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Designing with colour

Interview with Massimo Caiazzo, president of the Italian Association of Colour Consultants

Published: 23 Mar 2021
“A project of just light or just colour is unthinkable for me,” says Massimo Caiazzo, vice president of the International Association of Color Consultants (IACC) and president of IACC Italy. “Light and colour”, he adds, “work together to generate a colour climate and improve the quality of locations. The approach of colour consultancy does not seek to use colour as a decoration or an accessory imposed on a project, but on the basis of its physiological, psychological and ergonomic effects.”
Designing with colour

Residence Zambala, exterior and interior colour design (2013, Milan)

“Light and colour”, he adds, “work together to generate a colour climate and improve the quality of locations.”
Caiazzo’s reflections and professional experience as a designer and colour consultant have benefited from meetings with three excellent masters. The first is Alessandro Mendini, in whose Milan-based salon, Caiazzo worked during the Nineties and early Noughties. “It was one of the few studios in which you could talk about colour,” he says, in a design era that was dominated by black, white and metallized grey. Mendini, he adds, had an “artist’s approach to colour: instinctive, but accompanied by great culture and awareness.” Caiazzo’s epiphany regarding the full potential of colour came through a book, Color, Environment, and Human Response by the great German designer Frank H. Mahnke, and his subsequent correspondence and acquaintance with the author. Then, while systematically studying the skills of a colour consultant and increasing his professional skills, Caiazzo came into contact with Prof. Narciso Silvestrini, a colour theorist who “through philosophical speculation came to conclusions that were absolutely in line with those of IACC International.”

One of the fundamental lessons that Caiazzo has conserved over the years is the importance of equilibrium. “To be calm, environments need to be iridescent and respect the principles of colour ergonomics, or better, the environments have to be considered on the basis of the functions they are designed for. You can’t use the same colours for a school as you do for a hospital or a private residence.” A principle that is in complete harmony with the recent results of scientific research conducted on the relationship between light and wellbeing and circadian rhythms, both at home and in the workplace.

Designing with colour

The Bollate prison (photo © Endstart)


To try out everything I had read in Mahnke and to put myself to the test, in 2008 I presented a no-profit project for the Bollate prison”, says Caiazzo. “The goal was to reduce the sense of aggression and the gloomy features of a place like a prison.” It took two years, and the painting was done by the inmates themselves. The project “had an immediate effect. Not just the inmates, but the prison guards and the people who came to visit friends or relatives, all found that the environment was less hostile.” In addition to repainting the interiors and exteriors of the prison, the project included replacing the “cold” fluorescent lights with warm lamps and a higher Color Rendering Index to make inmates, guards and visitors feel as relaxed as possible within the limits of the nature of the institution.

Designing with colour

AMT bus, Verona (foto © Alex Belgioioso)


“In 2004-2005 I was contacted by the Company for Mobility and Transport in Verona because they had a problem with vandalism”, recounts Caiazzo. “According to a company survey, people said they were unhappy with the service because the buses were ugly, dirty, used only by the poor and generally emanated a negative image that was also the real cause of the vandalism. So, we changed the colours without altering the interiors and exteriors, but acting on the chromatic climate by finding the right relationships and eliminating greys. Thanks to the project, the level of vandalism was reduced by 20%, because the people felt welcome and appreciated this manifestation of a civilised society that succeeds in making any location more pleasant and enjoyable.”

Designing with colour

The living room in Gianna Nannini’s house (photography © Matteo Tresoldi)


In addition to working for public entities, Caiazzo also has numerous private customers. A particularly interesting case, and not only because of her fame, is Gianna Nannini’s house in Milan. “She had a wonderful house,” explains Caiazzo, “but she was used to composing at the pianoforte, and the living room was painted white, so she couldn’t create anything. An environment we think of as white is never really white, but always slightly grey, because of the shadows. Having analysed the house and the owner’s habits, Caiazzo prepared a colour project that did not disrupt the identity of the environment but used six different whites, each with a different colour rendering index for the shadows. Moreover, considering the triple exposure to sunlight in the attic, he also proposed the use of coloured curtains. Thanks to these, and the frosted glass windows that amplify colour refraction, the space changes along with the daylight.
Designing with colour

The 2021 Pantone colours of the year.


An important suggestion that emerges from a talk with Caiazzo is to not let yourself be overwhelmed by fashions, as often happens to those who take the Pantone “Colour of the Year” too seriously. “You can decide to use that colour,” says Caiazzo, “but you have to do it as a designer, by following the rules of ergonomics. If trends are not governed by an informed, responsible designer, they become a boomerang.”

For example, someone got carried away with Greenery, the 2017 Colour of the Year, and exaggerated with acid green in the kitchen, and it is a problem: “Both from a visual and a synaesthetic point of view , because it is not only the eyes that perceive colour. Colour brings with it, aromas and flavours, and so, a few years later when the fashion had changed, an acid green kitchen turned out to be a glaring error. It is also a question of sustainability that does not mean only choosing recycled materials, but also, for example, ensuring that a person does not throw away food that is in a good condition because they cannot see it properly.”