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Magazine    June 2002

Paint Class

If you want to know why custom paint finishes are an expensive proposition, colorists Donald Kaufman and Taffy Dahl shed light on the matter in a panel discussion on color palettes for fine art with New York interior designers Hermes Mallea and Carey Maloney of M (Group) in New York on Monday, June 3. Consider these general guidelines from Maloney:

• A cleaner, or lighter, trim color will emphasize a certain architectural element

• With art, one generally avoids a wall color that is also a major color in the painting because the wall color and the painting will work against each other and the picture will recede into the wall. “We wouldn't hang a van Gogh sunflower against a sunflower yellow wall. We'd be looking for the complement to that yellow or a cooler color to direct the eye to the painting.”

• Finish paint color should be applied over white primer (not tinted primer, which painters often want to use as it is easier to cover with the color and therefore may allow for one less coat of paint). “On our jobs a minimum of three coats of finish color seems to be what's needed to achieve good coverage.”

M (Group) has been working with the Kaufmans for about 20 years. “When we go to them our architectural designs are complete—usually I have chosen the fabrics, rugs, etc.—and I have a good idea of the finished product,” explains Maloney. “The Kaufmans take these ideas and solidify them—showing why we should go with a darker, warmer floor color to complement the wall glaze, for example.

The Kaufmans are experts in glazes. "We had Dieppe ivory mirrors in a dining room so we had the walls lacquered with varnishes that had pigments in them," recounts Maloney. "That gave the walls more depth and a high sheen and was a smooth contrast to the rough, carved surface of the mirrors."

“They advise us on more than the paint," notes Mallea. "They help us with our projects’ palettes—paints for walls, trims and ceilings, glazes, floor stains and wood paneling stains. All of these elements reflect off of each other and impact each other.” As a backdrop for a client's Modigliani (above right), the Kaufmans painted the paneling in varieties of the same color for a classic look that was, as Maloney describes it, "simple enough not to fight with a collection of Impressionists." In a dining room with a highly charged contemporary painting (below), again the choice was one color with no pigment highlights or paint techniques that would conflict with the movement and verticality in the artwork.

“We are always concerned with a flow and a sense of continuity throughout a residence. We don't do a green library, a red dining room and a yellow living room, all spinning off a blue front hall. Spaces are painted—often only barely perceptibly—to reflect the progression from exterior to interior rooms.”

“Stairwells and hallways are important since they are often constants from floor to floor, room to room, so we use the same color,” notes Maloney. Bearing in mind that much of the M (Group)’s work is in multi-level townhouses and apartments in Manhattan, the Kaufmans often will ‘correct’ a color as it goes higher in the house, due to changes in the level of natural light. “If you were to see samples side by side, some would be darker or lighter, depending on which floor you’re on and how much light comes in,” Maloney says.

The Kaufmans are acknowledged experts in the field of color and paint, and work on many of the finest houses on the East Coast. “In the end,” Maloney says, “the Kaufmans help us and our clients achieve our goals and eliminate the constant tinkering and altering we once did with the painters onsite—‘What if you add a little more blue,’ ‘Can you lighten that just a bit?’ The Kaufmans make the job easier and the final product is exactly what we expect—or often better than we'd hoped for.”

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Collaborative Color
Paint Palettes for Fine Art and Interior Design

June 3 at Christie's New York

M Group
152 West 88th Street
New York, NY 10024

Donald Kaufman and Taffy Dahl
184 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10013
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