When you think of white, what comes to mind? Do you get a feeling of calm or, perhaps, sorrow? Do you see snowflakes, powdered sugar, lilies of the valley, or polar bears? For some people, white is the absence of color, empty space. For others, it represents cleanliness. To interior designer Del Reanne Johnson Lucas, white offers tremendous opportunities. She also recognizes its potential pitfalls. Dubbed "the Queen of Color," Lucas has worked for more than 25 years with commercial and residential clients. "I understand color and I'm not afraid to use it," she says.
Lucas's passion for hues manifested before elementary school. While other little girls pleaded with their parents for bedrooms resembling the inside of a Pepto Bismol bottle, Lucas had a different idea. "When I was four years-old, I just had to have a red room," she says.
Her second passion-for the environment and how it affects people-blossomed early as well. As a child, she enjoyed sitting on her architect uncle's lap to look at blueprints. In high school, she worked on design-from concepting meaningful prom themes to creating unique stage sets. Her varied college education included course work in engineering as well as architecture. While these interested her, she always returned to her first loves. Finally, she realized she could integrate them all through working in interior design. Since then, Lucas has made it her business to understand how color and texture-among a myriad of other factors-influence our feelings and what we do in buildings.
"We react to color on many levels," says Lucas. On a macro level, colors evoke cultural connotations. For those of us in the West, white tends to signify purity, innocence and good. Think of wedding dresses and white knights. In many Eastern traditions, white is the color of death and mourning. If you ever see a funeral procession in China, chances are the people participating in it will be wearing this color.
In addition to these cultural associations, color affects us physiologically. "Color is seen by the eye but travels to other parts of the body as a stimulus," says Lucas. We react to it physically. Essentially, color is made of a single or a combination of light waves. Its effects on the brain can be studied and quantified. Indeed, this is one of the areas of investigation in the new science of psychoneuroimmunology.
People respond differently to colors on an emotional level, too. This goes beyond a simple, "Oh, gosh-I-like-that-color" kind of reaction. It stems from unconscious depths. Some healthcare workers explore these feelings with their clients. Max Luscher, who is known as the "Father of Color Psychology," developed a color diagnostic test which has been in clinical use since 1947. Several shorter versions of this test are available online on the Internet. On a more informal level, in day-to-day life, general emotional associations for white include: reverence, simplicity, peace, precision, and cleanliness. On the other hand, it can cause feelings of alienation, sterility, isolation and coldness.
"A lot of people are uncomfortable with white," says Lucas. When working with this color in interior design, it's important to have a goal. "You have to know your end result. You can use white to create feelings of peace and comfort while dispelling shock and despair. It can be used to create a feeling of freedom and uncluttered openness," she says. But if you use too much white, or use it incorrectly, it can make a living space unbearable-or cause customers to turn away rather than buy your products. The term, "blinding white," is accurate; at its most intense, white is too bright. It can be painful to look at and can cause headaches.
There are other challenges with white as well. Though we may agree on a general concept of this color, our internal image of what white is differs from person to person. Anyone who has gone to a paint store knows it comes in many varieties: antique, alabaster, marshmallow, ibis, shaved ice. There are warm whites and cool ones, brighter and darker.
Here's where some of the opportunity lies. White can go with anything-and it looks different when next to other colors. It can soothe or make a loud statement. "White is a color of extremely high contrast. Almost any way you use it, it has drama itself," says Lucas. In order to use it effectively, one has to strike a balance.
With all these reactions and possibilities, it's no wonder that many people shy away from white. But Lucas certainly isn't intimidated. In Albuquerque, you can see many examples of her work-and her ability to use this color successfully. An excellent example is at Yanni's Mediterranean Bar and Grill (3109 Central Ave. NE). From the moment you spot this restaurant's exterior, you'll be reminded of pictures of Greek villages-their brilliant whitewashed houses defined against crisp blue skies, sloping toward the edges of the Mediterranean Sea.
Step inside Yanni's and you'll be transported to Mykonos. In part, this feeling is created by the bright white walls. As a matter of fact, that might be the only color you really notice. But if you look up, you'll see the restaurant has a navy blue ceiling. Its floors are rich wood. Lucas used coral for spot color. All of these, along with a carefully selected range of textures and materials, unite to create the client's desired effect-one of airiness, light and warm island nights.
You can begin to understand how white is used in commercial interior design by becoming aware of it. The next time you go shopping-whether at a boutique or your local grocery-look closely at the room. Is there any white? How much? Where is it present or absent? Retailers use color deliberately. In restaurants, it can make us want to linger or grab our meals and leave. In stores, it can help determine how customers proceed through the space. Our eyes are drawn to light-and white is the ultimate light. "It can highlight a special or a sale," says Lucas. "New arrivals might be displayed against a white backdrop or a bright white light might be trained on them. A boundary of white might be used to draw the eye as well," she says.
When you go to your doctor or other traditional medical provider, notice the use of white there. You might discover this color works to an unintentional negative effect. While the offices, hospitals or nursing homes may appear clean or sterile-they can readily tumble into chilliness and make people feel small and unconnected. "I've been in many healthcare environments where they don't understand the effects of color," says Lucas.
In her encyclopedic discussion of hues, the interior designer also refers to chromotherapy, a discipline in holistic medicine that applies color and light to help bring people to a state of homeostasis, of equilibrium. Lucas believes that if you know some of these principles-and your clients-you can positively influence their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being.
That brings us back to white. Lucas urges people to eschew their preconceived notions, to let go of the myths and wives tales they may have heard over the years about this omnipresent color. Learn about it instead. "White, in and of itself, doesn't have to be scary," she says. "It can do more than other colors can do because it's so versatile. It's just phenomenal, if you understand it."
For more information on DRJ Design and Del Reanne Lucas go to drjdesigns.com or (505) 400.0106.