Full Spectrum Paints Goes Mainstream

October 31, 2010

Over the next month or so, paint giant Benjamin Moore will introduce their own line of Full Spectrum Paints under the “Aura” brand. This is reason to celebrate for consumers and connoisseurs alike. Benjamin Moore’s entrance into this upscale segment of market is particularly gratifying to me given that I’ve been touting the richness and versatility of full spectrum paints to clients for more than two decades, including in my newsletters since 2001! Now, it’s about to become an open secret. The benefits of choosing “full spectrum” over conventional paints: “full spectrum” formulas incorporate all the pigments in the color spectrum except the light absorbing black pigment.

The first time I saw full spectrum paint was in 1987 when I visited a friend’s apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. I walked into her foyer and commented on the great color walls, and then, as I stepped into her living room, raved about how much I liked her living room color as well. She informed me that both rooms were painted in the same color, but because they were “full spectrum” paints, the color was more color reflective, therefore it looked totally different in each room. An artist who mixed paints in his garage back in L.A., moved to Manhattan and started a business creating custom full spectrum colors. Within days, I had my first appointment with Donald Kaufman, the creator behind the idea of mixing household paint pigments much like impressionist painters of the 19th century did.

I commissioned Donald to create a color I call “Buttercream” for a new client of mine. I described it as less yellow, and more of an “aged cream”, similar to the walls at Pete’s Tavern around the corner from me. A cream that had yellowed over the years but also had just enough red in it, so that it looked as if it were lit by candlelight. Thus, the first version of what is now the most popular color in my palette of colors, “Buttercream”, was born. We painted all of the walls and ceilings in my client’s townhouse this color.

I really enjoyed creating this man’s new bachelor pad! By the time he returned from vacation, I had it completely furnished, down to massage oils in the bathroom and champagne and pate’ in the fridge. Everything was taken out on consignment (except the food, of course) but upon his return, he loved everything so much, he kept it all!

The evening before his return, I couldn’t resist showing it off to a few friends, including Newell Turner (now Editor in Chief for House Beautiful Magazine). I’ll never forget Newell’s first words as he took in the apartment: “It’s as if this place has an ‘aura’. It feels so good and I love this color!” At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was actually the color creating the “aura” or all the time and energy I put into the place, visualizing myself as if I were living there. In hindsight, I realize it was both.

A few weeks later, clients from Louisiana contacted me about helping them decorate their new home in Lafayette. Avid art collectors, they were easily talked into letting me have Donald Kaufman create full spectrum colors for their new home. We used “Buttercream” in the living areas, along with “Ashen Green” in the study, “Light Terracotta” in the Dining Room and “Lilac Mist” in the Master Bedroom. They paid hefty shipping costs to have all of the paint shipped from New Jersey. Half of it arrived damaged and had to be re-ordered. In the end, they couldn’t have been more pleased with the result.

When I moved back to Louisiana and I couldn’t convince any of my new clients to splurge on Donald Kaufman paints, but did my best to recreate the colors in “full spectrum” which were invariably chosen from the stack of custom color samples I had collected over the years. On the Summer solstice of 2001, I started my own line of full spectrum paints which I called “Nature’s Palette”. Now, almost ten years later, I’m happy to report that after years of preaching the benefits of full spectrum paints, Benjamin Moore is finally taking the concept.

Of course, the big challenge confronting Benjamin Moore in entering the full spectrum marketplace will be in delivering the product support that has been the bedrock of my success and that of Donald Kaufman and others. I built my business by drawing on years of experience as an interior designer to help clients through the often daunting task of selecting the right color for a given space coupled with the effect they wish to achieve; these consultations are included in the cost of the paint I sell. Nevertheless, I congratulate Benjamin Moore for their historic venture and wish them success in the future.

(Buttercream walls & ceiling with Ashen Green trim)




  1. Interesting news, EK.

    • I’m surprised you haven’t heard, Lori! In their Natura product. 8 palettes of 25 colors each. Called Color Stories. Read it on Color Forte’s FB post. She went to a launch party where they said they’ll be testing it in a few days.

      • Bravo Ellen, nice reply. They are SO late. I discovered Donald Kaufman some 15 years ago and started to mix my own colors b/c of what I learned and when I went to BM to get paint I would ask them to tone it at times with the complimentary, NO BLK. And I have nevere figured out what “aura” and “C2” is. I must say I am really sold on the Behr ultra (no primer) it has fabulous coverage…

  2. I am a chronic decorating forum reader/writer. I -personally- feel as tho much of what Benjamin Moore says/does closely resembles content from the Garden Web (http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/decor/) forums anyway. I quit paying them much attention because I feel like I’ve already read it, seen it. Not like there’s some cyber law against it or it’s some how “wrong” it’s just The BenM Spin is still just spin and it can’t make old news newly interesting — for me.

    “Nuance” is the name of one of their publications, “Aura” was really no surprise, now “color stories” and “full spectrum color”. Said it or done-seen-it either way already over it.

    And Geeze o’Pete the last thing those people need is another flavor of paint. What they need is an identity – something that looks like it might actually be alive and can cogently speak to color and the flavors of paint they already have. I can’t be the only one not falling for the coiffed heads wind-blown and perched upon ladders and whatnot for elaborate photo shoots. Can I? I’m probably the only one who will say it out loud. I’d like to invoke or plead the “criticism is a gift” schtick.

    Innovation can be communicated via a bell curve and BenM is definitely on the backside of the FS innovation bell curve slummin’ it with a couple other late-comers, the riders and laggers on that curve.

    Seeing as how tragically late to the full spectrum party they are, I’m marginally interested in how they intend to qualify “full spectrum”. Marginally. 😉


    • Well it will be very interesting to see how it all unfolds and if indeed they technically are “full spectrum”. Thanks for your input Lori!

  3. Good comment, Lori…and, thanks for your detailed post, Ellen! There’s always someone pioneering something, and you are one of the few–or maybe I should say “2,” in the case of Full Spectrum color mixes. Band wagons are easy to hop onto.

    It’s really important to make very clear that just using the words doesn’t necessarily make it So. That’s only one of the many reasons I am so happy to have a part in our new color-collaboration. I am taking the cue from you: education will be a big part of helping people understand that Full Spectrum is more than a label, it’s about actual contents, and I mean that literally!

    Benefits of Full Spectrum paint? Many!

  4. I am sorry, my comment was in reply to funcolor…

  5. […] in October 2010, I wrote a blog post about full spectrum paints going mainstream upon hearing Benjamin Moore’s announcement that they were debuting their own line of […]

  6. Do you have a discussion of your feelings regarding avoiding white as a highlight color on say, window frames? Hopefully with image examples of what you do like to do?

    • Interesting you ask, Mike. I don’t recall where, but I do tend to use softer, less stark colors on trim, especially window trim where there are views of greenery. Then I will use a neutral green, like our Edgewood Green, Sage or Ashen Green, as a trim color because it pulls your eye out toward the view instead of closing you in like a white does.

      • Interesting…I can run with the idea using non white colors to mesh with the colors found through the window.

        Another question if you would…I can’t find any discussion re: exterior applications…not done very much?

      • Although I do consult on exteriors, I don’t do nearly as many as I do interiors. There are some exterior photos on the Photos & Reviews pages of my website (http://www.ellenkennon.com/PhotoReview1.htm). I do tend to use earthy colors that blend in with the landscaping.

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