Q&A: Color 2

Margaret from the blog Eclectic Design Source commented on my "Q and A: Color" post with her question:

"I'm curious what you think about deep, rich tones for retail? I love dark, dramatic walls -like black, eggplant, deep navy, espresso- but I'm not sure how it would translate into selling space.

To be honest, Margaret, it's not about what I think. ;0)
It's about the science of selling.

In his groundbreaking book 'Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping', self-titled 'Retail Anthropologist' Paco Underhill discusses his research and findings on what creates the greatest impetus for a shopper to to enter, browse, choose, and purchase from a store. Many factors are presented, and color is one of them. It is not a choice to be taken lightly or made simply by personal preference, as it is a tool used to project an image, a brand, a mood, and tell a story to the customer. As an interior designer, I'm sure you practice a similar philosophy when helping your residential clients choose colors for their rooms. However, while a personal preference tends to weigh heavily in a residential color decision, it is a very different situation with retail spaces.

Generally speaking, dark colors depress people and they suck up all of the light in a space. {Meaning it takes more light fixtures, bulbs, and electricity costs to recapture the light that you lose}. Using them in large quantity can defeat your purpose of selling. Light colors are not only uplifting to mood & spirit, affecting your customers in a positive way, but they also allow the colors and details of products to be shown more effectively. Obviously this is of importance when selling: Pink t shirts need to look pink, not some bizarre shade of peuse because they are surrounded by eggplant walls.

Dark, dramatic colors are excellent when used as 'punctuation marks' in retail settings - whether as part of the permanent decor or in product displays. A very neutral store setting benefits from judicious use of black accents, and a crisp clean modern all-white space would be energized by the use of navy blue. We've all seen the fresh contemporary pairing of espresso with pale robins-egg blue grow in popularity over the past few years - a perfect example of how dark and light compliment one another and create a mood. And eggplant is a wonderful accent to a palette of warm old world hues in a winery or gourmet food store. Much as in fashion, jolts of dramatic color like this add vitality and personality to a palette. The point is to use them thoughtfully and deliberately. 

We have all seen the 'chalkboard wall' done to great effect. Ditto the 'focal wall' of color in many design shows. If you are going to use a dark or very vibrant color on a large wall in your retail space, you have to do two things:

1. Make sure it is a high quality paint and an excellent paint job. 
Nothing ruins the effect like a shoddy thin streaky wall. Use a primer, then two coats of color - and apply the paint in both up/down and left/right roller applications to cover every area completely.

2. Use the same color in other locations in your space, on a smaller scale. 
If a dark color is on the rear wall of your shop {the best place for it}, then paint the base of your cash wrap {located elsewhere} the same color. And paint a chair or table that color, to use in your entry zone or window display. Make it a 'signature color' as part of your brand palette, and use it purposefully.

I've only seen two stores in my lifetime that have broken the rules of color use and succeeded: one is the chain store 'Illuminations'. This purveyor of high-end candles and all related accessories painted their stores deep charcoal, and lit them only with burning candles and narrow-beam spotlights  on displays. You literally gasped when you walked past, and were inexplicably drawn into the store to investigate this anomaly of mall shops.  Yes, MALL shops. They outperformed every other store when it came to visual presentation of their brand and concept. {Illuminations is no longer in business, but I don't think it's due to the colors on their walls.}

The other store that breaks just about every rule in visual merchandising SUCCESSFULLY is 'Victoria Company' in Orange, California. This tiny, narrow shop competes with many other antique, vintage, and home decor stores on the famous 'Circle'. You are met with a riot of color before ever entering the store, because the sidewalk outside is loaded with a plethora of bright, happy vintage-style furniture & accessories. Cars literally screech to a stop!

Once you walk in, you feel like a kid in a candy store with brightly-colored merchandise piled ceiling-high. The walls are bright sunny yellow, the trim is white, and everything else is kaleidescopic overload. Dona, the owner, is just as bright and colorful in spirit. She's had this darling shop for years and is a very knowledgeable retailer. No one else - possibly not even Disney - could pull this look off successfully. Even Mary Engelbreit didn't do it this well in her colorful stores.

SO, though rules of design and selling psychology apply to color, there is always room to break them. It's just harder to succeed when you go out on that limb. 

Image Credit: Color Guides - see them for help with color choices for your business environment.


  1. I am just soaking this all up like a sponge.... thank you for EVERY. SINGLE. TIP. !!!

    I really do love the idea of the charcoal gray!!!

    Thank You for sharing!!!
    :-) Robelyn

  2. Thanks for answering my and my mom's (Margaret) question! Lots of great information and it solidified the fact that we would probably use some deep colors as accents.

    Red Neck Chic, we LOVE the idea of charcoal walls, too! The space we were looking at has HUUUUGE floor to ceiling windows and we could definitely get away with a moody color, but I guess our main objective is to SELL the things we love and have an inspiring interior, not just have a cool looking space...

  3. Nice article. There is so much thought in putting a store together. Few people realize the work goes in it. Very informitive article. Thank you Deb.