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Chartreuse
 Decorating for St.Patricks Day

It’s not every color that requires its own pronunciation guide, nor is it every one that comes with as flavorful a history as chartreuse. This may not be reason enough to paint the whole house or apartment in this chilly greenish yellow, but chartreuse is certainly a color worth knowing if you’re planning on being conversant in the finer points of home décor.

First, the pronunciation: shahr-TROOZ.

Next, the definition of the color. This is a bit trickier, and if you browse around the paint store, or if you ask in the fabric shop, or if you look around the furniture showroom, chances are you’ll come home with swatches of decidedly different shades. Some people see chartreuse as a pale greenish-yellow, others as a light, yellowish green.


The word itself is what’s called a “toponym”–a word derived from a place. The original chartreuse is Chartreuse Mountain, after which came the name La Grande Chartreuse, which was the Carthusian monastery in Grenoble. There, the monks produced an aromatic liqueur, which in turn was named–you guessed it–chartreuse.

The liqueur had such a distinctive color that it needed its own name; and once the name had been determined, people of course began finding, and creating, other things of that same color.

Yes, you can still buy chartreuse at the monastery–or in your local liquor store if you’re not looking for an excuse to go to France.

Now that you know the history of the word, your next question might be what to do with this color.

There is something a little eerie about chartreuse, so we recommend saving it for smaller spots in a room, and pairing it carefully with something warmer. A rust or brown works especially well, and a darker green, if the tone and value are the same as that in the chartreuse, can also work. But be careful not to pair it with something too bright.

It could liven things up in an otherwise dull room, by providing an eye-catching accent if used to paint a side chair, a bookshelf, or other smaller piece. Chartreuse picture or mirror frames are also a good idea for bringing a hint of the unusual into a room.

And if you really want to impress your friends or design clients, you can toss in this bit of poetry when the subject of chartreuse comes up:

"Lost with the sun in a chartreuse wood, afflicted
by associations, flies, thirst, and by
a growing chill my clothes cannot keep out ..."

(Eleanor Wilner, Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, Feb 1998.)

–Sarah Van Arsdale
Reproduced with permission from
Sheffield School of Interior Design


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