Designer Profile: Donald Kaufman & Taffy Dahl

Together with business partner and wife, Taffy Dahl, Donald Kaufman has been creating signature architectural paint color palettes for more than 40 years. In 1977 Kaufman founded the Donald Kaufman Color business and began producing site specific color collections for architectural projects. Since then, Kaufman has become one of the leading color providers for the architectural and design community.

Some of Kaufman's color swatches

Kaufman’s colors have been installed in the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Toronto, New York City’s Gramercy Hotel, the Myerson Concert Hall in Dallas and Calvin Klein’s flagship store in NYC.

"We are endlessly inspired by the myriad of expressions man has employed balancing light and nature to enhance our environments." - Donald Kaufman

Kaufman originally supported his art-making by working as a house painter. Here, he used standard colors straight from the can, but inevitably found himself making alterations to fit each situation. "Gradually I began to recognize that my back-and-forth pigment adjustments were creating the shimmering atmospheres on walls that I experienced in nature," Kaufman explained.

A San Francisco architect, David Robinson, noticed one paint job's special play with light and asked Kaufman to use it on another project.

"Although I had appreciated the potential of these mixes, it wasn’t until this first collaboration that I understood how much teamwork and communication would be required to make the evanescence concrete. Owing to often intense emotions that accompany color choices, vagaries of vision and language, and the difficulties in transposing intensities from small chips to large surfaces, we found that architects, designers, and clients, though committed to achieving rare beauty and function, often floundered when trying to agree on specifics. Enter the color consultants."

Living room, painted with one of Kaufman's colors

"We are endlessly inspired by the myriad of expressions man has employed balancing light and nature to enhance our environments. The key to choosing the right expression is through actual, not digital, materials," Kaufman explained, referencing his preference for large, physical samples, exposed to the true range of natural light within a space as it changes during the course of a day. "The key to a successful project is collaboration with all the players," he added.

Donald Kaufman

Kaufman and Dahl found this necessary collaboration with the architects for whom they began to work. "Most hadn’t realized that in using standard paint, they were depending on products that had, since the 1940s, been sacrificing rich pigmentation for lower costs. This gradual attrition of aesthetics was based on manufacturers’ mistaken notions that different coatings should compete on durability, ease of application, and better hiding – but not on better quality, higher performing color," Kaufman said.

"One of the many small paint companies, long gone since the 1950s, advertised paints that had “more pigments than are needed to make the color.” Liberty Paint Company had known the secret to making paint colors rich. Ironically, the standardization is what put us in business. It was also the catalyst for our architectural education, since the architects, themselves sophisticated in color, made sure we understood the logic of their constructions and how our palettes would complement their ordering of forms and contribute to fulfilling their visions."

Bedroom, colored by Donald Kaufman and Taffy Dahl

Kaufman and Dahl's passion for color, color theory and the application of color in architecture is profound. It has kept them working together with an extraordinary roster of collaborators for decades. In the following video, you'll see some of their infectious enthusiasm for this niche within architectural design on display during a guided tour of Philip Johnson's Glass House Estate.

Donald Kaufman + Taffy Dahl Discuss Color in Context at Philip Johnson's Glass House, New Caanan, CT