Why so very grey, New Zealand?

Why so grey, New Zealand? Each time we fly somewhere, Mark looks out the plane window and winces as he sees the sea of grey roofs. It is quite a while since we had to re-roof a house, but I assume roofing is available in other colours? It is not compulsory to roof in grey, is it?

As we drive around the countryside, he groans at the modern new builds which are pretty much grey. Grey walls and grey on the roof with grey paving. Fortunately, we lead such a non-suburban life that he rarely has to enter modern city suburbia or he may despair at the symphony in grey. I would not dare take him looking at carpet but again, the choice in carpet colours in this country these days is about 95% prison grey with a few options in mud.

The Australian version is at least  in shades of warm sandstone

It is a cultural thing, this world of colour. We swung by a new suburban area near Canberra on our last visit. There the houses were all the colour of warm sandstone which seemed preferable to the cold grey of home.

Welcome to Italian suburbia

A day in modern suburban Italy was a revelation. This is Fiumicino near Rome airport. It is still suburbia but it is like an explosion of colour. All those flat planes of rendered plaster are painted. In colours other than grey. These are not even utility paint jobs. There are often different colours used and different paint finishes to add textural variation. It was a revelation to see a society where colour is part of daily life.

A choice of grey or black cars in the UK

Colour, colour everywhere in suburban Fiumicino

Even the cars in Italy were generally coloured. When driving in England, we took to photographing our rental car when we parked, to make sure we could find it again. Because, as Mark said, in the UK you can have any colour of car you like, as long as it is grey or black. We were looking at Tesla electric cars while travelling (because we are planning an electric car purchase at some stage). All Teslas were in grey or black until Mark got positively excited to tell me he saw a white one. I want my next car to be powder yellow.

It is a different world of colour

What is it with colour, I wonder? And I do not know. We live in a place with remarkably high sunshine hours and intense clarity of light. Where we are in Taranaki, there is some debate on exactly how many sunshine hours we get. The rate shot up when the measuring was automated a few years ago and despite having the machine retested and recalibrated, there still seems some anxiety about it. But even if we take a mid figure, we come out around 2400 hours a year. Compare that to London at 1400 hours pa and extremely sunny southern Europe at around 2800 hours pa and there is no doubt that we are on the high side as far as daily sunshine goes. We also have a bright clarity of light that is different to most of the rest of the world (and one of the highest rates of skin cancer as a result). You don’t get SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) due to low light and lack of winter sunshine in our neck of the woods.

In New Zealand, this building would likely be in two shades of grey

So why, oh why, do we want to surround ourselves with grey? I can not think that grey ever lifts the spirits, raises a smile or puts a spring into a step. Given that the dominance of grey and colour neutrals is not determined by either raw materials or climate here, it must be driven by cultural factors. We were not always so grey and restrained in this country yet somehow that colour has become synonymous with “good taste” and “contemporary modernity” here. And maintaining resale values. I bet a disproportionately large number of those modern grey houses have neutral *magnolia* walls indoors (aka half way between white and cream) with grey carpets.

I know we were on holiday in Italy and that always makes things appear different, but it is the sheer vibrancy and colour that is a part of daily life throughout much of southern Europe that makes me want to return, time and time again.

6 thoughts on “Why so very grey, New Zealand?

  1. Florian Wolf

    Hi Abbie,

    It’s probably the weather – like in the UK – that turns everyone’s mood and colour selection to “grey”. And make no mistake: grey is the latest rave in Australia too, which is why we go for warm, Tuscan colours and screaming colours in the garden. Life can be drab enough, doesn’t have to be my house & garden as well, right ?

    I am tremendously enjoying your posts, keep it coming.

    Cheers, Florian

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Glad you are enjoying them Florian. I had ruled out weather, given our very blue skies in much (not all) of NZ and most of Australia. Now I think my jokes about Real Estate Grey (also Residential Investor Grey and Speculator Grey) may have more to do with the nature of real estate ownership in these two countries and the god of resale values. So maybe we should add to the colour chart, shades of Negative Gearing Grey and No Capital Gains Tax Grey. And the drabbest of them all, Tenants’ Grey. (Sorry, elections here yesterday!).

  2. Helen Irvine

    Have a look at Christchurch now that the rebuild is supposedly in full swing. An appalling travesty of black on black,glass, exterior walls everything. Occasionally a bit of grey for relief. Beautiful cedar cladding on a town house development. I thought,how beautiful. Copper nails all proud,looked good. Next week it had been painted black.
    The entire thing is a disaster along with minimalist no care gardens.
    What of the populations mental health? A big election platform. They will rush about shovelling the latest drug. I think it is all a gross mistake that will be realised in years to come. Hopefully.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I had seen a few photos earlier from Christchurch that made me shudder. I am just grateful that this world of suburbia and so-called “industrial chic” urbanism does not actually impinge on my day to day life. It is dreary indeed. So gloomy,

  3. Tim Dutton

    When we emigrated to New Zealand from the UK in 1980 our initial overwhelming impression on driving from Wellington Airport to our accomodation was colour: so much so that I commented on it in my diary that day, a far cry from the monotony of colour in the English houses we were used to, where every building in an area would be constructed from identical materials. You’d be lucky if some of them had painted their front doors a different colour from their next door neighbour. In contrast Wellington back then had roofs in a multidue of colours as were the weatherboard walls. New Zealanders weren’t afraid to express themselves in colour, on the outside of their houses at least. I doubt you could buy grey paint if you wanted to!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes. Times have definitely changed and I have come to the view that it is tied up with our less than healthy attitude to owning and trading in real-estate – and resale values. That is why the colours of Italy were so refreshing this visit.

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