange! Love it love it love it! And how great that you all did it together! When I read your thing about how a realtor will tell you to paint everything neutral before you sell, I got sad. The first thing I did when I bought my house – no kidding, first thing – was to paint almost every wall and get rid of what I call “contractor beige.” My living room is yellow. My kitchen is mossy green. My upstairs bathroom is this awesome shade of not-quite-navy-blue that my parents thought was insane but everyone else loves. My bedroom has a chocolate-brown wall that the paint people call “rich mahogany.” My back bedroom has three nearly-white walls and one pewter gray wall. I love it all. Now I want to paint the front door because white is boring.

    1. That all sounds fabulous. I soo want a moss green! Maybe the kitchen. I have red for the front door when the weather warms up, and a different red for one or two walls in our bedroom. I can’t wait! I guess maybe there’s some truth to that beige crap when you’re selling, but I’m not doing it when we leave this place unless it doesn’t sell for a whole year. And then I will do Blinding White. Not Dirty Band-Aid.

      1. I think there’s more than one kind of neutral. My colors all work with a pretty wide variety of things. It’s just a matter of perspective. Sure, the bathroom might be a bitch to paint over. But I live there now. So you go with your orange and red!

  12. I love the orange! In fact I may just go out and buy a gallon or two to have around the apartment just in case I get the urge to paint…which has never happened but it’s good to be prepared.
    I surprised my husband with a Shaker rocking chair that I found at a flea market. We had just started dating at the time and I thought it would work really well with his Shaker decor. I was super excited! Let’s just say his reaction was not quite what I had hoped for. Now, I make sure that anything I buy him can be returned and we co-exist in peace and harmony.

  13. Tissue Paper is the strangest thing I’ve ever put on the walls! You know, the kind you put in gift bags. You roll your paint on then smooth a piece over (but not too smooth) then roll more paint over the top and repeat the process until the whole wall is covered. It gives the wall a leathery texture. I did one wall in a grey room that way with egg plant paint. It was a lovely focus wall for a huge black and white painting I did. I also added a little grey paint to the egg plant to lighten it up a bit and did a subtle vertical stripe down the left side of the wall. Wish I had a picture to share but I DID sell that house this winter without a realtor in a week! (Take that Neutral Realtors!) Seriously though, I wish I could take credit for that but it was an answer to prayer- nothing that I did.

    1. That eggplant sounds stunning! I never would have thought of tissue paper. More confirmation that everybody loves color. Something tells me I wouldn’t get a similar result by painting over half-shredded wallpaper.

  14. “It looks a lot less crazy on the wall than it did in your head.” Best compliment ever.

    The wall looks great. It always cracks me up on those HGTV shows when potential buyers look at houses and freak out about the color of rooms. Paint it!

  15. It is quite obvious the paint store lad has never seen an Arizona sunset. That’s what your colors remind me of. How awesome is your paint crew and story!? Kudos to all the kiddos!

  16. I wanted a dusty, sunsetty, rosey color for my hallway. Everyone who sees it asks me why I decided to paint my hallway orange. But I like it. It’s got character.

    I love your orange! Very happy and bright.

  17. Also! completely off topic, but I thought they’d taken out the slideshow feature. When I saw you had pictures posted AND a slideshow – with completely different photos in it – well, then I must be able to do that too, right?! And of course, it was all pretty easy to figure out. But I’m obviously more inclined to complain when they change something up, rather than just sit down and take a look at how to actually work the new features. What a numbskull.

    1. It took me a long time to figure out how to do it. I could only remember that I had done it once before. My default was to blame myself for taking my 2012 sabbatical and not remembering due to neglect.

  18. JM,
    When I was younger, and thought I was a great artist, I had hung on the wall a picture of real dog poo, framed, on which was attached a clothespin so you could put it on your nose and pretend you were looking at the dog poo minus the smell.
    You asked.
    Le Clown

      1. JM,
        Younger as in two almost three decades ago, when we had big hair, and wore neon coloured shirts…
        Le Clown

  19. The orange is wonderful, and really on trend (if you care). A carefully chosen bold color works so much better than a default neutral. A good friend of mine is an interior designer and he got me to amp up every color choice we made for our walls. It was such good advice.

    1. My parents let me paint my bedroom mint green when I was ten. Not like a soft mint green, more like what Pepto Bismol would be it if were mint green. I still shudder when I think about it.

  20. “He was blown away when he got home– mostly grateful that he didn’t have to do any of the painting.”

    As long as I don’t have to paint, I’m ok with any color…almost.

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