Fifty shades of grey

Fifty shades of grey

Abode’s architectural expert Greg Young is all for brightening up our architectural landscape.


Everywhere you look these days, our homes are painted in shades of grey. Technically these shades aren’t even colours, they’re tones.

New Zealand has had a long history of using bold colour in our baches (think Karitane Yellow) so when did we become so boring; so reluctant to bring splashes of vibrancy into our living arenas? Are we currently being inspired by the sheep we love so much?

Arguably, even the 50 shades of beige we used in the 1990s are more inspiring than the colour palettes that currently dominate our suburban landscapes.

But if you look hard enough, you’ll see architects are starting to push back. Yes, I agree we are renowned for using black and white in our residential architecture, but when the housing companies start doing the same, we are inclined to change. And change is afoot.

Personally, I love colour, and I get my inspiration from the natural environment. As in nature, I prefer to keep a darker base (admittedly, this is often black), but use selective pops of colour to create contrast and surprise, in a similar way that we see in our native flora and fauna.

Our cheeky native parrot, the kea, appears quite nondescript until the bird opens its wings to display the stunning orange plumage underneath. Your front door can be highlighted in a similar way, grabbing the attention of visitors and those passing by.


My favourite accent colour is red. Red has a strong history in New Zealand, where it has been used prolifically on Mäori architecture, and European colonial farm buildings. It is also the colour of the pohutukawa flower, and many other native flowers. It holds a special place in our hearts, especially around Christmas when the flowering trees are synonymous with summer, coastal living and the festive season.

Mäori used kokowai, or red ochre, obtained from clays to adorn, decorate and preserve waka, buildings and tombs. This ochre was found in the Nelson region, and this is reflected in the name of Resene’s heritage red paint colour, appropriately named Nelson Red.

New Zealand also has a rich history of using timber, and this is making a strong comeback at the moment. Timbers have a lot of depth and variety of colour which can be accented and maintained through different surface finishes. Western red cedar is a popular choice. We also favour European birch, Siberian larch and sustainably milled native timbers like red beech, as well as the usual macrocarpa and pinus radiata (used carefully).

Historically, we were inspired by Japanese and Scandinavian architecture with its use of timber, as well as mid-century modern architecture which used both timber and colour exceptionally well.

We now have enough history and architectural confidence to define our own vernacular. Our environment is such an important part of who we are as Kiwis, and we should avoid isolating ourselves from it with bland, soulless homes. We need to stop being so fixated on what someone else may want if we sell our houses, and start focussing on creating beautiful homes that reflect our own colourful and vibrant lifestyles.

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