Episode 63, 32 min listen

Our work of Equity and Inclusion requires us to think multi-dimensionally, to think about ourselves, but also about those with whom we interact and about the structures in our environment, whether those are systems or physical spaces. My guest, Lori Weitzner, helps us explore the importance of our physical spaces on both a personal and a group level. Lori shares how we can use color and a multi-sensory approach to the design of our spaces and events to help make people feel more welcome, more included, and more grounded. Lori will also discuss how each of us can use color and design in our personal spaces to help us recharge, recenter, and energize for the work ahead. While we're going to talk a lot about color, Lori and I will not talk about colorism. That is an important subject, a separate and significant subject, but one for another day.


AUDIO PLAYER

You can access this episode wherever you listen to podcasts via our pod.link.


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Learn more about Lori at www.loriweitzner.com.

Get Lori's Book, Ode to Color: The Ten Essential Palettes for Living and Design, at our State of Inclusion shop on Bookshop.org.

Take Lori's Ode to Color Quiz to discover the optimal color world for your life.


FULL TRANSCRIPT

-Introduction

Ame Sanders  00:11

This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better, and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. 

I'm Ame Sanders. Welcome. 

At State of Inclusion, our last episode was a discussion with Braden Crooks from Designing the We. That episode was all about using design at a community and systemic level to positively impact equity and inclusion. This discussion today is all about using design, and specifically color, at an individual and group level to serve our work of equity and inclusion. This episode is a bit shorter than many of my episodes, and maybe to some of you, it might feel a little bit lighter than the topics we typically cover. 

Still, I think that our work of equity and inclusion requires us to think multidimensionally. To think about ourselves, but also about those we interact with, and about the larger and more lasting structures that we engage with, whether those are systems or spaces. Another aspect of this work of equity and inclusion is just how difficult, demanding, draining, emotional, and triggering this work can be. 

My guest, Lori Weitzner, will help us explore the importance of our physical environment on both a personal and a group level. Lori shares how we can use color and a multi-sensory approach to the design of our spaces and events to make people feel more welcome, more included, more grounded, and then ultimately to help us be more successful in our work to build greater community equity and inclusion. While we're going to talk a lot about color, Lori and I will not talk about colorism. That in itself is an important subject. A separate and significant subject, but one for another day and perhaps another interview. Before we start, a small aside. 

Our guests freely share their stories with us, so we make the podcast, our newsletter, and related content free as well. However, if you'd like to support us and grow in our work and help to offset some of our production costs, you can find a link to our Support Us page in the show notes. We're happy that you found us. We're grateful that you listen, and we would be thankful for your support. 

So today, we're happy to welcome Lori Weitzner. Lori is an internationally recognized textile and product designer. She's also the founder and creative director of Lori Weitzner Design. And Lori is the author of Ode to Color: The 10 Essential Palettes for Living and Design. 

Welcome, Lori.

Lori Weitzner  03:11

Thank you.

-Lori's Background

Ame Sanders  03:12

I'm really happy that you joined me on the podcast today. You've had such a rich and varied career in textile and product design. I must say your work is beautiful. However, your expertise and leadership around color and the design of common spaces are really what led me to want to interview you for the podcast. So, can you talk a little bit about your background, what brought you to the world of design, and specifically, your focus on color?

 Lori Weitzner  03:42

It actually started when I was very little. I thought I was going to be a fashion designer. I remember drawing fashion, clothes, and, you know, dreaming about that. But what's interesting is that when I got out of school--and I did do fashion for a very little while--something was missing for me. What I realized is that as fun as it is, it's very fleeting and that I could make a much bigger difference designing for interiors. That it very much revolved around pattern and color and texture. 

So, I'm actually a textile designer by training. When I also look back to those original drawings of fashions, I seemed more fascinated with the patterns within the silhouette than the actual silhouettes themselves. So, it kind of became a natural progression of realizing I wanted to make more of an impact in longer term. I could do that by creating patterns, colors, textures, for spaces that we live in, work in, and have fun in. So, that's where it all began. 

Ame Sanders  04:50

So, what led you to this concentration on color specifically?

Lori Weitzner  04:55

You know, I wrote this book, as you mentioned, Ode to Color. When I first was working on the book, I thought the book was going to be about textile design. Then my editor--who I will honor forever and ever--she came to my studio, and she spent about three hours. This is a very busy editor from HarperCollins. She hung out for about three hours at my studio and she's looking at everything and we're talking about my process and how I think and etc. She says, "Lori, you're trying to write the book of what you think people want to read and not the book about what you want to say. I think you need to take a month. I think you need to really think about what you want to say. Don't come back to me with some fancy book proposal. Really, just be authentic and get down to the truth of it. " 

In that month, I started to collect things around my studio and just things out on the street even, in a box. They all started to collect themselves by these categories of color, or worlds of color. All of a sudden, it hit me that I was looking up from my desk at my bookshelves, and all my books were organized by color because the only way I could find the book I wanted was not by organizing by category but by the color of the book jacket. Which I know sounds a little bit weird. 

And then I realized my first language was color. My first language is color. Not English. What I mean by that is, I see, breathe, taste, drink, like all the senses, colors first. Then they translate into all these other mediums. So, I think it's always been there before I could speak or read or write. But I just didn't actually realize it or understand that there really is a thing like that until I started to work on the book.

-Color for Wellness

Ame Sanders  06:46

That is really fascinating, because it highlights the fact that we all process the world around us differently and we have such different reaction or affinity for certain things. So, one of the things I want to ask you about, though, is I know from some earlier discussions that we had, you're working on some really cool projects. I wonder if you would talk a little bit about those and tell us a little bit about what you've learned from those projects.

Lori Weitzner  07:16

Well, what happened after I wrote the book is, because I have these...they're not two different lives because they're totally connected. But you know, I designed fabrics and wallcoverings and products for interiors. But then, when the book launch called Ode to Color, as you said, I started to get a lot of requests for how to integrate these worlds of color into spaces. The first thing that happened is I wanted to bring these colors to life in a way that people could experience them. Not just see them, but experience them multi-dimensionally, multi-sensory. 

So, I was offered the opportunity to exhibit during the Venice Biennale, and I had a little white room with all white. That was what I wanted. With this room, I brought together in these boxes the worlds, the 10 of them. This was the first sort of experience with bringing them to life and in a space. But it wasn't enough to just have them there. They're all collaged swatches and different textures. But they really relate to each of these worlds and how we should feel or how they make us feel in a space. I wanted to also make it more synesthetic. So, I collaborated with scent masters and perfumers to create scents that related to each of these worlds. Then, from there, I worked with composers and created music. So, each of these color worlds, there are 10 of them, had the correlation of these things. After I did this, and it was on exhibit for about eight months, I got a tremendous response. It got people thinking in a different way about how to experience a space, not only how to experience it, but how it can make one feel. And that's powerful. Because my whole thing is color as a tool. It can help us in our lives.  

So, from there, Google happened to see this video about the exhibit. Then they hired me and we partnered on an area of Google called Google Xi, which is their Experience Institute. We brought the color worlds to life in even more exaggerated ways. I don't want to take up the whole podcast just talking about this, like I could go on and on about this. But one thing led to the next to the next to the next. I am now working with these worlds of color in very different capacities, helping on a school, helping event places to make events around the world and conferences more interesting, more compelling, more impactful. When you go to a conference, it's not just about good food and interesting lectures, but it's also about providing people with a takeaway, and especially at the takeaways, learning about how they can do things for themselves to empower them to help them feel better. So, people are really responding to all of this. So, it's kind of the last, I would say two years really taken on a life of its own. 

Ame Sanders  10:16

So, I want to unpack a few of those things and talk a little bit about some of the projects So, help me understand how it is that you use color in a school to have an impact. I assume it's not just to make it beautiful? 

 -Beyond Beauty to Belonging

Lori Weitzner  10:30

No, absolutely.

Ame Sanders  10:32

That's important. But not only that.

Lori Weitzner  10:34

I want to say also that when I speak to you, and I answer these questions, because we just have a limited time, it's very general. There are some general things that totally resonate for most people. But I also want to just give a caveat, which is everyone, as you said before, everyone is different. Everyone is an individual, and everyone learns and sees and is affected by the world in different ways. So, the real trick is to help provide the tools for each of us individuals to figure out what it is that works for us. 

Now, how do you do that? No, I'm not an interior designer or architect. I work with them. But that's up to them to figure out how to create spaces that can change easily. That can adapt easily. So, that especially in a school, but not just a school, in the workplace, everywhere we are, things can be shifted or changed to make as many people as possible feel comfortable. So color, if we want to just start with color, there are generalities that there are warm colors that are more active. You don't put people who are very hyperactive in a red space and expect them to feel calm. There are a lot of those kinds of color scientists’ works that are so important. I want to say I'm not a color scientist, but there are more nuances to it.  

For example, people who live in concrete, urban environments really need a connection to nature. If they can't get it easily, let's create spaces where there's nature in there. Real nature, like plants, but also colors that reflect nature. How about we get real wood in there, if possible? That's tactile and connects us and roots us to the earth. Connecting to nature, which is one of my worlds called Fragrant Woods, is so important for healing and for nurturing and for stress. So, if you can have that, as an example, in a space in a school where kids can go when they are feeling anxious, that can be so helpful. But on the other hand, they also need to learn and need maybe more energizing colors in a space where they're learning math, and they need to really pay attention. There, we can use colors from the Out Loud world, which are stronger and brighter. Careful, too much of that can make you crazy. So, it's also about not just the colors but the balance of how we use them in spaces.

 -More Thought, Not More Money

Ame Sanders  13:01

So, let me ask you a question about events. Because often we do events in our work for equity and inclusion. We do events, but we don't have big budgets. And we often are doing it in spaces that are borrowed. Maybe it's a community center, maybe it's a church basement, maybe it's somebody's house, whatever. So, we don't always have the opportunity of changing that space dramatically. We also generally would not have the opportunity to hire a designer to help us. 

So, what are some of the small things that you can do to introduce these sorts of colors? What advice would you have for those of us who are having events where the subjects tend to be very emotional or difficult kind of subjects? 

Lori Weitzner  13:51

That's such a great question. I mean, I could go on forever. But, you know, budget isn't always the answer. I've seen many spaces where a fortune was spent, and they didn't get it right. So, I think there are ways, there are small ways and big ways, to make people feel comfortable. Just remember, it's not just about color, it's also about scent and sound and touch. So first of all, think about the kind of sound when people come into the space before whatever the session is, begins to have some kind of welcoming music that will make people feel comfortable. Smell, if it's in someone's home, there's nothing like freshly baked cookies or the smell of vanilla on a light bulb. I don't know if you know that trick. But if you're having lights and you put a little vanilla on lights, it emits that smell, which is just such a wonderful smell, vanilla. 

I'm just giving you a little bits and pieces, but even lighting candles can set the tone. Again, it depends on what you want out of the session and what the theme of it is. If it's very emotional, and it's where people will be vulnerable, you definitely want some soft things around you, like even throw blankets. I know that might sound, "Oh, well that's expensive." But actually you can ask people to bring with them from home depending. But just have them there around them. There's something in the psychology of having something to feel that surrounds you that can make you feel comfortable. 

Color-wise, it will depend on the type of talk you're having. But let's say the talk was about sustainability, or the environment, which is something a lot of conferences are talking about or gatherings. How can we do better for the environment? You've got to have some real plants. You've got to have some real green in there. But if we can't buy them, you can ask people to bring just a little handful. We did an event recently with flower arranging. We wanted people to feel connected to these flowers because we were launching a collection of textiles that were inspired by them. We didn't have a big budget. We went to Trader Joe's--I don't know if the whole country has that--and we just bought a ton of old flowers that were still okay for that night. We went to a vintage store, and we bought all these old pictures that were like maybe $5 each. People got to do them and then take them home and keep them. There are ways to create an ambiance to make people feel comfortable and not spend a lot of money. 

  -Using Color in Our Personal Space

Ame Sanders  16:30

So, I love those ideas because I think reminding us to think about the color, but also the scent, the sound, the touch, to have the activities that we might imagine including some of these sensory elements. Because, I'm a very analytical person, but not everybody interacts with the world the way that I do. So, finding those different ways that people can engage with what you're doing, whether it is music, or whether it's touch, or whether it's scent. This work is also difficult and stressful for people and can be triggering for a lot of people. It's hard to stay at it. So, one of the things that I particularly liked about your worlds of color and that you mentioned earlier is this idea of our own space. So, let's talk a little bit about how we can take color into our own space in small and big ways that can help us to recharge, recenter, and energize us for the work ahead.  

Lori Weitzner  17:35

I mean, everybody lives in a different way. Some people have big homes. Some people have little apartments. Some people may even live outside in different ways. So, it's really important, first of all, to figure out what makes you feel good. What comforts you? Because there is no general rule. 

Once you tap into that, and the only way to tap into that is to experience different things. So, notice. Be more observant of when you walk into a space, whether it's small, big, commercial, or private. How do you feel on it? Does it make you anxious? Does it make you comfortable? Do you like the lighting? If it's candlelight, does that calm you? Or does it make you nervous because you don't like dark lighting? So, that's number one. First and foremost is you've got to find what's right and works for you. 

Not every moment of your day do you need the same thing. So, you may have to work in a very stressful environment during the day. So, you want to come home at night and not have to think at all. So, I would say that space for you needs to be no bright colors. It needs to be either connecting to nature colors or what I call whisper colors, which are very calming, just those soothing off-whites and I call them color neutrals. Or it might be the color world At Ease I'm referring to which is just very easy neutrals, mid-tone, neutrals. Where you don't have to think. It's about rest, and so forth. 

But if you work from home, or for example, you need to be more active in your kitchen--you're cooking all the time, caring for your children. You need more energizing colors, but you may not want to be anxious. There are certain greens that are wonderful because they can energize and calm at the same time. So, it's hard without specific questions from your audience. I'm just trying to give general examples of how little things can really make a difference in how you feel, but pay attention not just to what you think but how you feel when you walk into these spaces and how your heartbeat goes and note it.  

I have a lot of people who want to redecorate their home or even just one room. They show me pictures from a magazine that are beautiful. Oh, I like this, I like this. But then we start talking, I say, "How do you want to feel in your bedroom?" And then they say, "Well, I want to feel very calm, and I want to be able to fall asleep easily." And I say, "Well, that color is not going to help you fall asleep so easily. I know you like it. But it may not be the best color for you." So, these are the types of things that will help people. They're simple but just become more observant. Then, from there, we can find what tricks there might be or easy fixes, easy solutions. 

Ame Sanders  20:38

I guess a couple of things I want to touch on. One is, and you and I talked about this before, this is not necessarily what's your favorite color, or what color you like to wear if you're going out on the town or something like that. This is the color that you want to surround yourself in your space.

  -The Color Test

Lori Weitzner  21:01

That you need. I created this color test, and it's not perfect, but it's really interesting. I've had 75,000 people take it. It's 17 questions, I think 18 questions. At the end of it, it gives you a result of what worlds you may or may not like but maybe need to consider. My goal is just to get you thinking about color as a tool. So, I get emails all the time, like, "Oh, Lori, I did your color test, and I got Earthly. That color world is just not a color world. I feel like I don't know how to use in my home." I'll talk to them a little bit more about it and understand better. But if you get that Earthly world, it's all about those are the colors that bring passion out of you and your dreams. Often, it's the case where people who get Earthly are people not quite doing what they're dreaming of doing. If they can get a little bit more of that color, which will give them a sense of security, but also a kick in the butt at the same time, they might go for something they've been dreaming about but haven't had the sense of security to go try it. That's just one example. 

So, I say you don't have to paint your wall terracotta. Start with lighting a candle because candles are ignition. Flame, light, you know. So, there are all ways to interpret, and if those results don't resonate with you, that's fine. But if they intrigue you enough, start to think about why those particular worlds of color might be something helpful to incorporate into your life, whether it be big or small. Let me tell you a vase of red flowers, red tulips, in this season, that will last a week to 10 days; if you get them fresh, it can do so much for your energy just sitting at your desk. Little things can make a big difference.

-Engaging All of the Senses

Ame Sanders  22:56

I like the fact that what you're saying is it can be small things. It can be a candle. It can be a pillow. It can be a throw. It can be flowers. Or it can be if what you're needing is nature colors, it can be a walk in nature if you have access to that or a plant. So, I think those are all really good pieces of advice for us.  

This is why I wanted to talk with you, which is really, the key for me is that all of us are different and we have different needs. We relate to our spaces differently. But when we are hosting events, we should really consider the space that we are inviting people into the way we make that invitation. Even the colors that we use and the things that we choose when we're making the invitation, the actual event itself. You describe that beautifully, from the activities that we do, maybe with flower arranging, as you talked about, that we think about these other senses. Engaging all the senses that people have and that they bring their whole self to the space.

Lori Weitzner  24:06

Yeah. Just expand a little bit further on my partnership and work with Google Xi, which is so super cool is you know, we talk about diversity and equity and all of that. But, you know, we're trying to get the world to talk more about neurodiversity. We are all different, not just in our color and economic backgrounds and all of that. But we're also very different in the way we learn. They did a study, and I'm going to mess up the statistics. I'm not going to even say the numbers, but it's a huge amount of people who are just in the workforce who are neurodiverse. Now, neurodiverse can mean anything from ADHD to depression to anxiety to OCD to sensitivity to sound to autism. It's kind of all of us, to be honest. And yet, we're not thinking whether it's events, whether it's conferences, or corporate environments, we're not thinking of how to make everyone feel like they belong. Everyone feels like they are comfortable. 

One of the little things we did at the Xi conference was we had buttons that you could wear. They said--I forget the exact wording--but it was basically, "I'm a really nice person; I just don't want to talk right now." Something to that effect. Because the truth is, there are people who are shy. Maybe they are misunderstood as being arrogant, or I don't know what. But just by putting that button on, they don't have to feel anxious. They can feel comfortable to be there and know that someone's not going to just come right up to them and talk to them, and then they're feeling like a deer in headlights. 

There are little things we can do. I know that that transcends the conversation that I'm most expert in, which is color and texture and the synesthesia path. But it's all part of the same thing, which led to helping a little bit on this school development that an architecture firm is doing where we talked about these kids and how they're all different. They all learn differently. They come from different countries, speaking different languages. How can we create space and make them feel comfortable? Is there something universal? It's more how can we find something, maybe a base that's universal, because there is a budget requirement. 

Then, build out from there, where there are smaller spaces or things that can change so that people can feel and find their own. I'm a big fan of pillows. I'm a big fan of just changing your pillows out, keeping your sofa the same. I'm a fan of furniture on wheels because you can move things around. And I'm a fan of slipcovers; I know that sounds old-fashioned, but I like just the idea of just being able to throw something on top of something to change it in a moment to make people feel more at home. So, this is really important and becoming more important. And I think you'll start to hear and we will all start to hear more about this conversation related to neurodiversity. As much as we're talking about other kinds of diversity today.

-Design Multi-Dimensionally: Think A Chord vs One Note 

Ame Sanders  27:10

I'm really glad that you brought that up because I had some discussion with someone who was redoing a playground. They had not thought to include space for people who needed to get away from the hyperactivity of a playground, and they needed a quiet space to retreat to. So, I think this conversation also opens up a lot of ways for us to think about being more inclusive. That's allowing people to self-select the kind of spaces that they need to be in and giving them room to do that. And as you described with the button, the way they want to interact with the group as well. So, those are some good insights.

Lori Weitzner  27:49

It's a big misconception when designing for a commercial event or space or experience--one note versus a chord. If that makes sense. Yes, it gets it takes more thought. It doesn't necessarily have to take more money. And it doesn't have to necessarily take more square footage if you're clever. So, that's like a playground. Not to be too critical, but there are probably a lot of people who don't want to be playing. 

I mean, my daughter was one of them who never went out to play at recess. She asked to help the teacher during recess. The teacher was worried like, why doesn't this kid want to play? Because she had severe ADHD and it was too much stimulation for her. But if there was an area where she could have gone maybe alone or one other friend and played cards or something, it probably would have been a different experience.

Ame Sanders  28:45

So, Lori, we've covered a lot of territory here in this discussion. Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you would like to cover?

Lori Weitzner  28:54

I don't know. I guess my mission, and a lot of other people's too that I've been working with, is to get people to just think more multi-dimensionally about spaces. Not just for enjoyment or that they're pretty, but how they can really affect us for wellness, and we do talk a lot about wellness these days. We talk a lot about diversity these days. But I want to talk about it altogether and how we can use these as tools. Because, if we do, I think that people will feel calmer, happier, less anxious, and more productive in their lives. And that's the end goal.

 

Ame Sanders  29:34

Lori, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lori Weitzner  29:37

Thank you.

-Reflection and Summary 

Ame Sanders  29:42

In reflecting on my discussion with Lori, I was reminded of something that we all know but don't think enough about. And that is, little things make a big difference. We are multi-sensory beings. If we consider how to go beyond sight and sound and beyond the content and conversations and ideas, we'll be able to better engage not just the head but the heart as well. We can also make it a little easier and less stressful to come together around this very challenging work of equity and inclusion. Most importantly, lest you think this way of thinking is only for the privileged few, Lori reminded us that her approach is about more thought, not necessarily more money. 

Lori prompts us all to think multi-dimensionally and multi-sensorially using music, scent, light, color, and touch. I love that she challenged us to think about and plan for all of the individuals we are inviting into a space or event and what their needs might be. Also to consider all of the interactions we'll have with them from the moment of invitation to the follow-up. Each of these moments or touches is an important opportunity to create a sense of inclusion and welcome. Again, it requires us to think about these many small opportunities and small details and also to acknowledge and respect the unique needs of each individual. 

 But you know, it isn't only about the groups that we bring together. Lori reminded us that color can also be a tool for each of us in our own spaces. Lori reminded us to pay attention to how different spaces make us feel and to try to create the personal space that we need. She reminded us that that's really not about using more of our favorite colors, but rather, listening to ourselves and discovering the colors we need in our lives, and bringing more of those colors and elements into our personal space. By doing so, we can create a personal space that allows us to recharge, recenter, and energize for the work ahead.

This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share the podcast or discuss these ideas with others. 

If you'd like to hear more about the practice of building an inclusive and equitable community, head over to theinclusivecommunity.com and sign up for our newsletter. A

If so, feel free to leave us a review or reach out. We'd love to hear from you. 

Thanks so much for listening, and join us again next time.


LORI'S BIO

Lori Weitzner, Principal and Creative Director of Lori Weitzner Design
is internationally known for her contributions to the world of textiles, wallcoverings, rugs, passementerie, stone and tile, bedding, and other products for interiors and gifting. Her work is in the permanent collections of such museums as the Cooper-Hewitt in New York and The Victoria Albert in London as well as a special exhibition about color during the Venice Biennale 2022. She is the recipient of more than thirty five prestigious design awards and her work is featured regularly in such media as Elle Décor, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times. She has authored her first book, Ode to Color: The Ten Essential Palettes for Living and Design, published by HarperCollins, and lectures around the world on the effects of color on our well being. Including an extensive partnership with Google XI.


CONTRIBUTORS

Guest: Lori Weitzner

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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