How the color red remains timeless in architecture and design
After choosing a shade of red as the Color of the Year, AIA partner Benjamin Moore expands on the color’s historical relevance and present-day value
Following a year-long research journey, Benjamin Moore revealed Caliente AF-290 as its Color of the Year 2018. Caliente AF-290 is a vibrant, charismatic shade of red that is strong, radiant, and full of energy. The red color family has been important throughout history and remains relevant in today’s homes. We can better understand the symbolism and vitality of the color red by looking at its past and how it became a staple in the artist, designer, and architect palette.
Throughout history, red has served as a visual storyteller. One of the first uses of the color was in the cave paintings discovered at the Lascaux Caves in France. During the time of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, a love for color began to develop. As a result, red became an important business; many tradesmen specialized in red pigments for use in dyes, makeup, and other materials. Various associations with red began to surface, ranging from a representation of danger to being a symbol of power and prosperity. Similar to the Egyptians, the Romans were enamored with the color red. Looking at some of the earliest examples of architecture, Romans were among the first to adorn their villas and tombs with red to symbolize wealth and power.
The color red grew prevalent in global cultures and art styles, symbolizing a variety of notions: luck and happiness in China, good fortune in Iran, or mourning in South Africa, among others. The strength of its symbolism around the globe is evident, as red is the most common color across the 196 world flags. Many influential artists incorporated red into their work, each with different intentions, including Jan van Eyck’s use of red to illustrate social status or Piet Mondrian’s focus on primary colors and using red to add energy. As time passed and architecture and interiors evolved, red permeated into design and quickly became a mainstay.
Regardless of architecture or design style, red was a critical element for some of the most renowned architects and designers. An early example is Diana Vreeland’s iconic red living room—designed by Billy Baldwin—that inspired many to experiment with the color. Additionally, Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature color is a red used prominently in many of his projects, and the use of red by Eero Saarinen, FAIA, throughout the TWA terminal at JFK Airport in New York became a hallmark of American modernism. Red also plays an integral role in midcentury modern design and is often associated with several iconic styles and upholstery colors.
Today, we still see the bold impact red has on interiors, whether it is used as an accent or throughout an entire room. The beauty of red is that it can be paired with many different hues and complements many styles. Using red on all four walls of a dining room, bedroom, or study can create an enveloping atmosphere and make a notable impression. Adding natural elements such as wood or stone and colors such as white, gray and navy can help to achieve a balanced, classic look. It can also be used with bright whites to create a focal point in a modern space, or be paired with darker hues such as grays, blues, and browns to add drama. Alternatively, red can also be impactful as an accent or an unexpected pop of color. For example, using red on a front door creates a warm and welcoming feel while subtly adding a bit of character to a home.