Amazingly Colorful Homes

John Giuffo,
The owners of the Shelter Island Pavilion in New York sought to create joy with color.
Photo: Stamberg Aferiat Architecture

Color has power, and it can often be the most memorable part of a home. If you doubt that, ask an owner of a vibrantly hued home, such as former Telemundo president Nely Galán. The media bigwig joined her Venice, Calif., home to two adjacent homes and used bright colors such as orange, yellow, and purple to tie together what were three separate buildings. Her neighbors along the canals weren’t very pleased, but in a neighborhood known for its eccentricities, it’s not altogether out of place.

When it comes to clusters of color, consider the homes of Riomaggiore, Italy. In the popular seaside collection of villages called the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore stands out among its four neighbors because of its cliff-side bursts of neon color.

In Pictures: Amazingly Colorful Homes

Perhaps the most creative use of color in home restoration is Detroit’s Heidelberg Project. Begun in 1986 by local artist Tyree Guyton, the project materialized when Guyton returned home from military service to find a dilapidated, decaying neighborhood. As a way to take back an abandoned block from the gangs and dealers, he started painting abandoned homes with bright polka dots and affixing whimsical objects to the home exteriors. “It’s like a sleepy, crazy Eden, with spray-painted sidewalks and dead trees festooned with shopping carts,” says Doug Kirby, publisher of Roadside

At first, the city didn’t know how to handle Guyton’s growing project, and there were two instances when city officials ordered the demolition of portions of Heidelberg Street’s decorated houses. Twenty-five years later, the Heidelberg Project is celebrated by Detroit’s city officials, Heidelberg Street is a center of art and creativity, and the project has prompted international interest in the project as a way to address urban blight and decay. And as a testament to Guyton’s vision, the Heidelberg Project was one of 15 projects from the U.S. represented at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale. All achieved with just a touch of color.

You can find colorful homes at these five places:

Shelter Island Pavilion
Location: Long Island, New York

The home is inspired by the likes of Newton and Matisse.
Photos: Stamberg Aferiat Architecture

Nestled between the North and South Fork’s at the eastern end of Long Island, Shelter Island is often thought of as a quiet respite from the rich partying to the south, and from the winery-touring crowds to the north. But quiet doesn’t mean drab. The Shelter Island Pavilion is a multi-section home built by the Stamberg Aferiat Architecture group. Slabs of bright neon and light, almost weightless purple lean against each other in unexpected ways. “In addition to striving to create exciting space, we also want to create joyful, optimistic space,” says Peter Stamberg, who along with his partner Paul Aferiat, lives in the house from September through June, and rents it out for the summer. “What is more joyful and optimistic than great color! The colors we use, and how we use them, are informed by the work of Sir Isaac Newton, Henri Matisse and David Hockney.”

The Heidelberg Project
Location: Detroit, Michican

The project's colorful homes helped chase away urban decay.
Photos: The Heidelberg Project

Can art transform urban blight? Can color help make a dying neighborhood seem alive and vital? Artist Tyree Guyton accomplished that with help from his grandfather when he became fed up with the decay, the dangers, and the dealers. Abandoned homes were festooned with whatever whimsical objects Guyton could find. Some of the two-story wood frame homes are painted with polka-dots, others are covered with nailed-on stuffed toy animals.

Cliffside Homes
Location: Riomaggiore, Italy

The colorful cliffs of Riomaggiore, Italy.
Photo: Flickr

If the other homes on this list stand out for their individual character, the homes of Riomaggiore, Italy, stand out because of the impression they give as a whole. There are many colorful towns, but Riomaggiore, with its high-drama cliffsides, stunning mountain backdrop and the riot of yellows, oranges, reds and greens popping out from every window, door and around every corner, is arguably the best of them. The southernmost of the Cinque Terre, or Five Villages, Riomaggiore is a popular tourist destination not only for its impressive vista and colorful cliff walls, but also for its fresh seafood and delicious local wines, such as the sweet and irresistible dessert wine, Sciachetrà.

Nely Galán House
Location: Los Angeles, California

A former Telemundo president helped color the home.
Photo: 2010 Lawrence Anderson

Earning the distinction of being the most colorful home that lines the canals of Venice, Calif., isn’t easy. And neither was constructing this multi-building, multi-level, multi-colored mansion. Former Telemundo president Nely Galán purchased the main building and the two cottages on either side, joined the buildings together into one giant home, and hired artist Patssi Valdez to help her choose the yellows, oranges, and purples that somehow help pull all three buildings together. It took eight coats of excruciatingly-hand-chosen paint to achieve the intensity of the color, but thanks to Galán and Valdez’ studies of homes in Greece, Cuba, and Italy, it never overreaches.

Dick and Jane's Spot
Location: Ellensburg, Washington

Two married artists designed Dick and Jane's Spot.
Photo: Dick and Jane's Spot

There are folk art environments and homes all over the country, but few of them come close to the impressiveness of Dick and Jane’s Spot, which is completely chock-a-block with sculpture, carvings, and decorations – all of it a reflection of the aesthetic sensibilities of artists Dick Elliot and Jane Orleman. They bought the then-dilapidated house in 1978, and quickly began to add whimsical additions to the yard and home. Their project continued over the decades despite initial local opposition – as so often happens with these folk art homes – that softened into outright support when the town realized how popular the home was. Sadly, Elliot passed away in 2008, but Orleman is still maintaining the environment, and still adding to the art project that she began with her husband 34 years ago.

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