Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, 1907

Palette with Picasso

Words by Katherine Ormerod

The Condo’s Katherine Ormerod on discovering the
power of the pigment during her formative years and
never looking back.

My colour lust has deep roots. As a young mother, living alone in a country where she neither spoke the language nor had a single friend to call her own, my mum spent months pushing me in a buggy around Munich’s art galleries. Replete then, as they are now with Kandinsky’s vivid hues, Klimt’s gilded canvases and Schiele’s sparse pigmentation, my chromaphilia was ignited. One painting which sticks in my mind from childhood (a few years on from infancy admittedly) is Alexej von Jawlensky’s Portrait of the Dancer Alexander Sakharoff, an early 20th century depiction of an androgynous soloist clad in crimson. Typical of the punchy palette beloved by Der Blaue Reiter group of abstract expressionists, it always jolted me with its gender fluidity and glamorous abandon. That was the life I wanted; retina-searing colour has always been my safe space.

Morgane Sézalory Paris Home. Photography Matthieu Salvaing

Sézane founder Morgane Sézalory's Paris Home. Photography by Matthieu Salvaing.

Jai Vasicek Northern Rivers home

Artist Jai Vasicek's Northern Rivers Home.

When mum, my brother and I returned to the U.K after my parents’ divorce, free art galleries were a cornerstone of our weekends. The three of us would bundle up to Charing Cross and spill out into the Portrait or the National, with little sketchbooks on hand to capture anything we loved—this was all of course, eons before the smartphone. During my tweens and teens, I cycled through aesthetic obsessions, veering from arts and crafts to deco, falling hard for legendary salons and the liberté of the artist’s studio. We rarely went on holiday, aside from ferrying between Bavaria and London’s suburbs for custody arrangements, but I travelled the world frame by frame, sampling the Californian light with Hockney, the streets of Arles with Van Gogh.

Colour to me has always felt intuitive, in that I’ve never questioned why I like two shades side by side. Of course, over time I’ve learnt the principles and understood the value of temperature when it comes to pairing colours. So often people get caught up with whether a pale shade matches a dark shade – that doesn’t matter. The key is to discern whether a colour is warm or cool (thus the temperature). A warmer colour will have yellow or red undertones, a cooler one will be bluer or green. I love cool shades whenever I’m working with pink or neutrals, because it adds a bit of an edge and stops it straying into saccharine or slightly dated territory. But there’s nothing cosier than a toasty terracotta or a banging mustardy yellow. The only real rule of thumb is that you want to keep your palette more or less in the same temperature range and then only live with what you love.

Pablo Picasso in his studio in Cannes by David Douglas Duncan

Pablo Picasso in his studio in Cannes by David Douglas Duncan.

The biggest influence on my taste in colour is the Picasso’s African-inspired period (after his rose period, but before full-rainbow-blown Cubism). I understand this is extremely niche, but you’re not here for generic advice. In 1907, the Spaniard became obsessed with African art, packing his apartment full of masks and sculptures. His masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a large-scale canvas depicting five nude ladies of the night brazenly locking eyes with the viewer, was painted later that summer and exhibited several years later to universal uproar. For me personally, it’s not simply the chutzpah of the demi-monde models that appeals, but the exquisite use of colour. With hints of Picasso’s signature cerulean, burnt umber and shades spanning rose to rust, the scheme is completely up my strasse.

Jean-Philippe Demeyer home in Comporta, Portugal. Photography Miguel Flores-Vianna

Jean-Philippe Demeyer's home in Comporta, Portugal. Photography Miguel Flores-Vianna.

Rixo co-founder Orlagh McCloskey's home

Rixo co-founder Orlagh McCloskey's home. Imagery via House & Garden.

As an adult, I’ve found that it’s art which guides my décor. When I walk into an optic white room, I immediately scan the walls, looking for spaces for my frames. As soon as I’m settled on at least one larger scale piece, I start to jigsaw my collection, pulling sympathetic tones out of pastels and acrylic. There has been a trend for meticulous colour matching with artworks, casting them as the most important lens on a room’s mood board. I’m personally a little looser with my blending, preferring to work within a spectrum rather than choosing my wall colour, skirting and ceiling based on the specific pantone of an artist’s brushstroke. But each to their own.

Echoes of Les Demoiselles can be felt throughout my home. It’s in the petrol blue of my kitchen cabinets (Rust-Oleum, Evening Blue), the dusty cinnamon of my gingham café curtains (The Cloth Shop). In my bedroom, the off-kilter pinks (Phlox and Alabaster, House of Hackney paint collection) speak to Picasso’s shocks of flesh. Les Demoiselles is also why I wear brown leather with indigo jeans—if PP says it works, it works. Over the years, I’ve fallen hard for other colours—dirty sage, Studio Green (Farrow & Ball) and bloodied red, for example, and found myself turned off of others (purple and canary yellow, any clean pastels, cream…). I know that my confidence and willingness to experiment with colour comes from my aesthetic education—understanding how to make the world beautiful (in my eyes) is one of the most valuable gifts my mum gave me, but it is never too late to learn. Resolutions may be a January thing but take this as a nudge to go and find the paintings and palettes which anchor your own taste. Let them lead any forays into the rainbow-at-home—there’s nothing like a tried and tested blueprint to get the creative juices flowing.

Rixo co-founder Orlagh McCloskey's home