Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Jolts of color: OK or not? January 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:52 AM
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AS A 1970s ERA TEEN, I painted my basement bedroom a vivid lime green.

That vivid house in Lansing.

That vivid house in Lansing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Would I paint my house that psychedelic hue? No. But someone in Lansing, north of Austin, did as seen in this photograph I shot several years ago. Would you dare brush this green onto your abode?

In 2009, the owner of Los 3 Reyes Bakery painted his rented building in a vivid green shade that some neighboring business owners deemed unsuitable for historic downtown Faribault. The objectors approached Mariano Perez and asked him to repaint his bakery exterior. When he told them he couldn’t afford to repaint a building he’d just painted, they pooled their money to buy paint.

Now you might think that was a kind gesture. I don’t see it that way. To this day I wonder why Perez was shoehorned (or whatever word you want to use) into changing his building color to a softer gray-green. At the time, I interviewed Perez and he told me the bright green represented a “happy color” common in his native Mexico and his culture. Click here to read my interview with Perez, who no longer owns the bakery.

That bakery story came rushing back today as I sorted through photo files searching for bright-colored buildings I’ve photographed through the years. I intended to publish a post that would add a jolt of color to a wintry January day in Minnesota.

But then I started thinking about that bakery and about why buildings are painted the colors they are and if we have any right to tell a property owner what color he/she can/can’t paint a building.

Perhaps a color is chosen based on personal preferences. Remember that lime green bedroom of mine? I doubt my mom really liked the color, but she didn’t demand I paint the walls pink.

The NAPA store in Fergus Falls.

The NAPA store in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Perhaps a color connects to the identity of a business as in NAPA Auto Parts’ signature blue and gold. My husband works for NAPA and he will tell you just how much I dislike that strong, strong blue. Dislike is a toned-down version of my actual opinion. You can bet that you won’t miss a NAPA store in Any Town, USA. And that’s exactly as the company intends.

Perhaps a color relates to culture as in the case of the Mexican bakery.

Whatever the reasons, I view paint color as mostly a matter of personal choice.

However, I will agree that, in certain contexts, color guidelines are necessary to retain the character of a historic district. That was the argument in the bakery situation and for months the subject of debate among locals and the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission. I can’t even honestly tell you what they finally decided. Bakery owner Perez was not, at the time, violating any type of guidelines.

What are your thoughts on building colors?

Just to get the conversation going, here are several more examples of colorful buildings I’ve photographed in recent years.

Dad's Good Stuff in New Richland

Dad’s Good Stuff in New Richland. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I grew up on a dairy farm and the color of the Calf Fiend in Redwood Falls reminds me of calves, but not in a positive way.

I grew up on a dairy farm and the color of the Calf Fiend in Redwood Falls reminds me of calves, but not in a positive way. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It's the trim on this building in Kenyon that caught my eye.

It’s the trim on this building in Kenyon that caught my eye. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The City Limits in Sleepy Eye

The City Limits in Sleepy Eye. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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