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The BEIGE DEBATE
FOR SCALE converses with our "CONTRA BEIGE" CORRESPONDENT. Who comes out on top?
Today we have a very special GUEST CO-AUTHOR, the exceptionally insightful and no-holds-barred SOPHIE LOVELL, who many people know as the author of The Greatest Design Monograph Out There: “DIETER RAMS: AS LITTLE DESIGN AS POSSIBLE” (from 2011. ISBN 978-0714849188), and today from studio_lovell and THE COMMON TABLE. She is now FOR SCALE’s “CONTRA-BEIGE” CORRESPONDENT.
Today, SOPHIE and FOR SCALE bring to you a RED HOT DEBATE ABOUT BEIGE. For a color often used as a shorthand for something or someone dull as f*ck, is there scope for BEIGE to return to the domestic landscape with new, dynamic force?
SOPHIE says No. FOR SCALE says “Yes?” You decide.
THE CASE FOR BEIGE by
FOR SCALE: SOME CONTEXT
Our favorite BRAIN DADDY, Carl Jung, once said: “COLORS ARE THE MOTHER TONGUE OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS”, and hence was one of many men to attempt to colonize color through theory and/or a proprietary palette (Le Corbusier; Yves Klein; Anish Kapoor; Goethe). Carl had ideas about the basics: red, yellow, green, blue, whatever. Beige? Not mentioned. Others like Klein and Kapoor were about richest, darkest - but what about blandest?
So, let us enter this tradition and present to you: THE (CURRENT) MEANING OF BEIGE. For, in the Décorsphere, these things tend to be moving targets. "Like the course of true love, the course of color in decorating is notoriously erratic,” says a book we like, DECORATION U.S.A. (1965), which also pegs the rise of non-Beige to 1946 and an exhaustion with both war, and the décor drabness war creates.
And YES, the BEIGE-IFICATION of the home relates to nasty things, like “HOME AS COMMODITY FOR RESALE” (a.k.a. “OFFENSE”LESS), or “HOME AS PROJECTION OF HOW POLITE AND ‘SOCIETY’ WE ARE” (which is very suburban and still very Kardashian).
First, some eye candy:
But, we’re not convinced of our own BEIGE ASSESSMENT, so “CONTRA BEIGE” CORRESPONDENT SOPHIE LOVELL CONTRADICTS US AT EVERY TURN:
1. ALLEVIATING NEUROFATIGUE VS. SYMBOL OF END-STAGE CAPITALISM
PRO BEIGE (FOR SCALE): NEUROFATIGUE, with BEIGE DÉCOR AS A SAFE SPACE
We are being totally numbed to the world not by its monotony, but by its hyperactivity – a stimulus overload care of Influenc*rs and their millisecond content. And, it’s f*cking exhausting. So, we propose that there is some joy in relinquishing to the featureless.
That beige lies outside of conventional psychological color theory here is, for us, an important BONUS. It is Reset Neutral, in a way that the absence of color, BLACK, or the fullness of the spectrum, WHITE, cannot reproduce. Those two have something to say; we’re not trying to say anything.
To exist in a Beige space, ironically, requires focus – one cannot simply default into “eyes darting around”. The dopamine hunt is futile.
CONTRA BEIGE (SOPHIE LOVELL): THERE ARE NO SAFE SPACES
Beigewashing yourself into a faux comfort zone, hiding your head in the #C2B280 sand, and sitting on the #966F33 natural wood fence is not going to protect anyone.
#F5F5DC beige is the color of old-world colonialism and faux neutrality. It’s the color of the rhetorical question “Well, isn’t this lovely?!” that forbids any answer but “Yes”. It’s the color of books turned around in the bookcase, so they all match but their content is hidden; suppressed, made decoration.
Beige is the ULTIMATE symbol of end-stage capitalism.
2. REAPPROPRIATING SUBURBIA VS. BEIGE IS A VOID
PRO BEIGE (FOR SCALE): REAPPROPRIATION OF SUBURBIA’S SIGNATURE COLOR
Beige also toys around with class, which is a thing we love. Beige was THE signature color of 2000s “Rich” suburbia, when décor leaned into the cultural power of BEIGE to get away with having NO interesting furniture and making no Personalized statements. No stuff individually had to matter, because instead, it was just the tsunami of beige that told you: “Okay, they have their sh*t together!” (But likely they didn’t.)
The BEIGE interior of today also capitalizes on the statementlessness of the color, where instead we could actually use the opportunity to celebrate nice stuff (in form and material), in a kind of reversal of Suburban uses of the color. Things this avoids:
The all-white aesthetic of “Psychopath Billionaire” class
Ergo Beige is kind of adding substance to the idea of décor. (Maybe?)
CONTRA BEIGE (SOPHIE LOVELL): BEIGE IS A VOID
As a statement color of the 1970s, beige was as statementy and synthetic as hell. Richard Roundtree’s Shaft’s beige turtlenecks just screamed manly static electricity. And Steve Majors in his Six-Million-Dollar-Man “safari” suit was clearly a lightning conductor on bionic legs. On politicians, a beige suit is still worn as a big fat purposeful assertion. Affirmation, appropriation, domination, or indecision, let’s never pretend it’s not trying to say something.
2000s beige took some of the pink out and added some grey. Beige became the color that not just old people are encouraged to wear, but young adults too. Safe. Sexless. The vanilla of the color spectrum. Yes, it’s also the color you choose when you can’t decide. But why did you choose it? What makes you think it’s safe?
Onto interiors: It’s the most dangerous color of all. In the 2020s, beige sofas started to wriggle like articulated maggots across interior shots: all rounded edges for people who don’t want to adult. Beige-in-beige lounges are a desert landscape. A sterile void. It’s beige as denial, a massive, pouty, self-indulgent sulk in the face of change. It’s an end of days attitude loaded with indifference.
3. ABSURDITY VS. BEIGE IS LITERALLY UNIVERSALLY “AVERAGE”
PRO BEIGE (FOR SCALE): IT’S RIDICULOUS
For this, we turn to paint colors, which always have absurd names. But in trying to attribute personality to the Utterly Neutral, they really kind of falter. A lot of references to CANVAS and STONE. And, yet, some seem in the joke, and here is our BEIGE PAINT COLOR RECOMMENDATION:
CONTRA BEIGE (SOPHIE LOVELL): Isn’t it Ironic? Not really.
Unless you are specifically embracing triste ennui – which is a full-on position of privilege (see above). There’s an art-film name for that: Werner Herzog Sad Beige. It fits in the 2023 Farrow & Ball all-new all-DEAD FLAT range designed to mirror the emotional status of anthropocenials who have given up but still want to use their air conditioning and consume Air Force 1 Mushrooms á la “Let them wear beige”.
But let’s pretend we can strip away context for a moment (ha!). Who knew that the average color of the universe was beige? “Cosmic Latte” beige to be precise, #FFF8E7 if you’re still interested.
Or that beige is French for the color (and name) of fresh-shorn (white) sheep’s wool. An insanely underused and undervalued raw material. Formafantasma’s Tacchini FLOCK exhibition during Milan Design Week 2023 tried to draw the material back into focus in a pastoralism-based analogy of biophilial harmony through a visual denominator that is beeeeeige.
Mutton and lamb aside, we have to stop! Wake up sheeples! Don’t normalize the toxicity of this terrible tone. It's too soon for beigecore.
Don’t even get me started on greige.
SO, dear snoops, WHO WINS?
LOVE AND GOOD LUCK,