About color and health

Mary McMurray is an artist whose love of color and architectural design led her to create her business, Art First Colors for Architecture, thirty years ago. With a degree in Art and Art History from Cornell University and Mills College, and practical experience as a licensed painting contractor and a teacher of decorative painting, it is her pleasure to add fresh value to both new and old properties with color designs for paint and building materials. Her color choices can be seen on and in more than 2,000 homes, businesses, and civic buildings in Portland alone. Her talents are sought by clients in many States, with whom she works at a distance by email and phone. There are many ways to improve a property, and Mary McMurray brings the knowledge to make better decisions in design development planning.

Mary has overseen the completion of many historically important color projects: notably, both the interior and exterior color designs for The Hollywood Theatre and for The Old Church, in downtown Portland.

A color expert in the field of historic preservation, McMurray discovered the original paint colors for the Captain Flavel House Museum in Astoria, and the Gordon House in Silverton, through scientific paint analysis.

Why choose me?

For over twenty-five years, Art First Colors for Architecture has provided exceptional color and design for homeowners, business owners, sacred spaces, community buildings, and all types of structures both historic and contemporary. Interior, exterior, commercial, residential: I have a portfolio of gorgeous project photos and testimonials to share. I solve design challenges while helping couples and committees resolve their differences in opinion.

One client gives her reason for choosing Art First Colors:

“Mary, here is a picture of what we are addressing: our Living Room furniture is tired, the walls need a fresh coat of paint, and the furniture arrangement is not exactly ideal.
I have an idea of furniture styles and colors I like, but when I think of coordinating colors, fabrics, and which furniture pieces would best suit our room, I quickly become overwhelmed.
We have missed your wonderful color and coordination gifts! We are in need of them again. Honestly, everything you have helped us with I love. What we have attempted on our own is not as lovely or timeless.” ~ Nicole


"Have you ever painted a room, or worse the entire outside of your house and decided the color was not what you wanted at all? Well, I have - too many times. I first hired Mary when I moved to Portland. I had no furniture in the house - only pictures of it. In an hour she helped me choose colors for every room and after I moved everything in, it was perfect. She later helped me with a remodel – again paint colors and also kitchen tile and formica. I was very happy with everything. When I moved again I again called her and she helped me with paint colors inside and out. And everything turned out just the way I wanted it.
Mary is very easy to work with. She has a case full of swatches and knows a lot about color. She can tell you if you need a warm or cool color, what it will look like at night or in daylight. She's very good at making sure that everything goes well together - ceiling color compliments walls, etc. And she will steer you in the right direction if you have some idea in mind but you're not quite sure how to implement it.
I have wasted so much money over the years on paint and then wasn't happy with it. She is extremely knowledgeable and the money will be well spent. I highly recommend her." ~ Sue P.


TESTIMONIAL: "I'm a word person; colors can confuse me. I've had bare white walls to hang art on. I've spent many a rainy day feeling that the universe was smeared with too much gray. I've hid that I'm not sure what color periwinkle is. I'd never hazard a guess about what three or four colors might look nice with peach.
That's why Mary McMurray of ART FIRST was such a treasure when I wanted to repaint four rooms in my fifty-year- old Irvington home. I told her that I like roses and blues; teals and yellows make me bilious. I sensed that some color would bring out the lovely red in my oriental carpet better than the creamy off-white that bored me after 18 years.
My consultation with Mary seemed to go well. She had color chips, a terrific portfolio of exciting ­ and sometimes daring ­ ideas. She listened attentively and asked what I used my rooms for, when I used them, and how I wanted them to feel. Two days later she returned with suggestions for how to paint my rooms.
I gulped. These colors she laid on the table challenged every notion I had about ceilings and walls. Then I decided that her solutions were not only beautiful, they were brilliant. I asked her to figure how much paint I'd need so I could get started.
Four months later, all the rooms are finished. I'll confess to an intense moment of doubt when the first swatch went up in the living room, but I had faith and forged on.
The feel of rightness of the colors she chose has drawn comment from every one of my guests. I have never felt more at home in my home.
You bet I hand out her cards! She brought warmth and grace to a home I dearly love." ~ Tricia K., Portland Oregon

Color's Benefits to Health

Healing environments need beautiful colors. Make your home and office into places to inspire and nourish your well-being.  I will propose dynamic color palettes based on your needs and the structure of your built environment. I design environments to provide color therapy: for hospitals, clinics, day care centers; and for homes, businesses and community buildings. My clients often say that my consultation has helped to improve their emotional and physical well-being.

From a professional therapist who used our services:

"The painting is complete. I just need to hang the artwork in my therapy office and the admin/kitchen area. We love it and so do the clients. I told my partner that we might not even need to do therapy. We can just have the client sit in the waiting room, have a cup of tea, soak in the environment, then head home" ~ a client in Pennsylvania

Art First Colors for Architecture will provide health-promoting colors for you at your location. Health is comfort, contentment, "rightness" and joy. It will be our pleasure to transform your place into a healthier environment.


Color can have a profound effect on you; it alters moods, influences behavior and causes physical reactions. The correct choice of colors for health is a powerful tool. Art First will make the perfect selections of healing colors for you.

“Beauty dissolves conflicts, quiets us within, inspires us, creates a sense of happiness and serenity, refreshes us, and consoles us in times of depression. Beauty is not unnecessary or impractical” ~ Frank Lloyd Wright


As a colorist and artist, what I do is different from a typical interior designer.
While a designer is concerned with fashion and current styles, I seek to bring out harmonies that will comfort, delight, and inspire the people who use them. Whereas interior design is sometimes used to impress others, art seeks to introduce beauty and benefit the beholder directly. 

The great artist Matisse said that the purpose of his paintings was to refresh and enliven the viewer, comparing the experience to "a comfortable easy chair after a tiring day of work". Similarly, I compose dynamic interactions between the hues rather than producing a static result, because there is a difference between feeling calmly centered and feeling bored.

“In the realm of emotion, color can introduce sensory stimulation, break up monotony, establish an interesting change of pace. It is not just that one color is better than another, or that red is exciting, green tranquil and blue subduing. What has been learned from research is that variety is, of itself, psychologically beneficial” ~ Faber Birren, prominent color research scientist

So we naturally require a variety of colors for our well-being, and with careful choices the balance of colors and shades will promote health and a pleasurable state of mind. 


My work is specific to the people involved and to the building. It’s not as simple as one color being more healing than another, what’s important is the balance of hues relative to who will be using that space.       

Each of us has a unique response to color. I get to know my clients within the setting of their own place. I choose colors for health based on my knowledge of how colors appear in spaces considering the available light, architecture, and the desired results. We have an environmentally friendly policy and specify no-odor, no-VOC paints and other materials.