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NOTIONS: Oh, the things we worry about in modern America

July 9, 2007

My wife, Cheri, and I live in one of those newfangled, don'tstray-from-the-mainstream neighborhoods. It's governed by wellmeaning "covenants and restrictions." It has "architectural control guidelines." These documents were formulated by a "development control committee" to "enhance the value and appearance of the community." (We're especially concerned with the "value" part, until our property-tax bills arrive, at which point we protest the assessed value.)

Included among the controls in our neighborhood is a color palette. I imagine some designer back in the early 1990s, sitting at a drafting table in the glow of a fluorescent lamp. She pores over a book of color samples from the Porter Paint Co. and selects four options for the 40 proposed houses.

"There, that should be enough variety to please everyone!" she says, "and they'll still blend nicely together."

And so, nearly 15 years later, we homeowners are directed by these aging documents to reside in Neutral City, a pale enclave of Umber Shadow, Taupe Mist, Willow Gold or Powder White.

But somewhere along the way, someone realized that tastes might change and our property values might actually benefit from more varied colors, a few structural modifications and other forms of aesthetic individuality.

So our neighborhood association wisely established a "design review committee" to consider exceptions to the color palette and evaluate architectural changes that might, over time, add personality to our march-in-lockstep homes.

Subsequently, folks have built on sunrooms and screened porches, installed fences in the "wrong" color and added awnings to their decks.

The color palette is gradually changing, too. Bucking the beige binge, two families painted their houses (gasp!) green-a shade not included in the prescribed palette at all.

And so, when the original taupe on our home wore thin and we could no longer postpone the pricey makeover, Cheri and I asked the design review committee if we might complement those two green homes by painting ours "Oxford Blue." The committee took a look at our proposed paint samples and said yes.

A few weeks ago, the painter arrived. He sprayed a big section of siding along the back and side of our house so we could see the new color in different lights. With the old gray gone, there was welcome warmth. Our yellow porch umbrella popped against the blue background. And instead of struggling to tell a friend how to find us in the row of look-alike townhouses, we simply said, "Look for the blue one."

But apparently, not everyone is pleased. A few days after our painter began in earnest, the association president sent an e-mail asking whether we'd had the color approved. His message reminded me that "our covenants and restrictions are clear about getting approval of colors for exterior work and materials."

Then, the design review committee chairman sent an e-mail saying he liked the new color, but wanted to confirm that the shade going on was the shade blessed.

A third person phoned to share an overheard conversation in which two neighbors were complaining about our nowcolorful row of homes (one blue, one green, egad!).

We were asked, unofficially, if we'd start over in approved colors. Not wanting to offend, we said we would-but only if the association paid. To ensure that we didn't lose our painter to another job while this was being considered, we rushed about getting estimates from the painter, obtaining paint samples from the paint store, making a new selection, packaging the proposed remedy for the association and awaiting a decision.

In the midst of this hubbub, Cheri was trying to complete academic research on health policy and uninsured Americans, and to finalize a proposed program that would encourage more Indianapolis Public Schools kids to graduate.

I, meanwhile, was meeting with a physician and his wife to discuss our shared interest in preventing lung cancer; attending a life sciences conference to help enhance our state's economy; advising a not-for-profit on fund-raising to engage more kids in positive (vs. criminal) pursuits; attending the mayor's announcement of a crime-fighting tax increase; joining the governor to announce a smoking-cessation program; briefing the Louisville newspaper on a proposal for Food and Drug Administration regulation of cigarettes; and judging human service awards for United Way.

In the end, the association president decided that, since we'd gotten the color approved, we should finish the house in blue. The design committee chairman resigned rather than face such situations again. And to give him a chuckle, I sent him the lyrics from an old song that begins like this:

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,

Little boxes, little boxes,

Little boxes, all the same.

There's a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one And they're all made out of ticky-tacky

And they all look just the same.

Except, of course, pink and yellow would never fly here.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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