cuba yellow wall and 3 people

Colour is difficult to get right, easy to get wrong. And when it is wrong, it is very wrong.

So we tend to play safe.

Architects famously favour white, and grey and black. Neutral, classic, modernistic yet timeless. And safe. And colourless. 

High-end interior design beige, greige and taupe: colours that aren’t really ‘colours’ as such. This keeps things bland so that it is PC inoffensive. A whole room, a whole house in beige is innocuous and boring but is popular in serviced accommodation and hotels. Places where you could be anywhere – or indeed, nowhere.

yellow arcade in cuba

Colour is fabulous. It is playful, vibrant, energising… also calming, soothing and gentle. But clearly it is difficult to use, even by experts working in design.

And so we tend to live in a world where offices are grey. Where neutral tones dominate and conservatism wins. 

cuba outdoor seating colourful interior

Then we go on holiday, and we see that it is not like that in other places.

 In Cuba they love colour. They play with it, enjoy it and live with it. Colour is part of their lives. They seem to have no fear to it.

yellow wall, blue door Cuba
girl on red car being filmed in Cuba

In Cuba, the use of colour is positive and joyous.  

Here the sun shines (a lot) and so they make great use of bold, bright hues to create impact in their habitat.  They do not shy away from using strong colours, or pastel colours. Anything goes. And it all seems to work.

old elegant wooden door and green wall in Cuba

The local vernacular thrives on colour and the world that people inhabit is a riot of every hue. They experience space in strong light and shade, in reflections and lively bounced tones. 

Here, colour is used dramatically for emphasis and for contrast, but also for softness and warmth. It is not just about the bold brushstroke, there is also detail and materiality, character and style. Lots of it.

elegant arched doorway and light reflected inside yellow room Cuba

Cuba is a unique experience – especially for colour-starved tourists. Perhaps that is what shocks us most. What is this world where zingy hues meet soft tones, where colours clash, and vibrate, and yet it all seems to work?

We are not used to this.

elegant room Cuba woman sewing

Set against a backdrop of blue skies and strong direct sunlight the colours cannot be bright enough. It is a world apart from our conservative tastes and to see it makes us feel more alive. because these are sights we do not see at home.  

Cuban colourful one storey buildings

Colour in Cuba is more than just about creating pretty pictures or backdrops. It is part of their culture, identity, and pride. They inject colour, splash it all over, because they enjoy the effect and results.

Hot colours, cool colours, neutrals and earthy tones butt against each other, blending, defining and shaping the space.  The walls may be crumbling and old and the colours may be almost washed out of the texture  but this just adds another layer of richness and depth to what is already a truly sensory experience.

rugged door and elegant window shutters

In Cuba, they don’t hold back. Outside the vegetation is lush and flamboyant in multi-hues and shades, it offers  a vivid colourway straight out of a  Pantone Colour Matching System chart, only this is all from nature. The buildings came later.

In the UK, estate agents advise us to favour neutral tones. If a space  is decorated too vividly and too colourfully they worry that people cannot ‘see’ it properly. They may lack the imagination to look beyond the décor to see the potential.

green restaurant with red tablecloths and chairs

And yet, rich colours can work very well adding warmth and cosiness and character to our homes. And for some colour is what makes them happy, and makes their home feel good.

Elegant yellow door in blue room

In northern climates we do not have the same quality and effect of light and climate. But also, we don’t have the same laid back temperament, our planning laws are more restrictive and planning laws and our tastes more conservative.

In Ireland, buildings beside the sea are often painted in pretty ice cream colours, but we tend to be more restrained in the city. We see cities as more serious places and colour too frivolous.

Cuban socialist image and blue wall with man walking

The photographer Dave Jordano captures Cuba in all its intensity: a place where colour is everywhere. From washed out greens to deep accent blues, colours layered and worn as a patina of age, and newly painted, fresh, sharp and vivid. 

In buildings of faded grandeur, if not dilapidation, colour makes even the dingiest places more habitable. Most Cubans are not wealthy  and many live in accommodation that is basic, if not impoverished. They may have very little in terms of comfort and possessions, but they do have colour – in abundance. 

people  and a green shop

Painting a wall is a simple gesture. But a gesture that can have a missive impact on space, people and place.

texture detail wood and wall


table in window colourful setting

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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