Ruthe F. Ritterbeck

Queen of Color

The paint world is populated by diverse inhabitants-a vast array of reds, infinite expanses of navy, lapis or azure, and entire populations of off-whites. Minions of mauve, lilac and lavender; legions of lemon, lime and citrus shades. Sienna and terra cotta lands are shined upon by a thousand distinct rays from a golden sun, and there is even an incandescent starlight hue visible to the discerning eye. Presiding over all this vast realm is Ruthe F. Ritterbeck, "Queen of Color".

"If the average person can see hundreds of colors, I can see thousands," said Ruthe, who has been the manager of Paint & Paper Tiger on Hilton Head Island for 27 years. Considering that she has been poring over books full of paint samples for over a quarter-century, it's not hard to believe that this is true.

As the manager of this independent small business, Ruthe does a little of everything-billing, taking orders, answering the phone, unloading paint trucks and, as she will attest, she's even been known to clean the bathroom and sweep the floor. But where she has always excelled is in the aspect of color matching. Customers seeking just the right hue for their walls have brought in swatches of color in the hopes that Ruthe will be able to recreate them in latex or oil-based form.

"It's amazing what people will bring in," she said-"a leaf, a sweater, a teacup. We had a woman for whom we did 67 quarts trying to find the right brown. That was an extreme case, but we did get it."

Once Ruthe is able to isolate the exact color the client wants, she must consider many external factors that will affect how the paint appears on the wall. What room are they doing? What is the lighting like? If they paint the wall pink but the carpet is brown, how will this reflect? Only years of experience on the job has given Ruthe the expertise that allows her to assist customers with exactitude.

"Some people paint a room twice and still can't get the right color," she said. "They want a historic yellow with muddy undertones and it comes out looking banana yellow. So they come in here for guidance, and my job is to make that color happen for people so they can come home to someplace they love."

At the end of the day, the walls of your home are not only a tribute to your personal taste and individuality, but also tools to help soothe or energize you. Some people may find it impossible to relax in a chartreuse living room, while others find buttercream intolerably dull and conventional. No matter what look you're going for, guaranteed the "Queen of Color" can help you find it.

"Life would be so boring in black & white," said Ruthe. "Color, temperature,'s what makes your environment yours and not just a place you exist. It's all about self-expression."

Up Close

Hometown: Summerville, SC Family includes: husband, Mike; sons Ian, 34, and Mike, 14, plus four granddaughters Hobbies: jewelry-making, beadwork, travel, reading and baking Number of cookies she bakes every year at Christmas: 1,600 Current read: The Road to Cana, by Anne Rice Other business: Hilton Head Video, which she operates with her husband Big on: community involvement, especially in the schools (she is PTA president of the Middle School) Paint product she's excited about: Benjamin Moore's new line of environmentally friendly latex paint, which features lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in order to make a less toxic and more user-friendly paint Why it's good to be "green": "We live on a small island; we need to take care of it." Why she loves living on Hilton Head: "Because the water is such a great place to contemplate God's blessings-it's so vast!"