“Should” is a Four-Letter Word

By Lesley Myrick

A story about the worst design advice I ever received

Pictured: Photos b Karolina Grabowska

I‘m sure over the years you’ve heard some terrible design advice. You know the kind — the “wisdom” that well-meaning friends and family pass along when you announce that you’re decorating your home. Cliché phrases with a dash of fear mixed in, like, “Blue and green should never be seen.” In case you’re wondering my stance on that one, blue and green should absolutely be seen.

But you didn’t need me to tell you that, right? I’m sure along the way you’ve heard a nugget of decorating wisdom like that and quickly dismissed it. Just because we’re told something should be a certain way doesn’t make it gospel.

“Should” is a four-letter word when it comes to design. And it’s a lesson I learned pretty early on.

Picture this: It’s 1990. It’s summer. I’m 7 years old, gathered with a gaggle of kids from our dead-end street on a neighbor’s front porch to make paper crafts. One of the older — and therefore, in my mind, cooler — girls on the street was orchestrating this ‘crafternoon’ and had instructed us to choose two different colors of construction paper that we were going to use to create a paper butterfly. We were to accordion-fold each piece of colored paper, pinch them together in the middle and then secure them with a staple to form something that kinda, sorta looked like wings once we unfolded the accordion. You might have to use your imagination to figure out how on earth that would look like a butterfly, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and couldn’t wait to get started.

I thought carefully about what two colors to use, as only a future interior designer would. My bedroom was painted a soft peach, and I planned to hang my butterfly above my bed. I selected one sheet of red construction paper and one sheet of pink. I wanted my butterfly to look like a dynamic, blossoming flower.

I started to thoughtfully fold the construction paper, my excitement brewing. Red and pink!

And then, from mouth of the cool girl, came the words that stopped me in my tracks and shattered my 7-year-old heart: “You can’t use red and pink! They clash. You should choose colors that go together.”

I liked red and pink. Loved them together, even. But this older, therefore wiser, girl was telling me I shouldn’t do it, so…I reluctantly unfolded my red and pink papers and placed them on top of the messy stack, thumbing through my options. I paused to think about what colors I knew went together. What had I learned in art class at school? Blue and green? Nope. Orange and black! They’re Halloween colors, so they must go together.

I mean, sure. They go together. In a goth, fall-is-coming kind of way. And my butterfly looked fine. No one batted an eye at this more acceptable color combo, and the afternoon went on. But for a girl who had a passion for vibrant rainbow colors, my spirits were seriously dampened by orange and black. And I couldn’t shake her words from my mind: “You should choose colors that go together.”

Orange and black go together. They didn’t ruffle any feathers like red and pink did. But despite pleasing the crowd on the outside, inside I was aching because I naively trusted what someone else said I should do instead of standing firm in what I knew to do.

The worst design advice I’ve ever received? The word “should.” That single word is the most toxic advice out there. “Should” comes from a place of insecurity, of fear, of wanting to please others, of being afraid to let your true self shine. When you know in your heart what you should do, don’t listen to the “shoulds” of others. They’ll “should” all over you — and you don’t deserve to be covered in that crap.

This whole ordeal took place in the span of a mere five minutes. I’m sure everyone else who was there that day has long forgotten about their paper butterflies. Heck, I’m sure no one there even noticed the shift in me when I gave up my red and pink papers. But I felt it. And I’ve never forgotten it.

I came across this quote a few years ago from designer David Hicks, and I couldn’t help but smile: “I have always had a passion for what some people consider clashing colors. I call them vibrating colors — for instance, vermilion, shocking pink, puce, salmon pink and blue pink. I like them with aubergine. All reds go together, and I include both pink and orange in the red family.”

David, where were you when I was 7? We would have been best craft buddies.

Oh, and the old cliché about blue and green? Bye-bye. “People generally think there are clashing combinations, like pink and red. I don’t think anyone adheres to them now, blue and green can look great together,” says fashion historian and trend forecaster Amber Jane Butchart.

So, should you use blue and green together? Should you mix pink and red?

You tell me.

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