Sea Salt

I bought the cream paint for the dining room. I chose a color called Sea Salt, which is what most closely matched the color we have now: a totally inappropriately-named white called “Clear Yellow.” Clear Yellow! I ask you! I almost couldn’t choose it at the time, even though it was the one I wanted, because Clear Yellow sounds like….YELLOW.

But it is not. It is white. Well, cream. I kept asking the painter to reassure me: “It’s not yellow, right?” and he’d say, “No. It’s white. Well, cream.” And I’d say, “Because…it’s called yellow.” And he’d say, “I know. But it’s white. Well, cream.” But even so, the day he started painting I was antsy and had to go peek at it under the pretense of bringing over a few more boxes.

Anyway, Behr’s Sea Salt is pretty much the same color (Toasted Marshmallow was close, too, but it bothered me because TOASTED Marshmallow should be a light golden brown, not cream), so I went over to the paint counter and asked for a gallon of Sea Salt. The permed, forties-ish clerk mixed it up and put it in the shaker, and we all stood there waiting for it to be fully shaken. She started a conversation with her co-worker about how she thought Sarah Palin didn’t actually like John McCain.

Then the paint was ready, and she got to the part where they pry up the lid of the mixed paint to let you double-check it. She stopped mid-pry, gave it a whack with the mallet instead, and said wearily and I thought a little scornfully, “It’s pretty much just white.” And she gave a little half eye-roll, like I was some crazy person who was custom-ordering a specific shade of white like it mattered.

Clearly she has not found her calling. “Pretty much just white,” indeed! For a color called Sea Salt! That is such a GIMME. If I’d been feeling a little perkier and sassier and less distracted by the low-grade stressiness of the decision I’d just made, I would have said back to her, “Oh, no no no. That is not your line. Your line is: ‘Oh, Sea Salt! I LOVE Sea Salt! It’s such a clean, fresh, lineny white—but not too STARK, you know what I mean? Just the teeniest HINT of yellow to warm it up. It’s just the most perfect white. And the name makes me think of those photos where there’s the white sand and the bleached wood and the beautiful ocean and those tall faded grasses.'”

Depending on her reaction to being schooled, I could have continued: “See, then you lift up the lid to let me peek, and you give a happy little sigh. ‘See?,’ you say. ‘Perfect.’ You pause a moment too long, as if reluctant to stop gazing at it. Then you mallet the lid back down cheerfully [here I’d demonstrate cheerful malleting] and hand it to me and raise your eyebrows and say, ‘Good choice!’ and you put a firm little emphasis on each word, like you’re not usually impressed with a paint customer’s choice, but you’re impressed with mine. And as I walk away, you say to your co-worker in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, but as if you didn’t realize I could hear you, ‘I just love Sea Salt. It’s one of my total favorites.’ …I can write this down for you if you need to study it for next time.”

Seriously. A paint-counter employee! Saying something is “pretty much just white”! I felt like applying for her job on the spot. “Trust me, I could do this better,” I’d say to the manager, tying on an apron.

42 thoughts on “Sea Salt

  1. desperate housewife

    This whole post is just delicious- I ate it up and wanted more. Your description of the color Sea Salt! You DID miss your calling- you should be the person who invents the names of paints, and then you should be sent around to all the paint centers to “school” the paint mixers on how to express proper understanding of and enthusiasm for the color choices of customers.

  2. Beth Fish

    Ok ok, so I guess we can’t leave our respective husbands and move to Vermont and get married, because we would never agree about wall colors.

    Although my House #2 selections were far more staid than my House #1 selections.

  3. Tracy

    Okay, am so in your shoes right now picking out colors. Could you go behind the counter for just a few gallons so I can confirm I am picking the right color (because you know I can’t get any answer out of my husband). There seem to be A LOT of people who really need to look at their career field. They are obviously not meeting the minimum requirements (read: being nice, listening, and not BEING SO STUPID)I am sure the color is going to be great.

  4. Kristi

    That was perfectly said, perfectly written, and perfectly you! Perfect!

    Will you come to Home Depot with me tomorrow and school their paint-counter employees?! I’m already getting a headache thinking about their woeful customer service.

  5. Omaha Mama

    I think picking a cream, or a white, is just as tough, if not tougher, than picking color. The shade is so important! I painted my whole first house in vanilla milkshake, the name mattered to me! Here, we have cozy cottage. Which my Hubs says is yellow. I say it’s an antique white. It matters. That lady is just there for her paycheck.

  6. Opus #6

    I’m ready to buy some paint and I’m not even redecorating the house right now. You *are* a good salesman. That manager doesn’t know what he’s missing.

  7. Michelle

    Wow. You’ve spent far too much time shopping for and buying paint :) But hey, at least you could train all the people working at the paint counters, right? And a BIG thank you for the recipe requests. I’ve gotten a lot (but always happy to have more)!

  8. Mimi

    You’ve made a plain ol’ trip to the paint store entertaining! I bet your gallon of Sea Salt is everything that you described.

  9. Swistle

    Beth Fish- Let’s not be hasty: it could still work out. We could compromise: Sea Salt in one room, Deep Ocean in another. Or three walls of one, one wall of another.

  10. fairydogmother

    Maybe you should have a applied for her job on the spot. How long can you work at a paint counter for and NOT realize the many nuances in white/cream paint? Hell, I’ve never done that job, and I know just from looking at paint samples through the years.

    Also, is it just me or does “Clear Yellow” sound like…well…pee? (SORRY! Sorry to be gross, I just can’t stop thinking about it!)

    Sea Salt, however, sounds wonderful. Yummy and vacation-y all at once!

  11. suddensilence

    LOVE this post. Swistle, you could write a book about paint and I would buy it!

    The psychology of names fascinates me. Sea Salt sounds so appealing. Off-White does not. We see the same thing with our candles; if a scent isn’t selling, we’ll rename it and suddenly we can’t keep it on the shelves!

    Anyway, the rudeness of that employee’s comment would have stopped me in my tracks. Unbelievable! It would have been hilarious if you’d elbowed her aside and took her apron. :)

    ~ Wendi

  12. Julie

    Oh, I WISH you had said that to her! I can’t think that fast and probably would have said something in response like “yeah, I guess it is just white” and then stewed about the whole thing the rest of the day. I like your way MUCH better! :)

    So how does it look?

  13. Psuedokim

    Though I too love your writing and wait for your posts every day, I normally don’t feel compelled to comment. I had to this time.
    That store clerk sounded like she should immediately transfer here to my Walmart. Where they must give their new employees, along with their new hire paperwork and policies handbook an extra booklet on How to Be as Surly and Unenthusiastic as Possible with Customers. If we had more money, I’d be at Target all the time.
    I’ve always fantasized about being a nail polish namer, but you have me beat with paint naming.

  14. Chraycee

    Swistle and Wendi – when I used to manage a Benjamin Moore store (5 years ago) only some of the colors had names – they all had numbers.

    The reasoning was exactly what you just described – people balk if the color they like has the “wrong” name.

    When Ben Moore released their new color palette just before I left the industry all the colors had names as well as numbers. People like colors to have names – even if they’re the wrong names.

    I once spent hours looking for a fabric for a lady that went with her decor. She left a sample of the green she wanted to match behind, and I found LOADS of nice fabrics for her – and she liked them – but refused to buy any of them because not one of them was named “Forest Green”. ::::sigh::::

    Please bear in mind that a marketing department storms up a bunch of names and then they pin them on colors in a family – there is no one thoughtfully gazing at each sample – concoting the perfect name. :-)

    There’s nothing wrong with liking cream paint.

  15. Swistle

    Chraycee- Oh TOTALLY! I am SO AFFECTED by paint names! When I painted our downstairs, I was looking for one of those slightly brownish light yellows—and the one I liked best was called Clam Chowder. CLAM CHOWDER!!! I actually had to STRUGGLE with myself about buying it. Although, mostly it’s that I thought that if it was named Clam Chowder, it must not be the color I pictured on the walls when I looked at the chip. (It was, though. A GREAT name for it would have been Egg Nog.)

  16. the Joneses

    August heard me laughing and came over to see what was so funny. We laughed together through to the end. Personally, I wouldn’t be attracted to a color called “Sea Salt,” but I’d be all about Egg Nog!

  17. daysgoby

    This post reminds me of the carnival of whites that go along with choosing a wedding dress…

    My mother: It’s white, right?
    Me, dazedly (it was a long day) No, the saleslady says it’s a blue-white. My dress is the colour of milk.
    My mother: WHITE, then.
    Me: No. White was three dresses ago.

  18. Manager Mom

    You totally could have done her bug…but I worked in retail for a long time, and after a while it would have worn you down, and you would have become bitter, and after six months you would get tired of people obsessing over the differences between different shades of off-white like Sea Salt vs. Morning Mist vs. Pale Linen vs. Dirty underpants, and then some lady would have come in and you would wind up doing the same thing.

    I’ve been there. :-)

  19. Jess

    Clearly that person is in the wrong field. I think you SHOULD have applied for the job on the spot. You’d be great at that sort of thing! You would also be good at NAMING paint to begin with. Or naming things in general, like stuffed animals. OR! You could be a baby-named at a hospital! You could lurk around the maternity ward, offering advice to new parents who waited until the last minute and now don’t know what to do.

  20. Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas

    You would totally rock that job. She needs training. First, clearly, there are hundreds of distinct white/cream shades. Second, she’s supposed to do just what you said – tell the customer what a nice choice they made. Even if it’s puce or dog crap brown.

  21. Swistle

    Beth Fish- Also, you’re flexible about Vermont, right? I don’t want to live in Vermont. Hey, I’ll trade you: you give up Vermont, I’ll give up my shades-of-white wall colors.

    Fairydogmother- YES, that’s exactly it: Clear Yellow sounds like pee. And I PROMISE we don’t have pee walls, we have CREAM walls.

    Jess Loolu- HOW MUCH would I love walking around the maternity ward in scrubs, with a book bag full of naming books???

  22. Karly

    Oh, Swistle, the next time I paint I am totally emailing you the name of the paint color and you are going to tell me how lovely it is. Yes you are! I can’t wait!

  23. Mommy Writes

    This is what I enjoy about mystery shopping. I get to write up what they did and send it to the powers-that-be at their corporate office.

    Satisfying in different ways both when they get it right and when they don’t.

  24. Susanica

    Too funny and well said Swistle! I must admit the names of the paints are hilarious.

    And what this whole paint concept of “eggshell”? For my whole adult life I thought it was a color (white or brown I wasn’t sure) but my lovely wife taught me that it’s actually a sheeny finish that is easier to clean than a flat paint. I still think of it as, gulp, a color…sort of a toasted marshmallow color. Right. It’s not a color…

  25. Lawyerish

    Oh, I just loved this so much. You absolutely killed me with what the woman SHOULD have said.

    I also LOVE paint color names. I think of Sea Salt as being faintly gray. It sounds like a color I would choose, too, because it is just so evocative. I could sit in a room painted that color and almost feel the ocean breeze.

    Our kitchen is a blue called Windmill Wings, and I can’t think of the color without having Bette Midler start going all Beaches on me in my head.

  26. Jen

    i’m a big fan of whites and creams and love your made-up script too!

    this whole post warms my little copywriter heart – especially Chraycee’s comment! – because higher ups at various jobs practically BEG us to just “pin [the names] on the colors in a family” while i have always been the sort who spends time “concoting the perfect name.”

    not only have i worked for a paint company naming colors (sadly, freelance and a one-time assignment) but once chose colors from a pantone book, divided them into seasons and thoughtfully named each one according to the overarching feeling of the brand.

    sea salt wasn’t one of mine, although i did name some whites sunwashed, apple blossom, parchment, birchwood, vintage porcelain…

  27. Swistle

    Jen (Copywriter Jen)- Those names make me WANT THOSE PAINTS. ALL OF THEM. I would buy ANY of those paints and feel all happy about the color name. I can’t even pick a favorite. Like, I think, “Well, Vintage Porcelain, that’s probably…..oh, wait, but Parchment is probably my….oh wait, what about Sunwashed…”

  28. Mommy Daisy

    If only…if you had really said that then we would all bow down to you for your wittiness. Still it’s fun just picturing what that would have really been like.

Comments are closed.