Seniors oppose 'ugly, depressing' new colors at Palo Alto apartments

Residents launch petition against new paint in affordable-housing complex

More than 25 seniors and disabled residents have launched a petition against a new color scheme at their apartment building, which they said is causing them to be depressed.

The 57-unit Sheridan Apartments at 360 Sheridan Ave. in Palo Alto is in the process of being repainted and upgraded with new flooring, rugs, television cable, ADA-accessible doors, Wi-Fi and other amenities. But residents said the dark and light gray, plum, dark green and dark blue color scheme is giving them the blues, and many are too frail to go outside to escape from it.

Representatives of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which operates the affordable-housing complex, said they hired an interior designer and held a public meeting to offer two color palettes for the residents to choose from. Thirty of the 60 or so residents attended the November meeting, and the majority chose the colors now in use, housing corporation officials said. The other palette consisted primarily of brick/red and cream.

It's too late to change the color scheme -- tens of thousands of dollars have already been expended -- but the housing corporation is compromising by lightening walls in patio areas and adding a rug to the community living area after residents complained, Executive Director Candice Gonzalez said. They are also urging patience, since the renovation is not yet complete.

But some residents are still concerned about the overall impact the dark, cool-palette colors will have on them in the long term.

"People need joy. They need to have a good impression. Our building is like a prison. It's like a place for soldiers. In my apartment, everything is OK. I have flowers, and the walls are white. But I step out on the balcony and everything changes," said Marya Khazan, a resident since 1999.

Khazan said the colors make her feel sad when she comes out of her apartment.

"What color do you have at your house? I never saw a door dark green. Most people here are old and not healthy," she said.

The building's exterior is still tan, which goes with the color scheme of the surrounding structures, but the balconies now form dark gray columns along the building's facade. Residents said when they step out to the balcony, they are confronted by a wall of dark, depressing nothingness. One resident said she cried when she stepped outside.

Georgina Mascarenhas, director of property management, and Gonzalez said they have heard the concerns and are having the building wall that leads to the patio repainted the same light color of the building exterior.

One local interior designer unaffiliated with the housing complex said that the shades chosen are "in" colors -- like them or not.

"The trend is in taupes and maroon and gray," said Rise Krag, a board member of the American Society of Interior Designers North California. "They are mostly pretty bad."

Krag recently asked the International Color Board for interior designers, which meets every two years, how the colors are trending.

"I asked how much longer we'll be dealing with gray, and (one specialist) said she thinks it's on its way out," she said.

The darker color scheme can be seen in other parts of the city, including on some residences. Krag said that could reflect a more industrialized, urban view, especially among younger people who consider it more chic. Blue and gray are very sophisticated colors but are cooler, she said. The darker trend is especially popular on the East Coast. In the West, there's still a leaning for more saturated, warmer and lighter colors.

Krag said she can see why the seniors might find the Sheridan colors depressing.

"My father was a gerontologist. Gray is not a great color for the older population. They often have eye-color issues. The cornea is older, and they can't differentiate like they used to. They like to see more contrast, to see the doorways and the floor. Gray is really dismal," she said.

Many seniors also become color blind, and red and green become gray, so brighter contrasting colors are better than colors within the same hue that are harder to differentiate, she said.

Chris Gaither, a former Sheridan manager who lives in the neighborhood, said the new outside colors don't fit with the neighborhood's lighter tan color scheme. Knowing many of the residents, he said he understands their concerns.

"They aren't complaining just to complain. These are senior folks. It about how it's making them feel," he said.

However, Alexander Radoport, a resident and an artist, is ambivalent about the changes.

"Sometimes gray is fine for a building; sometimes it is possible," he said.

Joe Villareal, a resident since 1979, said residents' artwork used to hang on the hallway walls, which are now barren, adding to the feeling of desolation. But Mascarenhas said that artwork will be coming to perk things up.

Villareal, who drafted the petition at the request of other residents, sent it to the housing corporation on May 3. The residents received a response on May 5. In the letter, Mascarenhas said the housing corporation was disappointed to learn of the negative response so late in the process.

"We do understand that it is almost impossible to make every person happy when it comes to choices like paint colors," the letter stated.

But unfortunately, all of the paint, which cost in excess of $60,000 -- excluding the cost to repaint the balcony walls -- has been purchased and is nonrefundable, and some of the painting is already completed, she said.

"As a nonprofit with a limited budget, we cannot afford the expense of starting over. After all of the painting is done, we think that it will all come together and have a fresh look. We hope that you will give it a chance," she wrote.

Mascarenhas said in her letter that "a few" residents refused to allow the painters access to the patios in order to complete their work. "Please be advised that this is a violation of your lease agreement."

Villareal said that since receiving the letter, many residents are now reluctant to come forward.

"They say it's over and there's nothing that can be done, which I think is worse. It says we're defeated," he said.

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9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2015 at 7:58 am

Some pictures to show the colors and drabness would have been a good idea here.

13 people like this
Posted by Reasonable Citizen
a resident of Escondido School
on May 15, 2015 at 10:38 am

Wow, I have lived in Apartments for years and the management has never asked for my opinion on colors. Here the management not only asked, but then held a vote and the majority approved the color scheme. Sounds to me like a few people that didn't get what they wanted are now causing a ruckus. Oh well, you can't please everyone. As my Aunt said: no good deed goes unpunished.

32 people like this
Posted by Actually reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2015 at 11:38 am

@Reasonable Citizen,

We could all do with a little more putting ourselves in others' shoes before criticizing.

The majority of people are not experienced designers. Very few people when presented with something on a sheet are going to be able to envision it on the walls. In fact, that's a lot of what designers learn how to do, understand the difference between what they see in a book or a sample and what happens in real life.

I can remember once buying a beautiful quilt with muted desert colors thinking I wanted that kind of design in the bedroom. After a few weeks, I realized how important the bold primary colors and white of my previous color scheme were to helping me become alert after waking. I gave away the quilt and found something with the more bold colors, and everything changed.

The elderly residents have realized what the designer should have realized before even offering them the choice. The PAHC is on a budget? Why not use some of the extra $6 million they made at Maybell and just repaint it. Sometimes there are mistakes, the residents should not be made to suffer for it. The color scheme of a building and the built environment make a huge different to alertness and mood. I respect the residents for realizing it and speaking up. There is a lot of studying of color, built environment, and mood, they should never have been put in this position in the first place.

21 people like this
Posted by Actually reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2015 at 4:37 pm

The paper has a photo in the print version. The residents are not exaggerating. Ick. Imagine a hospital chose colors like that. It should never have been presented as a choice.

29 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Yeah, I read the article in the printed paper. The colors looked awful and unpleasant for a senior citizens' housing complex or for anyone else. Nowadays we are seeing some institutions with better color schemes and better choices should have been offered here, too.
Who cares what paint colors some interior designers are "in" this year? It's like taking for gospel what the Kardashians say about matters of taste...they are also self-appointed supposed arbiters of taste.
We do understand colors have the ability to affect our attitudes and experiences in a building, so some reasonable color choices should have been offered here.

17 people like this
Posted by Bella
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2015 at 11:40 am

What's depressing is the couch in the 4th picture. Light colored decor and furnishings can help to change the mood. Also, some really nice greenery and plants.

12 people like this
Posted by Carrie
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I can imagine how they feel when it is a cloudy rainy day out and NO sun!

3 people like this
Posted by Actually reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 2:49 pm

The print in the paper was far darker than the pictures online -- not that either of them is great but which is closer? The one in the paper is so dark it's just oppressive.

14 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2015 at 3:35 pm

The colors chosen would be very appropriate for a building filled with 20 and 30-somethings, they are current and feel modern. They are NOT colors that appeal to a generation raised with avocado and orange, then mauve and gray. Whoever chose the colors forgot their audience!

9 people like this
Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Um, the residents picked the colors. Did you not read the article? Yeah, we thought so.

Look, you can't please everyone, but in this case, the management did what the majority of the residents wanted.

This is more typical Palo Altan whining after the fact.

8 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Just repaint it in beige and be done with it.

Like this comment
Posted by katie
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2015 at 9:08 pm

How about psychdeleic colors? That would be a change.

24 people like this
Posted by Actually reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 8:40 am


Please read my post above. Any designer worth their salt would not have provided people who are not trained designers with color swatches and asked them to choose, much less color swatches of such depressing colors. A lot of what designers spend time learning professionally is how color and design affect people, and also how different colors look when they are on the wall than when they are on a swatch.

It was just downright stupid to choose a color palette for a senior living facility based on trends rather than on what has been studied to elevate mood and improve living conditions in such a facility.

These are low-income seniors who probably already feel they don't have much of a voice. The painting isn't yet finished. Better to fix it now.

12 people like this
Posted by Rachel
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2015 at 9:11 am

The cool colors make the building look much more like an institution than a apartment building. The dated light fixtures and furnishings don't help either. It is unfortunate that the residents voted on the colors and are unhappy with the results.

12 people like this
Posted by Ben There
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 9:50 am

Sometimes you pick the least of the evils and then learn the least evil wasn't least enough.

21 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 10:04 am

It's one thing if the seniors who now oppose the colors just don't like them, but the colors are having a negative emotional effect (which is scientific to a degree). Sad. If money is the issue, it does seem like only a little money could be spent to go over the colors adding either a lighter/brighter shade, or a different hue.

On an unrelated note- or perhaps related- I'm still trying to process the green mass on the table in photo 4.... Seems like the complex could use some better designers in general.

16 people like this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2015 at 10:15 am

I agree with "actually reasonable". Firstly , half of them did not attend the meeting. Did they think it wasn't important?
Yes, it wouldn't have occurred to me that it would have been decisive to attend a meeting in which a professional present possible colors. So, only a few residents voted for the color. But as it has been said before, untrained people do not realize the large scale impact when presented with a swatch. The decorator should never have presented that color unless she/he committing malpractice. The reasons are well explained by others: color perception in older people, mood setting, etc.

And why contract a decorator? Who is this "decorator"?
it's has always been the case that a professional will do a try out, perhaps just one wall and tweak with hue and tones and different colors, so that a large mistake is avoided. Mascarenhas is at fault for not demanding a try out.Both Mascarenhas and the decorator is responsible for the outcome. Fix it.

9 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2015 at 10:58 am

Having been given a choice at my work location between two equally ugly color schemes, I am sympathetic to the residents. Repaint living quarter interiors with color choices of residents. Put colorful art in rotation on common walls.

17 people like this
Posted by bill1940
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2015 at 11:27 am

The problem is clearly a lack of sensitivity to how the seniors perceive the world as has been pointed out above. I'm 75 now and when we did our most recent renovation chose interior colors reflecting southern France, i. e., the Provence. I was thinking about the beautiful walks my wife, I and our daughter took there some years ago.

After the paint dried, I thought, hmmm, maybe too bright. No way ! Now, just being in a room gives one the sense of strolling those country paths in Aix-en-Provence, and brings back those beautiful memories. I'm all smiles ...

What are "in-colors" for the young can be clearly very, very OUT for us older folks. I agree 100% with ndn above. Fix it.


6 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on May 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

They can always move out and find a more suitable place in $ilicon Valley. There are a lot more seniors that are less fortunate, than these, that would love to take their place.

Only in the Bay Area!

6 people like this
Posted by rainbow38
a resident of Mountain View
on May 18, 2015 at 11:54 am

There's so much that's been written about colors and mood that it seems that the decorator isn't very knowledgable. A quick relatively inexpensive fix is to purchase colorful fabric and staple it to sections of the walls.

18 people like this
Posted by Unfortunate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Clearly, the senior home picked the wrong interior designer. I'd like their name so I never hire them! Who chooses gray walls for a senior home? Someone who knows nothing about color, mood, and eyes as they age (issues already mentioned above about color distinction in seniors).

9 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Could the reporter inquire what choices were presented to the residents and show them as a follow up to this story? Then we can tell whether it was a choice between bright colors and dark ones, or both variations of dark colors.

3 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2015 at 1:20 pm

I too am a senior just shy of seventy and when I was younger I thought that as people aged they would be more concerned with the spiritual and less with material things. Now I have found just the reverse to be true; the most materialistic, greedy, set in sentimentality, and down right picky to the minute point are the people my age and older. I would love to be able to live in an affordable place like that even if the walls were monkey fecal brown. Good grief, how about some priorities here, and in this subject it shouldn't even be one.

16 people like this
Posted by Another senior - well past 70
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2015 at 2:10 pm

@Dennis – “I would love to be able to live in an affordable place like that even if the walls were monkey fecal brown” – WOW!

Unfortunately your point of view is akin to PAHC’s – “take your complaints and shovel them up your… You’re lucky not to be homeless.”

5 people like this
Posted by Sarah K
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Seriously cannot believe this is worth a subject of discussion. If people have so much time on their hands, they should focus on ways of preventing teenagers from committing suicide walking on the railway tracks, helping to feed the homeless around them, being grateful for having a roof over their heads in one of the most expensive neighborhoods or some other POSITIVE past time instead of something so frivolous as exterior paint on an apartment building. I think the owner of the building is somewhat to blame for giving these senior (RENTERS!) a sense of entitlement so that they believe they have a say in decisions related to property renovations on property which belongs to the OWNER.
Don't know about anyone else but I sure as heck wouldn't have my renter dictate what I did or didn't do to my property. GET A LIFE!!

5 people like this
Posted by Puzzled
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2015 at 4:08 pm

To those who wrote in disgusted about this discussion, why are you wasting your time adding it? Why not spend time doing the things you believe are worthwhile instead of wasting it here? Do you seriously believe you're convincing anyone with you anger?

3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor Photos
a resident of Mayfield
on May 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm

This may help the discussion - exterior photos of apartment from Grant Ave side. Could only get exterior shots -
<Web Link;

8 people like this
Posted by Improve Sr. Health
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

It has been a well-known fact for several decades that colors effect emotions. Dark colors have an emotionally depressive effect on anyone, but as a captive in a senior home,Mathis could prove disastrous.

3 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on May 18, 2015 at 5:28 pm

This makes me so sad. Sometimes in choosing the color palettes it's hard to envision the final results. Maybe this was the case.

To Sarah above: On the contrary, perhaps the teenagers should be helping these seniors.

3 people like this
Posted by HeidiS
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 18, 2015 at 5:55 pm

I suggest that all the decor be installed which I hope would include window coverings, artwork, colorful pillows for the furniture, plants and flower arrangements prior to repainting anything.

Perhaps there can be a few walls that would be chosen to have a color accent which would brighten the room. There are many options to create 'happy' and 'good feeling' environments which the majority of residents would enjoy.

Good Luck!

2 people like this
Posted by dean11830
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 18, 2015 at 8:40 pm

I am wondering if the paint that has been purchased could not be re-mixed and white added in therefore not requiring a huge purchase of paint to lighten the effect?

3 people like this
Posted by Rachel
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2015 at 8:47 pm

To add to Nora's comment: Perhaps an art class from one of the high schools could do a mural?

4 people like this
Posted by dean11830
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 18, 2015 at 8:50 pm

I did want to respond to some comments to people who would not take into consideration a renters thoughts on their living environment. I do not understand why one would not consider their likes. This is their home. I am a landlord and I want my tenants to be happy. If someone moves out I do everything I can to fix the home in a way that will be pleasing and handy to the next resident. if someone stays long enough for something to be replaced I select what is possible and discuss what they like. if possible I do it because I want them to be happy. i take very seriously the fact that I am not just a landlord but a member of my community and want the families that live in my housing to stay a long time thereby providing continuity in my neighborhood. It is also helpful to not be changing tenants every year. As a owner and landlord one has responsibilities to not only profit from your property, but to contribute to the fabric of your community.

9 people like this
Posted by Actually reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Sarah K,
Some of us are on here defending low-income seniors' quality of life. You do understand the irony of your coming on this list with the express purpose of just complaining that other commenters have nothing better to do? At least the other commenters have a purpose in helping others (and yes, I try very hard to help our kids - it doesn't mean I have no compassion when people make idiotic mistakes that affect seniors quality of life and won't fix them -- what are YOU doing?) If you are so concerned about depression, have you no compassion for the emotional health of seniors?

Web Link
"There are all sorts of things you can do to make a home better for aging in place. But what about something as simple as choosing the right paint color?

That can be important even for mental health, says Alesha E. Churba, a certified aging in place specialist in Idaho. She explains at her blog that if you choose a trendy taupe, for example, “your already dark space becomes a recipe for depression and even a safety disaster.”"

The blog also points out that older eyes will see the darker walls as even darker, making the space even more depressing.

Using those colors on the walls and grab bars along the walls could be a safety problem, too. The seniors should never have been confronted with those colors in the first place.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann, Staff Writer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 11:05 am

In response to a question posted here about the alternative colors, the other palette consisted primarily of brick/red and cream, according to Georgina Mascarenhas, director of property management for Palo Alto Housing Corporation.

9 people like this
Posted by Crummy
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 19, 2015 at 11:22 am

Sounds like the color choices were " the devil" and " the deep blue sea". Talk about a no-win situation!

Like this comment
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Sarah K,

Please don't shout.

1 person likes this
Posted by Actually Reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Agreed. Or maybe someone had some extra grey they wanted to get rid of....

Like this comment
Posted by Sheridan resident
a resident of Mayfield
on May 19, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Sue, I was away and never had an opportunity to see the color scheme, is it possible to see a photo of the palette presented?

1 person likes this
Posted by Uschi
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 25, 2016 at 11:23 am

Safety - I am looking for a good place to live is Sheridan Apartments Palo Alto a safe place to live. Please provide comments as soon as possible. Thank you.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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