The School with Megan Morton – How to Use (and Abuse) Colour

by Jenny Butler
Wednesday 21st March 2012

While Megan Morton is happily answering questions on all of her Guest Blog posts this week (seriously, if you want to ask MM anything – now is your chance, comment below!), you can also find her sharing snippets of her day to day adventures on Facebook! Be sure to ‘like’ her Facebook page and see all kinds of amazing things that MM is working on and loving in general – it is brilliant! – Jenny x

MUSIC TO ACCOMPANY TODAY’S POST:  Hey Ya! by Outkast. ‘If I lived in America I would beg Andre 3000 to let me do his sets. I love his high voltage clips, and this song in particular he manages to abuse every primary colour for our visual pleasure.’ – Megan

Photograph by Jason Busch, styled by Megan Morton / Room Images.

I learnt a valuable colour lesson from Bronwyn Riedel (from Bauwerk) who I believe is THE single most colour-conscious authority on colour. She works mostly in Saudi Arabia and Europe now, but she has an eye like no other and can break down hues into formulas on sight!  When I am lucky enough to work with her I call her ‘Rainman’. One part joking but most part serious. I have worked on schemes for months and then Bronwyn will walk in, pull it a step stronger or lighter, and the result is smack-bang perfect. Colour, you see, is best used to instigate a feeling, and this is why to master it you need to be generally in tune with yourself and your surrounds. And this is how Bronwyn has taught me to work.

One white neutral isn’t a one size fits all. People ask all the time the best ‘white’ colours or what is the ideal charcoal and it is hard to answer, but it is never a one word answer. I have a theory that people who use the same colour in all their projects possibly aren’t doing the best by the space.  When asked on the spot, most people want to look knowledgeable and will recite the one they find easiest to remember, not necessarily the best.

A lot of paint companies preach that going for a brave colour is the quickest way to improve a room, but, in my experience, it’s also the quickest way to make a train wreck out of a room. I have always been anti feature walls – for me they feel like a visual merchandise device – and the room never feels quite finished. Why would anyone want only one out of the four walls painted?! If you love the colour, go for it all walls over. Or use it in other elements, not restricted to the walls. A floor is just as expansive, and in the right place, can be a great alternative.

I recently shot my friends Morgan and Robert’s apartment where they installed red carpet. (Check over at Room Images – it will appear there soon). Yes, a difficult one to even imagine, but totally wonderful and severe impact for their clean modernistic furniture and love of brown Italian leather. And obviously so chic, whereas a red feature wall would present as the opposite.

Photograph by Tim James, styled by Megan Morton / Room Images.

Colour too, is mostly about context. I took a trip to Marrakech just after I bought my first house house (i.e. not an apartment, not half a house but a proper house, Sydney people will understand) and returned and painted my garden walls and terrace yellow. Before paint counters sell you anything bright and over 4 litres worth, they should be made to check your passport and give you a jet lag test to ensure you’re not fresh back from an exotic destination, about to make a big time mistake. (Another tip for when you are at the paint counter is to always look at colour vertically – it’s a very different reading horizontally and not how the eye digests it).  In this instance, bricks or brick render should not be yellow. Yellow is the colour of banana’s (I love you Queensland), the pom trim of a Moroccan djellaba, the sun and stripes on sun umbrellas, not walls of an inner city Victorian terrace sandwiched between total urbanness.

Yellow, as proven above is therefore appropriate to highlights or small digestible pieces. The courtyard was a decorating disaster, it felt permanently sunny. So stupidly sunny. By night is was inappropriate and by day – facing a coveted north position was blasting and intolerable to the eyes. To use colour appropriately is to understand its power. Bricks for instance should be of natural pigment. I love painted brickwork but not overly coloured. I am, despite this seeming prejudice against coloured exterior walls, mad for colour. Red-flag-bull-mad-for it. But only when it’s done, like anything, responsibly.

When you are stuck just think that orange is the colour of a small fruit – a mandarin. A watermelon is large and gorgeous green outside with washed out raspberry inside. You can see this working in a room. One of my favorite fruits is the pineapple. All that gun metal grey and dirty green with Fluro yellow – perfect. Mother nature nails it every single time! Watch her or even steal ideas that might kick start your own beautiful combination. And not all of the colour has to be assigned to a wall – remember that the eyes want somewhere to go, and different colours, textures and surface heights can work to making a seemingly colourless room feel complete. Morgan and Robert’s red carpet is an extreme case in point of this.

I leave you with a word from wise Bronwyn, for it seems hard to remember any sage advice with your heart pounding at the paint counter, excited and all ready to go. “Colours always look more full-on when they are applied to a large wall so ALWAYS go a little bit moodier than you think is right in your first impression”. Bronwyn, I wish I knew you pre-Morocco!

Megan x

by Jenny Butler
Wednesday 21st March 2012


  • Holly 5 years ago

    Hi Megan!!

    I’m in the midst of planning my honeymoon to Morocco and would love your advice on great places to visit to find unique treasures for my home. I’ll be looking for rugs, lighting and everything else!

    Thanks for the warning about sudden impulses to re-paint the house when I get back to Melbourne!!

    xxx Holly

  • lexi 5 years ago

    You are such a big tease MM. I want visual evidence of the yellow house. Come now, pleeeeeease?

    I think this buying colour concept should be applied to buying clothes when on holidays. Like when you go to Byron and think that tie-dying CAN be applied to your normal wardrobe. For me – it can’t. Ever.

  • I’m really loving the way you describe colour theory. However now I’m tempted to paint my house in all sorts of crazy colours :)

  • Kylie Oram 5 years ago

    Hi Megan,
    Love your work. read your book like a novel.
    A question or two…we have inherited a hideous oregon 80’s country kitchen kitchen, varnished to an orangey colour but otherwise of very good quality. Due to $$$ we have decided to make do and mend which means replacing appliances, benchtops and re-tiling but keeping the original cabinetry and painting it. I would appreciate your tips on achieving a good result, best paint to use etc

    And on colour I am torn between painting them black or white. The tiles are going to be white subway with a charcoal/grey grout. What are your thoughts? I’ve seen some awesome black kitchen cabinetry but I’m wondering if the country-ish shape of our doors could handle it…

    Really looking forward to reading your reply!

    p.s. Jenny did say to ask questions!

  • megan 5 years ago

    Hey K, is removing the doors (and leaving carcasses) an option? If not, i would always do black over white. black is a coverup you see (think of clothing, i.e black pants!) where as white is all exposing (think of white pants!). I lived with a similar kitchen for years and was reluctant to change it, but freshening it up was great. It didnt last long – i think about 2 years but it did the job and it was a much nicer place to spend time. I hate cooking so I have no emotional charge when it comes to kitchens, unless they are new sexy ones that make my life easier! good luck. go black. its instantly dramatic, as well as a great concealer

  • KateC 5 years ago

    Hi Megan,
    I wish I could fit you in my pocket and take you with me everywhere. I love grey walls and white ceilings/trims and would like to paint the main rooms in my house this colour – main bedrooms and living room, and perhaps going navy in the dining room with a white roof – but it’s so hard to choose a colour and I’m scared I’m going to chicken out. Is there a grey you have used, or seen used that you think works?
    Thanks so much.

  • Kylie Oram 5 years ago

    Thanks for your advice Megan. I love your pant analogy, it makes perfect sense.

  • megan 5 years ago

    kate C, thanks for saying that. i want to one day be a phone app. well not me personally, but you know what I mean.

  • Kim 5 years ago

    It’s not possible that this information is for free. I love it and don’t want it to stop.

  • margie 5 years ago

    I love Bauwerk! Awesome fan deck, and fantastic ethos.

  • Lauren 5 years ago

    Loving your blog posts Megan!

    How do your beautiful Loom rugs survive with kids? My lounge is so trashed with an almost three year old and my husband won’t let me reupholster it, nor buy a beautiful loom rug.

    Can you recommend an affordable alternative to Loom Rugs?

  • Megan 5 years ago

    Dear Lauren,
    Loom rugs are so worth it! I shake mine out and
    Vacuum. I have lots of Persian and other antique rugs that I have bought cheaply and not so at markets and antique stores so I prefer to live with them rather than without. Freedom are doing a lovely patchwork one in store now. Beige and neutral with a nice top stiching.

  • Lucy 5 years ago

    I second Kim’s comment. I don’t want it to stop either Kim!

  • Sara 5 years ago

    Love reading these posts Megan- hope all is well in Sydney. I totally love the horizontal v vertical tip- very practical. I think you also get a gut a feeling when you are looking at your colours if you squint your eyes and take in a depth breath! You feel it in your chest. Sounds a bit woo woo but often more reliable than the trades people who talk you into (or out of) things!
    What colours are your predicting will be big in coming couple of years for bedrooms Megan?
    Sara x

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