Turquoise Turquoise

The color turquoise is one that's often overlooked in decorating, because too often people don't think of it as a color that can be grown from jewelry into something usable for upholstery, walls, and accessories. We're so used to seeing turquoise in a setting for a ring or as a pendant that we don't often consider it for the interior design of our homes.

And yet, this color has nearly magical properties. In just the right shade, it can seem to glow with its own mysterious tone, brightening up a corner of an otherwise dark room, and, when used in decorating here in the U.S., bringing in the soothing feeling of the Southwest.

To the scientists, turquoise is known as CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8*5(H2O), or Hydrated Copper Aluminum Phosphate, but to decorators it's a greeny-blue shade that's immediately recognizable. The stone itself dates to 6,000 BC, and was first used by Egyptians in their jewelry-making and art. Native Americans so treasured the stone that they were often buried with it. Today, the finest turquoise comes from Iran, but is rivaled by that found in the American Southwest.

Hence, the impression we've gotten that turquoise is a color that fits in with a Southwestern look, whether in clothing or interiors. Here in the U.S., it's a color that's most often associated with the Southwestern desert, and it blends in perfectly with the other colors of the Southwest: the pale peach of the desert sky at dusk, the ochre of the sand in shade, the deep greens of cactus.

We discussed using the color salmon in interior design, and turquoise is the next logical color to look into, as the two are often seen together in everything from living rooms to restaurants in New Mexico and Arizona.

Likewise, the color works nicely with a spare Egyptian look: a living room done entirely in neutral tones, soft pale browns and pale tan, will get an extra charge when accented with turquoise throw pillows, lampshades, or vases arranged on an eye-catching shelf.

  • Tip: Turquoise is also one of those colors that gained in popularity during the decorating craze of the 1950s. Paired with black, especially in a gloss, or with pink, turquoise gave a modern feel to an old room, and can often be found in 1950s bathroom tiling, mosaic side tables, and kitchenware. This color combination can still work today, as long as you commit to it and follow through with a whole '50s look to a room, complete with Fiestaware and an old gas stove.

As a color for the walls of a room, we urge you to exercise caution with turquoise. It's a powerful shade, one that is attention-getting and that can easily overwhelm other colors, so it's best to save turquoise for use in smaller areas. Perhaps a painting with predominantly turquoise colors, or an array of carvings on a museum-lit shelf? Or a few bathroom tiles, or a kitchen trivet.

Just a splash of turquoise, against a backdrop of salmon, sand and ochre, will liven up a room and bring in the Southwestern look. And paired with black or bright yellow, a bit of turquoise will clarify your intention to have a 1950s kitchen or bath.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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