Charley Hutton has an eye for color. His special gift for picking the right projects and the right color for those projects has helped the automotive painter and fabricator fill his trophy case with awards, including two Ridlers. While Hutton enjoys getting recognized for his craft, that’s not what continues to drive him.
“Honestly, I do this because it means that I don’t have to go to work every day,” he joked. “I get to go to the playground every day. The paint box is my sandbox! What I love best about what I do is that I get to be creative and artistic and share that with other people.”
When Hutton is not working his magic in his Idaho-based Color Studio, he can be found attending car shows all over the world.
“I live and breathe cars,” he said. “I never even thought about doing anything but this for a living. I was just a little kid who never wanted to get a real job and just wanted to play with cars, and thankfully that’s what I have been able to do.”
We talked to Hutton about what it was like for him working alongside some of the industry’s biggest names, what paint trends he loves and which ones he is over, and what we will be seeing come out of his Color Studio next.
GG: You got your first big shot in the industry because of Boyd Coddington. What do you remember most about him?
Charley Hutton: I read all the magazines as a kid, so Boyd was my ultimate idol. He was from Idaho like I am, so that was really inspirational to me. I give Boyd the credit of getting this industry to where it is today. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Boyd had a vision. He had the greatest gift. He was also fantastic at assembling the most talented group of guys together and finding a killer project for them to work on and a customer who could fund the build of such a cool car. I learned that it’s not about the name of the guy on the shop, but about the team working together inside the shop.
GG: Viewers of Boyd’s TV show ‘American Hot Rod’ probably remember that you and Boyd ended things on a sour note. Did you ever make up?
Charley Hutton: We did. Working for Boyd was a dream come true for me, but when the TV show started I feel like everything went downhill. When I left Boyd’s [shop], he had a lot of animosity. That was the hardest point in my life, when I realized I wanted to move on and Boyd having a bad reaction to it. [The episode where I left the shop] was an ugly episode. Boyd refused to shake my hand, and he got a lot of backlash for that. But I tell everyone, you have no idea who you are as a person until you have a camera following you around all the time. He did reach out to me after the fact, though, and we made up. He even came up to Idaho to see me a few months before he passed. I’m grateful for that.
GG: We have to ask—do you have a favorite color?
Charley Hutton: I love black, but I don’t really have a favorite color. All colors are awesome to me! That’s what’s so fun about color – it’s like personality. Not everyone has the same personality, just like no one color works for every car. For me personally, all of my vehicles have always been black. I love black cars because of how straight and clean they are. But I love all colors, so that’s probably why I’m a painter.
GG: You may love all colors, but surely there’s a paint trend you’d like to see retired?
Charley Hutton: Everything runs its course, and what may be great at one time looks dated and odd later on. I mean, I had a perm when I was in high school, for example! You can look at the old pastel colors and heartbeat graphics and you wonder how that stuff was ever popular, but when it was out there, I loved that stuff. I don’t want to knock trends, but I always want to try to make my stuff timeless. I’d rather be known as the guy who builds timeless classics than the guy who started a trend that quickly went away.
GG: What qualities do you think a young person needs to have in order to be a success in the automotive industry?
Charley Hutton: The most important things they need are passion and drive. You can teach a skill but you can’t teach passion. To be able to make it in this business, you really have to be passionate about it because there are a lot of hours involved, and you don’t always get paid for them or win an award for them. I tell young people to understand how blessed they are to be able to do this. You also have to understand that you have to start at the bottom to get to the top. Be willing to change and be open-minded to learning.
GG: What’s your daily driver these days?
Charley Hutton: To be honest, I don’t have anything old that’s finished. I drive a 2014 Denali that I use to haul stuff and tow. I feel guilty working on my own stuff when I have a customer’s car in the shop. I own a ’57 Chevy and that’s the first car I ever bought. I also have a ’32 ford two-door sedan, a ’29 Model A and a ’29 roadster pickup, but they are all torn apart right now.
GG: If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would you choose?
Charley Hutton: I’m a devout Christian so I’d love to be able to sit down and have a chat with Jesus. I’d also like to speak to Abraham Lincoln because he’s someone I’ve always been intrigued with.
GG: When you’re not in your shop, where can we find you?
Charley Hutton: When I get a break from cars, I like to go to some tropical island somewhere. I work and love to travel. Even when I’m not working [I am always] looking at colors. I’m fascinated by the outdoors and the beauty of plants and flowers. I love going snorkeling and seeing the colors of fish.
GG: You are known for always wearing shorts and flip flops, even in the dead of winter. Do you even own a pair of long pants?
Charley Hutton: Not really. I wear shorts all year round, even if it’s snowing here in Idaho. I have even been known to wear long johns under my shorts! The older I get, the colder I get so I may break down and get some pants one of these days. I wear flip flops all the time, unless I’m working, even in the snow. I guess I’m not very smart! I think I’m an island boy at heart, even though I was born and raised in Idaho.
GG: What are you most proud of, career-wise?
Charley Hutton: I’m most proud of the friendships I’ve made in the industry. I’m very proud of what I do and the awards we’ve won, but that’s not what it’s about. Winning the Ridler is not what drives me. What drives me is building someone’s dream and building the best car I can build. We have some really fun projects in the works. We’re still heavily involved in the hot rod world, but we’re getting involved with the resto side and the muscle car stuff. It’s fun and exciting for me. I really love it all.