Tag Archives: real estate grey

Give me colour, please.

Burano, near Venice. Photo credit: Nigel Somerfield

May I share a postscript to my earlier posts about colour in Italy and the greying of New Zealand? These are not my photos but shared by a family member on Facebook. Look. At. All. That. Colour.

As this country battens down the hatches, preparing for the extreme weather event that Cyclone Gita may deliver today, it is very grey out my window. Well, grey and green really as I look at a green backdrop of trees and shrubs and a grey sky. Were I living in the city – pretty much any New Zealand city these days – the landcape would be an unrelieved view of grey sky, stormy dark seas, and real estate grey, interspersed with charcoal and taupe.

Porto Venere. Photo credit: Kate Somerfield

What is worse, to my mind, is that while New Zealand’s obsession with grey has been driven by the real estate sector and the holy grail of resale value, I have heard whispers that council planning officers are now entrenching it into practice by requiring certain new building projects be what is now described as ‘colour neutral’ – translated as shades of grey. I fear for the future. Real estate agents will nail their colours to the mast of whatever sells but council officers are more inclined to dig their toes in and entrench the new absence of colour as ‘best practice’. We may face a dreary future. The cheerful red roofs of New Zealand’s past may be an historical memory at best.

Riomaggiore town square. Photo credit: Nigel Somerfield

But look, just look at the joy of a mishmash of colours in Italy. Doesn’t it make you want to smile? Have you ever gone into a modern New Zealand suburb or even looked out an aeroplane window at suburbia as you flew in to land and smiled at the colour lifting your spirits? No, I didn’t think so.

More than fifty shades of grey

I find it difficult to believe that flat planes of grey ever lift anybody’s spirits

I have been looking at carpets and truly, there is an endless choice as long as you want grey. Real estate grey, somebody commented when I posted my piece about colour in southern Italy. We had this idealistic thought that we would only buy wool which gave a choice of one blue and one green, given we have ruled out grey and shades of porridge and mud. For variation, I added another three samples of blue, green and muted aubergine in one of the new fibres which is, apparently, corn sugar mixed with synthetic but not actually nylon.

I have a theory now on New Zealand’s obsession with real estate grey both indoors and out. Colour fashions change over time. We know this. Some of us are old enough to remember the turquoise, ginger, oranges and purples of the late seventies. It was not the country’s subtlest moment in home décor. The eighties brought the muted shades of Paris pink, sage green, burgundy and dove grey.

So how did we get to plain grey?

We have always been an itinerant nation, moving house often. I found a story from 2008 which started, ‘More than a quarter of New Zealanders have moved at least once in the past two years, a survey reveals.’  It is likely to have accelerated since then, given the decline in our previously high home ownership rates. But at some point in the last decade or maybe longer, houses stopped being first and foremost homes and instead became investments. When a house becomes an investment, resale value assumes huge importance. And the real estate industry assures us that for a quick sale at maximum price, houses must be neutral and anonymous. Grey and white or maybe off-white with accent colour in sofa cushions.

Mark and I had a passing conversation about a real estate garden to accompany a real estate grey house. We didn’t get off colour theming and the thing about grey plants is that they are more often silver, with a lustrous sheen and qualities of light and shade that are missing from flat planes of utility grey. We figured that a real estate garden is simply the ultimate in tidy utilitarianism. In this day and age, it will probably be filled with dwarf nandinas.

For those of you who are curious, we are not happy with the quality of the 100% wool carpets on offer so will probably go with the muted aubergine option from corn sugar (or is it corn husk?). Mark feels that green carpet is better downstairs where it anchors the house to the green outdoors whereas he feels blue upstairs links to the sky. I was not so keen on the blue carpet and my heart lies with flat planes of muted colour. I have never forgotten our first trip to Northern Italy. It was a magnolia trip so early spring and the quality of light in the north was soft and almost ethereal. None of the harsh brightness further south. We visited an old church and inside was colour – faded colour but in hues of soft yellows, blues, pinks, greens and pale terracotta. I fell in love with that colour and in our home which is ‘1950 character’, as we say, that effect of faded or muted colour in sweeping expanses seems to fit us well.  So the upstairs of our house is on track to be in Northern Italian faded church colours of muted pinks, pastel blue greens, aubergine and soft yellow – all colour and texture with next to no pattern. But then we are not intending to sell our house so we do not feel that it will cost us money if we go for what we like and not resale grey and white. Our colour can just gently fade with us as we age.

When all is said and done, if you strip the colour from a monarch butterfly, all you are left with is an over-sized cabbage white with pretensions.