Shades of Blue
PALETTES – JUNE 2007
By M. L. Norton
Photography Darren Setlow
For interior designer M.L. Norton, there is nothing sad about blue. Instead, the color makes Norton think of sapphires, cornflowers, lapis lazuli, the sky, and the sea. “I even love the subtle rebellion of blue jeans, or a denim jacket,” she laughs.
Norton, the owner of Windemere Studios, has used blue so extensively in her interior design work that a woman once quipped, “I thought you only designed in blue!” While Norton actually works with the entire spectrum of colors, she says she returns regularly to blue because it blends so effortlessly with almost every other color. Norton even has an affinity for the lyrical names used to describe the family of blues, from warm cerulean and milky cobalt, to strong Prussian and dark indigo.
No matter the shade, blue is a calming color. “Whether you’re in a room to read a book, sleep, or just live,” Norton says, “and no matter what time of year it is, it’s wonderful to be surrounded in the serenity of blues.” And when it comes to designing within a single color-family, Norton believes blue is best. She says it is the only color that allows its many different shades to inhabit a room without fighting or overpowering one another. “Blue is the color happiest to mix with its mates,” Norton says. A single home that Norton designed using nearly forty different shades of blue, and twenty variations of white, is the epitome of her enduring passion for mixing this versatile color. Though each room in the home features wonderful warm blues stacked upon classy cool blues, the sitting room is like a happy homage to Picasso’s “Blue Period.” Atop hardwood floors painted just a shade darker than robin’s egg, Norton set an oriental rug with a rich, dark blue and white pattern. She filled the room with a loveseat covered in a large-patterned blue-plaid fabric, two chairs upholstered with a small-check, light-blue-and-white woven cotton, and two glass-front, floor-to-ceiling cabinets painted the palest of blues. The entire arrangement sits before a fireplace faced with hand-painted blue tiles. And while the room is saturated in so many shades of a single color, it never feels overwhelming. In addition to varying the pattern sizes on the materials you choose, Norton says, the secret to working with blue is balancing its ratio to the whites in the room. Just as the blues in nature are constantly changing from warm to cold depending on the light and other colors around them, Norton says, a blue palette inside a home does the same thing. “As you begin using cooler blues in a room,” Norton recommends, “it’s important for the whites to get warmer.” In fact, a room of frosty blues can be balanced out with a few very warm and well-chosen embellishments such as a gilded-frame mirror or a piece of richly stained wood furniture. Norton says she will continue returning to the blue palette because of the peaceful atmosphere it creates. Her favorite quote from Michel Pastoureau’s book Blue: The History of a Color, says it all for her: “Blue has become a magical word that seduces, sacrifices, and invites reverie.”