He often refers to his work as “color coaching” due to the amount of tactful diplomacy and gentle persuasion involved. “There’s a whole psychology to it,” he explained, pointing to color’s therapeutic powers, as well as the way that painting or repainting a home can incite quite a bit of anxiety.
People often turn to Kesselman when they feel daunted by color, or when they’re moving into a new home and the wall colors became an afterthought; at times, he even has to help break a tie between a couple who can’t agree on a shade. No matter the case, Kesselman’s process begins with reading the room—meaning both the clients and their space.
“I want to deliver something that they feel comfortable in, that they want to spend time in,” he said, noting that he walks a fine line between appeasing clients and pushing for the colors he knows are right. “For example, if they want blue and I know blue is not necessarily the right color, ideally, we’ll try to find the right blue,” he offered. “I have to know when to take charge, or when to collaborate, or when to step back—it’s kind of a dance.”
While some clients go so far as to give him carte blanche, others—especially art and design enthusiasts—are keen to be a part of the process. Working with art collectors actually sparked the idea for Elliyah.
“The gallery and the white box became so prominent that people were trying to recreate that in their home,” Kesselman explained. “I thought that was kind of wild.” So, he sought to create a white that is “gallery-esque,” but not stark or sterile, with “a good energy to it.” He went back and forth with Farrow & Ball until they’d landed on a white that has no undertones (no hint of yellow or blue, for instance) and seems to almost give off light. “The idea was to be just a good backdrop for art and architecture; nothing historic or glaring or institutional.”
What colors has Kesselman chosen for his own home? He mentions a serene mix of neutrals and a custom coral he created for the bedroom (which he presciently painted a year or so before Pantone named Living Coral its 2019 color of the year). His apartment also has some deep-green wallpaper.
When I told Kesselman that I’d love to put wallpaper in my apartment’s bathroom, he laughed. “So, it’s funny about the bathroom,” he elaborated. “Talk about psychology: When anyone’s afraid of color, they want to put it in the bathroom.” He’s partial to clean white kitchens and baths.
“You have to be thoughtful with color choice, even in the use of simple whites,” Kesselman said as we admired a sliver of wall coated in Elliyah at Incolour. “It might not be typical fine art, but we’re still creating something—a space, an environment, a mood—and evoking feelings, in a similar way that a painting or sculpture does.”