How a coat of yellow paint can change everything

I have always been convinced that physical spaces lord far more power over us than we recognize.  Good spaces can lift our spirits and warm our souls, and bad spaces can induce attitudes of depression, anger, and fear.  This is why I always have been obsessive about the spaces I call home, whether they were rentals or my own, tiny apartments, shared houses, or the current split level Dan and I own.  I want them to look nice--and I am sure that my love affair with HGTV has infected me with at least a hint of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses syndrome--and be welcoming to others, but I also want to feel good in my home.  I want to retreat to my home to feel safe and happy and comforted and loved.  Intentional design helps make that possible.

When done well, human constructed spaces cue us as to how we should respond.  Are we entering a place that is lively and energetic?  Meditative and serene?  Disorganized and chaotic?  Moody and uncertain of itself?  


All this is to explain why it drives me crazy when institutions like the church neglect their physical buildings.  I do not doubt that God comes to us through cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting, that we can worship amid trash cans and cheap fold-out chairs (and that sometimes is where God calls us), but often we settle for lackluster environments too easily.  We could light candles or bring in soft fabrics before we sing and pray.  We could remove some of the clutter to create space for God to enter our hearts and minds.  Beyond improving our spirits, such efforts for those of us who are Christian recognizes that God came to us in a physical body, not simply as an intangible spirit.  Worship, then, is not solely a mental enterprise but about all of our senses.

Even those churches which have beautiful worship spaces (I think of most of my denomination's churches, for instance) typically have awful office and meeting spaces.  Ratty old coaches fill large basement closets euphemistically dubbed "teen rooms," dusty books rest on library shelves, kitchen gadgets and other miscellany finds their way onto office desks.  The cumulative effect may be hard to pinpoint precisely, but the subconscious message that the church space does not matter seeps through the building's walls.  All seems but an afterthought.  The church is not a place to stay, to relax, to call home, but to visit when necessary.


Until a few weeks ago, my office had putrid green walls, as did all of the offices on the basement level.   No matter how brilliantly the sun shone through our small basement windows, the rooms remained dim and sullen. When our new rector arrived, she insisted that the walls should be painted a bright, cheerful yellow.  With a coat of paint, the entire floor felt lighter, fresher, inviting.  


It is happier down in the basement now.  The yellow is warm and envelops you and begs you to smile.  The church offices are no longer places of mere duty and necessity but of invitation and joy.


Behold, the power of paint.


photo credit: Gini Gerbasi