Decision on Color Leaves a Gray Area : Westlake Village: Council rules in debate over ‘earth tones.’ Experts say the officials’ views are outdated.


Gray may be the color of Yosemite granite, Oregon beaches and Malibu Creek pebbles, but in the eyes of city officials in the master-planned community of Westlake Village, it is not an “earth tone.”

This upscale community of beiges and browns has officially declared gray off-color, aesthetically speaking, clearing up apparent confusion over the shades of meaning in city ordinances--and in the view of at least one City Council member, preserving property values.

The issue arose last month when Roger Scherrer and Vita Chipembere, new owners of Westlake Sporthouse, proposed painting the health club a light gray. City ordinances dictate that commercial buildings must be painted “earthen tones,” described as colors in harmony with the hills surrounding the community.

The request presented a dilemma for city planning commissioners. The law did not specifically preclude gray. They referred the matter to the City Council, which held a study session and delivered the answer: Gray is not an earth tone. Nor, for that matter, is green.


Westlake Village Planning Director Robert Theobald is now revising the ordinance to specify that earth tones are “subdued shades of brown, tan, beige and off-white.”

Color experts, though, say the council’s views are passe.

“In the 1960s, earth tones meant burnt orange, gold and brown,” said Canoga Park interior designer Dan Fenske, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. “But gray is ground. Grays, brown and taupe are earthy-type colors in today’s marketplace.”

“Gray is an earth tone,” said Robert Gino, co-director of Sherman Oaks’ Orlando Gallery. “There are so many rocks out there that have various shades of gray--you can’t deny your mountains and your rocks.”


Theobald agrees, to a point. “While it can certainly be argued that gray is an earth tone--rocks are gray--that does not reflect the traditional character of Westlake Village,” he said.

Councilwoman Berniece Bennett, who opposed including gray in the definition, said she feared that a profusion of color could affect property values. “The fact that we have definitive colors and not a hodgepodge of colors--the fact that we do have some guidelines--is one of the things that has kept the property values up,” Bennett said.

Councilman James Emmons said allowing gray or green buildings would be the “unraveling” of the city’s Mediterranean theme. “It’s like Solvang. If you allow a French chateau, you have changed the image.”

The city will, however, make exceptions to the earth-tone policy. With special permission from the City Council, a property owner could paint a building gray or green.

“We approved a blue building here once three or four years ago,” Councilwoman Bonnie Klove said. “All the glass was tinted blue. We had long, long study sessions over it, but we finally did approve it.

“It’s a little different, but truly it’s really beautiful. It blends in with the sky.”

In the category of last laughs, though, Donald DeMars, design consultant on the Sporthouse project, said council members may not recognize the proscribed color. After the council rejected his initial paint request, DeMars said he added a bit of beige to his gray paint sample and sent it back for reconsideration. The council approved. Painting proceeded.

So what color is the Westlake Sporthouse?


“It’s gray,” DeMars said. “It’s a more beige-gray than we initially proposed, but it’s gray.”