A Consultant's Colorful Journey

Nan Kornfeld, Architectural Color Specialist,
in action

by Diane Capuano Franklin

Selecting colors that work well in a home is not only a creative endeavor—it’s a scientific one as well. Those who do it best have an aesthetic sensibility as well as an understanding of color composition, lighting, architecture and the way that different human beings respond to different colored stimuli.

Architectural color specialist Nan Kornfeld has all of these talents and skills. The proprietor of her own San Francisco-based color consulting business, Kornfeld received specialized training in the functional application of color from the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers—North America. She is now an Associate Member of this prestigious organization that counts architects, interior designers, environmental designers, color psychologists and color specialists among its membership ranks.

“Analyzing and selecting color is an exciting process that combines both art and science,” reports Kornfeld. “The colors you have on your walls not only have an aesthetic impact, but also a psychological and physiological one.”

Because the colors in a home cover such a large expanse of space, the impact can be quite significant. “It’s truly a three-dimensional experience because you are surrounded by these colors,” Kornfeld explains. “The response you feel from perceiving the colors in a room are magnified and sustained, much more so than when you experience a piece of fine art on a single wall.”

Kornfeld has been a professional color consultant for close to five years, working directly with clients as well as in collaboration with interior designers and architects. She also is a consultant at G&R Paint store, a San Francisco store that prides itself on its color expertise and its selection of full-spectrum colors.

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Through her involvement at G&R Paints, Kornfeld has developed a great understanding of how paint works—having learned to appreciate the nuances of bases and sheens. She acknowledges that consumers can get overwhelmed by the number of color choices presented in a paint manufacturer’s chip rack. Her personal opinion: More is not necessary better.

“It actually helps to have a consolidated palette without an excess of choices,” Kornfeld says.  “I work extensively with the color palette of C2 Paint (which features a palette of about 500 colors). I’ve never felt there were not enough colors. Sometimes I work with other paint lines if there’s something particular I’m working with or upon request, or occasionally I will make a custom color; but for me, having enough choice is not an issue.”

A Long-Held Appreciation

Though Kornfeld’s career as a color consultant has blossomed in just the last few years, her love and appreciation of color dates back more than 20 years. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking and woodworking from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. From there, she launched a diverse career as a professional fine artist, furniture maker, art conservateur, surface designer of textiles and paint treatments, linguist and art teacher.

“I’ve always been interested in color, no matter in what media I worked,” she reports. “My work in printmaking involved mixing inks. When I created large narrative quilts using linocut and woodblock, choosing color was an integral part of that.”

In her current career as a color consultant, Kornfeld gives each and every client a personalized experience. “I approach everything I do as a unique piece of art,” she says. “It’s not my intention to create something that’s been done before or to repeat myself. My goal with my clients is to create something unique and specific.”

Kornfeld goes on a journey with her clients, encouraging them to free themselves from past expectations and open themselves to new color experiences. “I set a design goal with every client, whether residential or commercial,” she says. “I want them to understand that it’s very important that they not limit themselves, to explore colors that might be unfamiliar, for example, but then turn out to deeply resonate for them.”

The result of this journey ensures that each client will have a color experience that is reflective of his or her own personality. “I gauge what will work best for them by asking questions, looking at their belongings, assessing their energy,” Kornfeld explains. “I try to determine, for example: Are they introverted or extroverted? If they are more introverted, the contrast might be more limited. If they like blue, then we need to determine the kind of blue that will work best for them and the environment—a more saturated, active blue or a blue that is more quiet and subdued. I help them discover things that they wouldn’t have discovered on their own.”

Contrasting Experiences

The end result that Kornfeld achieves can perhaps best be explained contrasting the experiences she had when working with two different clients. One was an older woman—late 60s or early 70s—who lived in a high-rise condominium in San Francisco. She came into G&R Paint with various samples from her home—i.e., a piece of flooring, a piece of granite countertop and a piece of backsplash material.

All of the woman’s colors were essentially in the same family—taupe, gold and mushroom. “All of the color relationships were very tight,” Kornfeld says. “She had these beautiful and delicate materials, but they were being obscured by a mushroom green she had chosen for the wall because it 'matched.' I shifted to a color with a bit more red, and all of a sudden, her materials 'popped.' Everything came into focus, and we were able to achieve balance. It was a subtle, soft experience—not too bold—but we did just enough to make it more dynamic.”

In a different situation, Kornfeld worked with a widow whose husband had died about six years ago. The woman had a daughter, and she was finally ready to make a symbolic change in her life by updating the colors in her Victorian home.

With Kornfeld’s guidance and direction, the woman made a dramatic change from a tan, understated color scheme to vibrant tones in every room. “It made such a dramatic difference,” Kornfeld explains. “Walking through her home is like walking through a jewel box. The colors are brilliant and energizing, yet organized in a way that keeps the house amazingly peaceful.”

In each of these cases, Kornfeld provided a sense of balance that made the interior space work beautifully. “I always stress the importance of achieving balance between light and dark, warm and cool,” she explains. “It doesn’t mean the room has to be orange and blue. It can be a balance of the undertones—the secondary and tertiary colors—green undertones that are balanced by red undertones. Without sufficient balance, I find the look is stilted and static. There’s a sense of ‘matchy-match,’ which can be very off-putting. The whole environment, whether an entire building or a single room, only comes together when you achieve balance.”

For those who are in search of a color consultant, Kornfeld recommends that they go on the IACC-NA website to find an alphabetical list. Kornfeld has gotten calls from as far away as Billings, Mont., and British Columbia, Canada, from those who are seeking her expertise.

It’s an expertise that she loves to share because of how important color is to the human experience. As she explains, “Color has a greater impact on people’s lives than they might imagine.”

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