A Color-Drenched Farmhouse on Bainbridge
Pantone color expert Leatrice Eiseman paints her home in rainbow hues.
In the late ’80s, Leatrice Eiseman came to Seattle at the end of a tour promoting her first book, Alive with Color (now out of print). Eiseman—a color specialist, director of the Pantone Color Institute, is one of the people responsible for choosing Pantone’s color of the year. She was struck by the majesty of Seattle’s water and the surrounding mountains and immediately called her husband, Herb, to sing the praises of this magical place, the very antithesis to their home in hot, dry, seasonless Southern California.
That summer, the couple came up to visit some friends on Bainbridge. They toured the island, sipped wine by the fireplace in the old Pleasant Beach Grill, and fell hard for the place, quickly realizing this vibrant community could be their long-term home. The romance of the island was the clincher, says Eiseman. “There are so many artisans, which of course pleases me to no end.”
It was another few years before the Eisemans finally made the move north. They bought a farmhouse that looked older than its 1985 build date, with dark interiors and high ceilings, tucked away from the main road on a pristine plot of land shrouded by trees. The bones of the house were there—wide-plank pine floors, a loft that acts as guest quarters—but the heart was missing. The former owners spent much of their time living on a boat, and the house shared that same cloistered, gloomy feeling. It was the perfect project for a woman who makes her living advising individuals and companies on high-impact color choices.
The couple added on—building a hallway that connects the garage to the house and expanding the master bedroom—and brightened up. Gone are the dark ceilings of the living room, replaced by skylights and a dusty, muted yellow paint that starts in the entryway and carries through most of the main floor. The open space and lighter colors illuminated their Pacific Northwest home with the warm glow of Southern California sunshine. “We do live where we live,” Eiseman says. “And because we don’t have the effect of so much sunlight, you need to pretend.”
Where some might settle for a single accent wall, Eiseman follows up the impact of her warm, honey-colored main living space with bold, unapologetic pockets of color in the other rooms. A tiny slip of a powder room is the very definition of jewel box: even the cabinetry is painted a deep plum, which -Eiseman places somewhere between aubergine and wine. The dining room is bathed in cayenne, an intense, orangey red she chose not only for its properties as an appetite stimulant, but also for its drama. In the couple’s bedroom, -Eiseman went with periwinkle—“I don’t think I’d ever do a bedroom that wasn’t periwinkle,” she says—and Herb is apparently as big a fan of the pale purply blue as she is.
A life’s worth of collected art—equal parts contemporary, antique, and offbeat—adds more accents and shades. All her treasures have a history, a fact that becomes evident as Eiseman spins the tale of every thrift-store lamp, every piece of locally made artwork, every Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chair, and every musical memento (including a 1977 platinum record from the original Star Wars movie) of Herb’s former career as president at Fox’s music publishing and record division. The home is full of curiosities as colorful as the walls, and nothing is there accidentally.
Curating such a collection takes years; the easiest way to bring color and change, Eiseman says, is with a single can of paint. She’s found that many people have bold ideas but are too timid or worried about what other people are going to say. Her advice, predictably, is to follow your heart. “You live with it; nobody else does. And if people don’t like it, don’t take it personally. You just have to be brave enough to do it for yourself.”