Her collection of colorful artworks allowed O'Neill to personalize the barn.
Photo: Antoine Bootz

Benjamin Moore’s Creative Director on the Power of Color

Color has always played a big role in Ellen O’Neill’s personal and professional life

Ellen O’Neill is the kind of person who would say: “Pink is red with a past” and “You don’t see the true blue of the sky without a white cloud.” And one can’t help but believe her. Being aware of and working with color has always played a big role in O’Neill’s personal and professional life—and right now is no exception. O’Neill, a former vice president for Ralph Lauren Home Collection, and vice president of design at the St. Regis and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, has, for the past three years, been the creative director of Benjamin Moore, the paint company.

O’neill has made herself at home in the american painter’s barn, with its spattered floor and one of Robert Dash’s colorful canvases. Photograph by Antoine Bootz Photo: Antoine Bootz

For its influential Color Trends 2016 program, she presented Simply White, a beautifully layered, fresh-looking concept. Since last summer, she has rented one of the nicely well-worn out-buildings at the Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack, New York, the estate that was once home and studio to the American painter Robert Dash, and that is now open to the public. Recognized as an important color painter, Dash put his imprimatur on the fences, gates, and gazebo of his garden, having painted them in Day-Glo colors that give the wildflower landscape extra jolts of interest. The irony of the contrast between her colorful home environment and Simply White does not escape her. 

“Very controversial,” was the way O’Neill described her latest forecasting foray, adding, “Out of the top ten colors, five are white.” But there’s more to her point of view than meets the eye. The colors she feels will be most important are the colors that “prepare for the arrival” of the trendier hues. What she looks for is a solution for what she called “the hero wall”—the wall that is known as the major focus of the room. Reacting to seeing “lots of Yves Klein blue and high-chromium values” at trade fairs and on accessories in recent months, she has prepared for the arrival of these almost-electric hues on the domestic landscape by opting for the spectrum of different whites. Moving into the barn, the board of directors at Madoo allowed O’Neill to paint the black walls white. “It was a way to freshen up the space without betraying the ethos of the barn, and Dash’s legacy,” she explained. But once she had absorbed the bright yellow, blue-speckled floors, she brought in her enviable 30-year-old collection of vintage textiles, many of which came from the Paris flea markets—florals, tickings, and tartans—and added her nicely faded circus tent fabrics that now cover her sofas, she felt liberated, even euphoric. “Coming here,” she added, “was being given permission to do anything I wanted in terms of color. I’m not at all artistic,” she said, “but to live where an artist lived and on the periphery of such a creative life is inspiring.” —suzanne slesin


A vignette from the Benjamin Moore Color Trends 2016 Brochure is a study in whites Photo: John Beusler, Courtesy Benjamin Moore



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