A visual experience created with colour

First published in Interview by

Lori Pinkerton-Rolet describes herself as “a colour nerd”. She’s fascinated by it – the way it affects our spaces, our emotions, even the way we interact with each other.

By way of example, she tells me about a current personal project that involves referencing the changing colours of the sea from her home in Upper North Street, Brighton.

“I’d noticed a very specific, very unusual purple grey on the interiors of the Royal Pavilion and on certain houses in Brighton.

“I hadn’t seen it anywhere else in the country and couldn’t figure out where it had come from or why it was specific to Brighton.

“One day I was walking down to the seafront and the sea was exactly that colour. It was such an odd shade for the sea to be and I wondered what other colours it could be too.”

After starting out as a radio producer in her native America, Pinkerton-Rolet moved into interior design, later founding her company Park Grove Designs.

It doesn’t sound an obvious transition but, actually, she says the skills involved are surprisingly similar.

“Really good radio, which I hope is what I made, is visual. You’re creating an environment in people’s heads by using different elements, whether that’s music or an interview, put together in a way that creates a certain outcome. That’s exactly what you do in interior design.”

Among the hotels and private homes the company works on, there is another strand of work close to Pinkerton-Rolet’s heart.

A few years ago she discovered in the course of some research that age dictates the way we experience colour – for example, an elderly person, whose eyesight has undergone physical changes, does not see red in the same way as a child.

The discovery dovetailed with a personal mission to improve care homes for the elderly.

She had noticed her young children were reluctant to visit their adored great-grandmother when she went into one such home in the States.

“You got the sense it was because they didn’t like the environment. It was such a shame because the whole atmosphere changed when they arrived at the home – the nurses and residents would all perk up.

“It stuck in the back of my mind that bringing together the generations was obviously good for everyone yet care home design didn’t encourage it.

“When I went into design I thought this was a really crucial area where an interior designer could make an enormous difference to the quality of people’s lives on a daily basis.”

For instance, she asks, why are so many care homes furnished with cheap, reproduction Queen Anne furniture when so few people live in Queen Anne houses?

Is it just because “it looks kind of twiddly and old”?

Why are armchairs so often arranged around the edges of rooms – as if the residents are on display?

“I find it insulting to the people living in these homes.

When you go into one, it’s unlikely you’re going to come out of it again. So it should feel like a real home. Very few people buy Queen Anne furniture, no one arranges their own rooms like that.”

She is also interested in the impact design can have on improving the lives of the millions suffering from dementia.

The impact of colour is reasonably well-documented – we’re familiar, for instance, with the practice of painting doctor’s waiting rooms pale green. Pinkerton-Rolet also points outs the existence of “drunktank pink” – a particular shade used on the interior of prison cells that’s thought to have a calming effect on the sozzled folk within.

But she believes it’s even more significant in the care of those with Alzheimers and similar conditions.

high-contrast between walls and floor can help reassure residents no longer able to gauge depth; bright colours can stimulate the brain in positive ways.

Although there is “fantastic”

academic work on the topic, it doesn’t tend to trickle down to those involved in creating care homes – and even if it does, there aren’t the resources to implement it.

Four years spent volunteering on the management committee of one home demonstrated how hamstrung staff were ruled by constantly-changing Government regulations.

“What I was finding was that homes were constantly spending any funds they had on ticking the box on the next requirement added. There was no time to reflect.

“The best bets are new-build homes or privately-funded ones but from a design point of view I want to work out the best principles so regardless of budget, money is spent to get the maximum benefit to residents.”

Park Grove has just been commissioned to design rooms for the Royal Star and Garter – which provides nursing care for exservicemen and women.

“I think it’s possible to make a lot of seemingly superficial changes to people’s environments that have a huge effect on their psychological state,” she says.

Pinkerton-Rolet spent 20 years in London before moving to the coast – she’s not sure what kept her so long.

“I find it a very inspiring place to live.

Visually it’s fascinating and there is a vibrant creative community.

“I’ve been involved with the South Coast Design Forum for several years and we’ve just started a new group bringing together creatives from different disciplines to learn from each other. I’ve met architects, graphic designers and typographers already. It really helps your work.”

I wonder if there is a predominant colour to Brighton – I’d imagined white perhaps, from all that stucco?

“I don’t think it’s white,” she says. “I actually photographed various streets for another project and towards Hove it was mainly gold.

“But you have all these pastel colours too and then there’s a very specific shade of red.

“I don’t know if there is a direct answer but certainly, Brighton has a slightly different colour palette to other cities.”

Another silly question – what is her favourite colour?

She laughs. “Well, I have two girls and both of them had blue rooms growing up – blues with a lot of purple in.

“Although I’ve come to understand that’s actually a fairly typical colour for women to be attracted to…"

* For more information on Lori Pinkerton-Rolet and to view her portfolio, visit www.park grove.co.uk

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