Blame the old country estates that abound in England, it was years spent exploring the properties that led to Edward Bulmer’s fascination with colour. (They also happen to be the subject of his forthcoming book with Rizzoli.) One of Britain’s leading designers for large-scale restoration projects, Bulmer is also an architectural historian and the founder of an eponymous range of natural colors derived from plant-based ingredients – a line often quoted in resource guides for AD100 talents including Martin Brudnizki.
This eclectic palette of earth and mineral pigments is the focus of Working with Colour: A Guide to Pigments, Paints, and Palettes, Bulmer’s newly launched online course for creative learning platform Create Academy.
In the 23-part video series (spanning more than four lessons), Bulmer examines the theory of color and its influence on decoration through the ages, and how best to incorporate it into design plans. Supporting these helpful insights are glimpses of the cheerful rooms in Bulmer’s own newly designed Queen Anne mansion in Herefordshire, England, including a bright green bathroom and a master bedroom swathed in 18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper.
“A lot of designers have an innate sense of color but can’t explain why it’s right,” Bulmer tells AD PRO, adding that “working with color” will give viewers confidence in their choices. “There’s one design element that’s based on fundamental guiding principles, and for me, it’s a reliance on effective pigments.” From sticking to those time-honoured tones to embracing contrasting hues, here are eight takeaways from Bulmer’s insightful tutorial.
Think of color as language
“I see that color has its own grammar, and I would define that grammar as dependent on a set of pigments that we’ve been using for a very long time,” Bulmer explains in the course. So long that the expert ranks paint (along with fur coats) among the world’s very first consumer goods, dating back to the Paleolithic period when crushed and diluted red and yellow ocher plucked from the earth were used in abundance. “Once you have the grammar, you can build your own vocabulary,” he claims. These earthy pigments continue to inform all of Bulmer’s work, as he argues, “Just as a chef would use spices, they’re as fundamental to me as salt and pepper.”
Stay within the reach of nature
With a basic palette of three primary colors, the paint industry has been able to assemble an extraordinary – and sometimes overwhelming – palette of paint colors. In fact, says Bulmer, she focuses on a pared-down palette of earthy tones. “I have pretty much what artists have used today for literally a few millennia,” he says, referring to his painting studio’s 12-color offering. Recalling his time as an assistant in the restoration of photographs and the similar colors he used at the time, he adds that if there was “sufficient pigment to restore 500 years of art,” it certainly was enough to match the colors to manufacture “those needed to fasten this art above.”
Rely on a color wheel
Before deciding on a color, Bulmer always checks that both the warmth that the color radiates and its weight are in sync with the other components of the design scheme. The most efficient measuring device is the color wheel – “a really good friend”, as Bulmer describes it. All designers should have one in their bag, he continues, “because if you want to successfully combine colors — and some of those colors can be quite contrasting — the way to do that and ensure balance is to use a diagonally opposite color.” choose the color on the color wheel.”
A well-designed interior can feature myriad patterns on furniture and soft surfaces, but chances are, says Bulmer, that there’s an underlying tonality that ties these motifs together. Throughout the course, Bulmer dwells on the importance of the subject: “I’m describing a property of color that moves it from one part of the spectrum to another,” he explains. “The useful tonality is the one that embodies something that makes it part of the overall language of the room, the language that brings all the other surfaces in the room to bear.” For example, a bright red alone might be without tonality, but if you’re using it with modulating some earth pigments, “you get a tonality that’s a lot softer, a lot friendlier, and a lot more accommodating,” says Bulmer. “Tonality is key – it’s mandatory, if you will – but color remains a matter of choice.”
Forge a dialogue
Color is just one aspect of a space and needs to work well with everything else that surrounds it. “Knowing that you have a common grammar for the materials you use — the hard surfaces, the paint finishes, the soft surfaces — will actually underscore your ability to create harmony,” Bulmer points out. This is beneficial, “not just because you get a scheme that’s pleasing to the eye, but actually because you get a scheme that’s easy to live with,” he adds. “While some of us chase drama, most of us really only decorate to create a home that is conducive [to our lifestyles].”
Work with what you have
An overhaul of an existing space usually leaves some distinctive features intact, be it a wooden beam, a stone floor or a marble cornice. Take these features as a color cue, “even if you don’t particularly admire them,” says Bulmer, addressing select clients who didn’t like the black marble fireplaces they inherited. Rather than just putting energy into other parts of the design, “it’s best to work with what you can’t change and integrate it so well that it stops being a defining feature of the space and something that one gladly accepts.” Bulmer elaborates.