In conversation with India Mahdavi
October 3, 2020
July 27, 2017
Roger Hargreaves’ storybook character, Mr Happy, could only ever have been yellow. A bright, glorious, uncomplicated yellow. This is the colour of children’s crayons, the sort they use to draw the sun replete with stick spokes of shine. It is such a jolly, joyful hue, and yet one that I feel I see little of in interiors. And I found myself wondering why?
If you live in London (or Manchester or Birmingham) then you’ll no doubt know that Selfridges use a sunshine bright yellow for their carriers, and very clever it is too as it’s instantly recognisable, and from a distance too; literally brilliant branding. And if you ever spot someone wearing yellow, I guarantee you’ll end up smiling hello, such is the innate warmth of the shade (coincidentally, pale pink clothing will do this too).
For me, it has always been my favourite colour in terms of pure pigment, and it’s dotted around my home in the form of several chartreusey yellow-toned cushions bought over the years. It also lives large in my son’s room as I deliberately wanted him to always wake in a happy vibe space (I used Dulux’s Spring Breeze 1 since you ask, a wonderful yellow with the merest hint of green in it). And it must be said, he is of a particularly sunny disposition; but whether this is simply his nature, nuture or encouraged by room colour, who knows?!
I also chose it for his room because colour theorists talk of yellow as being representative of optimism, creativity and enlightenment; plus it’s associated across the globe with the sun and its life-giving warmth. To give a gift of yellow roses is a token of friendship; and in many Eastern cultures yellow additionally signifies joy, wisdom and power. To note though, in China, adult movies are often referred to as ‘yellow’ films!
However, it is also almost universally used as the colour of caution, as the human eye processes this hue first, making it perfect for traffic road signs that urge us to slow down. Odd then that’s it’s also often the colour of choice for mid-life crisis souped-up sports cars? Then again, maybe not, as this sense of it as innate curtailer begins to hint at its dark side.
What do I mean? Well, the corollary to all that jolly positivity is that yellow is also said to be associated with cowardice, egoism, betrayal, decay and madness, the latter I imagine because it’s additionally considered the colour of malady — think jaundice, malaria and pestilence, all colouring the skin yellow to indicate the sickness within. Perhaps it’s no surprise either then that the common sources of many yellow pigments are acutely toxic metals: cadmium, lead, chrome — and even urine.
Nevertheless, sweeping that all cheerfully aside, I maintain that yellow’s good traits far outweigh its bad. However, because it’s a colour that attracts attention, both literally to the eye and specifically in application, it pays to use it judiciously. Thus the images within this post indicate my top three text book usages. 1. to highlight a single plane (be that a wall or more unexpectedly a ceiling). 2. Accenting a particular detail (kitchen island unit or dining chairs?) 3. Top notes in an otherwise neutral scheme (accessories). All three work wonders, adding a super sweep of brightness and life into any space. And of course, if Mr Happy yellow is still a touch too va va voom for you, then knock it down a tone or two and try more of a wash of sunshine with lemon yellow or go really deep with mustard yellow!
Perhaps you wouldn’t want a bright yellow sofa as the main anchor in your living room, but somehow this colour lends itself spectacularly well to being a side sofa, or statement seat in a snug, study or kitchen/diner (if there was room). It’s almost as if it invites you to sneak it in; your cheeky little loveseat, which is also why it should be absolutely no larger than a two-seater. Here are three of my favourites…
PS do you remember this fabulous duet from Morecambe and Wise… seems appropriate to add it here!
“Bring me sunshine in your smile, bring me laughter all the while.
In this world where we live, there should be more happiness.
So much joy you can give to each brand new bright tomorrow.
Make me happy through the years, never bring me any tears
Let your arms be as warm as the sun from up above;
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine and bring me love.”
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.