Shades of San Francisco

San Francisco is a beautiful city, one that tends to leave its mark on all those who visit its steep, winding streets. Personally, I have always been fond of the renowned Golden Gate Bridge — which stretches over the San Francisco Bay with its rusty-reddish brown arches. A fun fact I always remember about this bridge, which is easily one of the most photographed suspension bridges in the world, is that it is always being repainted. The specific brownish red shade is constantly being reapplied to a section of the bridge somewhere, by a team of more than 30 painters dedicated to keeping their city’s much-loved landmark looking fresh and vibrant. 

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The bridge was first painted an orange vermillion shade officially known as ‘International Orange.’  Over the years, to prevent corrosion and rust, the paint colour has deepened somewhat, and is now known officially as ‘Golden Gate Bridge.’ The colour even inspired an art show on the bridge’s 75th anniversary in 2012, where everything in a ‘gift store’ was made in the now iconic shade.

The colour was reportedly selected by consulting architect Irving Morrow, because it complements the natural surroundings and enhances the bridge’s visibility in the fog. That brings me to one of the reasons San Francisco is such a truly colourful city — it is partly because of that famous fog. The unique grey blanket of fog that covers the city almost daily tends to give the small city a moody atmosphere. To combat that, residents in the city’s early days painted their homes in bold, bright colours usually reserved for smaller items, like cars, bicycles or clothing. As a result, the city’s Victorian architecture is some of the most colourful in the world.

I always find it most noticeable when I stroll around this highly-walkable city. From the famous “Painted Ladies” along the Alamo Square park to long staircases made vibrant with the addition of mosaic tiles, to bold murals seen on the massive facades of three-storey buildings in the Mission District — colours are everywhere on and around the streets of San Francisco.

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There are many lessons a professional colour consultant such as myself can learn from the use of colour to brighten up a grey city. Here are just a few:

  • A splash of colour is a simple and inexpensive way to instantly enliven any room — be it with the pop of a bright red cushion on a grey microsuede couch, or a vivid canary yellow lampshade on a white desk.
  • The Golden Gate bridge offers a great reminder that colour can change according to scale. While it is known for its reddish-orange hue known as International Orange, when seen up close, the paint colour looks more brown than red. Keep that in mind when considering large amounts of colour, such as a feature wall in vivid shades of paint.
  • Remember that a combination of many colours can work together without being overpowering. Think of the renowned murals in San Francisco’s Mission District, or that incredible mosaic tiled staircase. Be bold when you decide to commit to a colourful vision — and don’t be afraid you’ll grow weary of it too soon. Be daring and don’t play it safe with colours — because colourful risks can have vibrant rewards! Just look at the Painted Ladies in San Francisco — one of the most iconic images of this beautiful city by the Bay.
  • Colours can and do change and affect people’s moods. Red can make people more hungry, yellow is associated with creativity, orange is known as a nurturing shade, while blue is considered calming, green can be a soothing, relaxing shade, and purple is considered both regal and passionate (which makes it ideal for bedrooms). Keep this in mind when decorating and choosing paint colours for the many different rooms in your home.


  • Today we are lucky to have quite a few less-than-permanent options if we want to experiment with color and visuals. For example, try some vinyl wall decals (I like the ones made locally in Venice Beach by Los Angeles company Blik Graphics); or paint walls with whiteboard or chalkboard paints, which can then be transformed into murals or temporary artworks with the use of chalk or colourful marker pens.

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