By Patricia Marx, via LinkedIn
Last year, Martin Kesselman, a color consultant to homeowners and decorators, did something controversial. He made a new white. The shade, created with the British paint company Farrow & Ball, is called Elliyah (it was named for Kesselman’s then ten-year-old daughter), and is available through @INCOLOUR, his showroom in Chinatown. “I got a lot of criticism for coming out with it,” Kesselman said recently. “ ‘The color guy has his own white. How ironic and arrogant is that?’ But when I opened the showroom it got a lot of attention.”
Does the world really need another white? Benjamin Moore has a hundred and sixty-four versions of it, all of which Kesselman sells. But he believes that Elliyah is different: “Whatever the light, natural or artificial, it’ll read like a true white—bold but not stark, clean and crisp but not jarring.” Jonathan Kutzin, a fancy housepainter, said, “It sounds weird, but Martin made a really great white. It has just enough gray and cream in it to not feel naked or unfinished.”
The other afternoon, Kesselman got in his black S.U.V. and drove to Brooklyn, to visit two clients who were relying heavily on Elliyah. He has a clipped beard and wore a black jacket with a pin-striped hood. It was a clear morning—the sky was a shade of blue that resembled Benjamin Moore’s Icing on the Cake.
“A lot of my clients have type-A personalities,” Kesselman said. He recalled one project. “It was an immaculate space, probably twenty million dollars, and a real artisan paint job.” Kesselman had chosen a pre-Elliyah shade of white. “When the project was finished, the client looks at the walls and says, ‘I see shadows.’ Can you imagine? He wants the whole place redone. Storms out. The painters did the same exact thing. He comes back. ‘Fantastic!’ ” On the other end of the spectrum was a man in Tribeca who’d instructed the painters not to bother removing his Rauschenberg from the wall: just tilt it up, he told them, and paint underneath.
Kesselman arrived at an 1864 brownstone in Fort Greene that belonged to one of the clients, Stacey Lightfoot, whom he described as “well versed in color.” This was the first time he was seeing the project, he explained. “Stacey was on a mission. She wanted the perfect white, but was so busy I couldn’t arrange a home visit with her. She came into the showroom and took some samples.” Lightfoot answered the door, dressed in satin trousers and a matching blouse in Visa Infinite Privilege Card blue, and enthusiastically showed Kesselman around. They passed through elegant white rooms. In a middle parlor, she said, “I know whites, and I really could not find a white I love. I tried seven. I was going to use Wevet.” She turned to Kesselman. “Wouldn’t you say Wevet is lavender?”
Lightfoot continued, “I got a sample of Elliyah and painted the whole room. A friend came over. She has good taste, but I wouldn’t say she understands undertones. She said, ‘This is like looking at the most perfect glass of milk—but not cream or one per cent. A perfect glass of two per cent.’ ” Kesselman nodded approvingly.
More Elliyah was upstairs. “You can use Martin’s color everywhere,” Lightfoot said. Well, not everywhere. In the master bedroom, Lightfoot admitted, “This is Strong White, by Farrow & Ball. It’s greener and darker than Elliyah.” She’d chosen it to go with a yellowish rug by Alexander McQueen.
Next, Kesselman visited Christie, a client renovating a loft apartment nearby, who said that she’d found Kesselman by Googling the words “white paint.” Kesselman had created a design for a white space with what he called “moments of color”—cabinets, columns, and “behind closed doors”: Studio Green in the foyer, Mole’s Breath in a bathroom. “Either my designs are clean and bright, like the ones with Elliyah, or I do dark and stormy,” Kesselman said. “I don’t play in the mid-tones.”
“Where Martin’s such a savior is that even in such a big, open space he figured out how to make it seem purposeful,” Christie said. “In my mind, I’d always seen white. But Martin’s influenced me so much that I am thinking, Why not do one of the bedroom walls in a color?”