When Reinventing Your Environment, Color Can Make All the Difference

By Naomi Kuhmann

When Duarte asked me to help pick colors for our new office in Sunnyvale, I was thrilled to lend my expertise. Before joining Duarte, I worked as an architectural color consultant for more than six years. In that time, I learned the many principles behind color theory and color for specific environments.

The vision for the new space was described to me as “mostly crisp white, pops of color, and a feeling of calm or serenity.” This may not seem like a lot of direction, but this was just the right amount of information for me.

The power of color can be witnessed in the way we respond to it. Often, we approach choosing color for our environment in the same way we approach choosing a significant other. We are naturally drawn to specific “characteristics” of colors; we form strong bonds; we have definitive dislikes; we even fall in love.

“Color is a powerful physical, biological, and psychological force.”
– John Paul Caponigro

That quote really resonates with me – I met my soul mate on the day I met the color red. Not just any red… cherry red. The cherry red of my first tricycle, my radio flyer wagon, the overalls that I wore for the entire year I was eight years old, and the ’66 Ford Mustang I drove in high school. Cherry red holds powerful memories for me, I respond to it psychologically, and it’s safe to say it makes me happy. Does this mean I should paint all of the rooms in my house a striking red?! My sources say, “No.”

That being said, how do we approach choosing color for our environment? How do we approach choosing color for the environment of more than 120 people? We use science.

The new Duarte office is a large open space with offices and conference rooms along the outside core walls. The conference rooms and offices were designed to be virtually transparent with big sheets of glass where walls would normally be. I immediately wondered how employees would react to a mostly white space.

When a person sits in a white space for too long, their eyes become tired and they look around for visual stimulation. Knowing this, I allowed the inside core of the large open space to remain mostly white, but made sure to use pops of color inside the conference rooms and offices so people could look up from their desks and adjust their eyes. 

Nancy Duarte loves the color blue. I knew blue had to be included in the new space. This was the jumping off point for the palette. I looked for a blue that emanated serenity. What I found was Wedgewood Gray, a blue gray from the Benjamin Moore historic collection.

To maintain harmony within the palette, I looked for analogous/adjacent and complimentary colors that fell within the same chroma as Wedgewood Gray. This brings pops of beautiful colors such as orange, red, gold, gray, charcoal, and green that move you from one space to the next. While each color delivers a unique amount of interest, they all carry a certain familiarity by maintaining a similar chroma.

Placement was one of the most challenging and important aspects of this project. I evaluated color placement by considering the layout of the space, the location and type of light source (natural vs. fluorescent), as well as the proven biological response created by each color.

For example, I chose green for the kitchen because green is proven to increase hunger and encourage eating. It’s a wonderful kitchen color! Our Auditorium is a combination of charcoal on both the front wall and the ceiling, and soft gold on the side walls. Yellow is known to stimulate learning, and the charcoal on the ceiling helps to reduce the glare on the projection screen. Thinking about placement may be one of the last steps in color application, but it should be given the most thought.

The office is gorgeous! We’re still settling into the new space, and currently sharing it with a few construction workers – so it’s not quite ready for its close-up. There are a few photos of the building on our Facebook page, and there will be more to come on the blog, along with more insights into the planning and execution of the renovation.  Stay tuned to learn more about the process of building and designing our new space!

Topics Covered


Written by

Naomi Kuhmann

Knowing how to solve communication challenges is a challenge itself

This quick assessment will start you on the right path


Step 1/4

I'm looking for training for

(Select one)


Step 2/4

What skills are you looking to improve?

(Select all that apply)


Step 3/4

My specific presentation goals include:

(Select all that apply)


Step 4/4

How would you like to learn?

(Select all that apply)