Living With Colour

Interior Design Centre LIVING WITH COLOUR
Living with Colour

Every building has its own character. When you buy a new property or take a step back from your current one and consider changing it, you give yourself the opportunity to develop that character in a way that will suit you own requirements.

When it is decorated with sensitivity and confidence, the natural features of any home are enhanced, giving full expression to the taste and personality of the owner.

Choosing the right colours is the single most important decision you will make when designing any room scheme, and getting it wrong can be a costly mistake. There are thousands of different colours to choose from, so choosing the right ones that will combine well and look stunning in your home can seem a daunting task.

Fortunately there is some science to what will and won't work when it comes to choosing and combining colour.

There are also set rules that interior designers apply when they are deciding which colour combinations to use and, with our colour guide, you’ll soon be combining different tones and shades with all the confidence and flair of the professionals.

Understanding Colour

Looking at Colour
Amazingly, the human eye can see the difference between around seven million colours, but most of us tend to opt for shades that we feel safe and comfortable with as we don’t have the confidence to choose more unusual ones. When we perceive different colours, what we are really seeing is light reflected back to our eyes in different wavelengths from the variety of surfaces around us.

The Colour Spectrum
These wavelengths together make up the colours of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet – traditionally regarded as comprising the ‘colour spectrum’. At either end of the spectrum are white and black. White reflects and contains all the other colours within it, as Sir Isaac Newton discovered in 1666. He used a triangular prism to catch a shaft of sunlight and found that he created a second shaft of sunlight that showed each colour of the rainbow within the white sunlight. In contrast to white, black absorbs light.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colours
To create beautiful and sometimes unusual combinations, interior designers use a ‘Colour Wheel’ (essentially a visual representation of the colour spectrum). This ‘tool’ shows the relationship between colours in a way that is easy to understand. In 1770 the first colour wheel to ify red, blue and yellow as the three primary colours was created. In the early twentieth century, the German painter teacher and art theoretician Johannes Itten extended the ification to include secondary and tertiary colours. During the 1020’s he developed a colour star (the basis of today’s colour wheel) which included twelve colours – three primary three secondary and six tertiary. The Primary colours are so called because they cannot be created by mixing any other colours together. Then the Secondary colours are made by mixing two of the primary colours together – red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green; and red and blue mixed together make purple. The six Tertiary colours are created when two Secondary colours are mixed together.

Tints and Shades
Any colour can be lightened by the addition of white, it is then known as a ‘tint’. The same colour can also be darkened by the addition of black, this is known as ‘shading’. For example Red, when tinted with white, becomes a feminine pink; when it is shaded with black it turns into a more masculine burgundy. The addition of white and black to different colours is said to change that colours ‘tone’.

Complementary (Contrasting) and Harmonious Colours
Complementary colours have strong visual resonance when they are placed alongside each other. Red and green, blue and yellow and orange and purple are complementary. They sit opposite each other on the colour spectrum and are therefore also referred to as contrasting colours. When you use contrasting colours in interior design, you should include both colours in equal measure and of an equal intensity to achieve a balanced result. Harmonious (or similar) colours rest alongside each other in the colour spectrum. Yellow and orange harmonise with each other, as do blue and purple (think curtains and carpet for example).

Use our colour wheel to help you create beautiful balanced schemes or exciting new colour combinations. Experimenting with coloured pens or crayons is also an easy way of exploring the relationship of different colours to each other and discovering which combinations you like. But before you decide which colours to go for, its useful to understand the properties of colour and what affects it has on mood and atmosphere.

The Properties of Colour
Red is one of the strongest colours on the colour wheel. It advances and can appear to make the walls of a room draw in, stimulating and creating an atmosphere of assertion and strength. It is associated with excitement, vitality and physical power. Because it is a colour that flattens the skin, it can make an excellent backdrop in rooms that are used for social functions. Pale pinks are warm and peaceful and combine successfully with greens. The deeper reds can create an atmosphere of restrained opulence and power. Use it to create a cosy intimate atmosphere in a dining room for example. For a less intense feel, team it with white.

See our range of red curtains.

Midway between red and yellow, orange is a cheerful colour, less intense than red, with a glow that can be used to good effect in north and east facing rooms providing a feeling of warmth and cosiness. Since it is also an assertive and dynamic colour, it can be overpowering when used on large surfaces in interior design, though used with discretion it can create an atmosphere of vivacious spontaneity and liveliness. Ranging from soft peach to coral and terracotta, these shades help create an energising feel.

Because we tend to associate it with sunshine, yellow can appear as a light source in its own right. This makes it an effective colour for bringing a sense of natural light into urban settings; even dark yellow rooms can have an airy radiant atmosphere. The use of yellow in any living space can create a feeling of hope and inspiration and an optimistic sense that all is well with the world. Bright light and cheerful its an ideal choice for narrow spaces such as hallways. Team with cream for an elegant modern feel.

A discreet colour, green suggests security, protection and harmony. It evokes a feeling of serenity and peace, while possessing a natural energy. Green also has a calming effect, making it a popular choice for bedrooms, while dark greens make excellent colours for studies and home offices. The ‘green’ rooms of theatres are so called because they are intended to steady the nerves of performers as they prepare to go on stage. Pale greens are particularly restful colours, though they can be severe on the skin, a reliable way to counteract this is by introducing rich blues and turquoises somewhere in the room as colour accents. It harmonises well with natural materials such as wood, ceramics and brick.

See our range of Green Curtains.

The colour of the sea and sky, blue has a quality of cool expansiveness and openness, spaciousness and tranquillity. A peaceful colour that is very easy to live with, it has a relaxing and sedative effect. Blue is associated with a sense of formality, though the mid blues have a playful quality about them. Its association with water means popular colour for kitchens and bathrooms.
It makes walls appear to recede so is ideal for small rooms that get lots of light. Looks great combined with cream or white for a fresh look in bathrooms.

Violet (Purple)
Violet gives a sense of luxury and is a warming colour - immediately giving a sense of wellbeing. This colour is associated with passion and lavishness and provides just the right atmosphere for contemplation and relaxation, which is just the key for the bedroom, bathroom and children's rooms.

The colour of living wood, brown is essentially an earth colour. In nature, the many shades and textures of brown that combine in the bark of a tree or the shell of a nut are infinitely rich and subtle and extraordinarily restful to look upon. One characteristic of brown is that it creates a feeling of coolness and warmth at the same time. As a furnishing fabric, it combines well with rich colours such as purple and gold, a popular combination in the Victorian era.

See our range of Brown Curtains

White promotes an air of cleanliness simplicity and hygiene. In buildings with strong architectural features, such as exposed beams, white can be used to give these features additional emphasis. However it is often seen as a safe fallback where a stronger colour would be more effective. If you are decorating a room with a dark background, you run the risk of creating a clinical atmosphere, so consider choosing an off white such as gardenia, ivory or dove grey to create a softer and more finished look.

Because it absorbs light, black is an exacting colour to work with interior design. Its association with bereavement and death can make it a morbid colour for the home. However black accents can transform an otherwise bland interior – black lampshades will introduce a note of drama and sophistication into otherwise plain surroundings. Black will also punctuate colour schemes, which rely on strong contrasting colours.

You may also be interested in our range of coloured curtain fabrics:

How Colour Affects Us

Using colour is a two-way process. We use it to express our personalities, and to reveal preferences and tastes. At the same, time the colours we live with directly influence the way we feel, the efficiency with which we work and the extent to which we are able to relax. Colour can play a major part in our overall state of wellbeing. Colours can have a very powerful effect on the way we feel and this is something we need to consider carefully when decorating. Colour can alter the way a room looks or create a certain mood, so as well as choosing colours that you like you should also think about how to put them together in a way that is pleasing to the eye. Some colours are more suitable to the function of certain rooms - a soothing blue for the bedroom or a bright yellow in the kitchen, for example - but be aware when you are choosing colours that certain tones can alter the feeling or mood you ar etrying to create. So whether you want to create a dramatic living room or a subdued bedroom, knowing how to combine different shades of colour within a colour spectrum that is almost infinitely expandable will enable you to create genuinely personal colour schemes with confidence, individuality and flair. Remember that the many tones of any given colour can achieve quite varied effects. For each colour, there are thousands of varieties on the market in the form of paint, wallpaper and soft furnishing fabrics. In order to achieve the look you want, you need to pay close attention to the shades of colour you select.

Colour and Space
Colour can significantly alter the sense of space in a room, almost creating an optical illusion. Using colour creatively can make it possible to alter a room’s appearance, highlight its good features, or skilfully camouflage any blemishes. An illusion’s success depends on the effects that ‘advancing’ and ‘receding’ colours have on rooms.

Dark shades will make a large room seem smaller. As a general rule, dark, warm colours based on the orange/red/yellow area of the colour wheel tend to ‘advance’, making large rooms appear smaller or more cosy.

Light, neutral colours have the opposite effect and will increase the sense of space in a small room. Cool tones based on the violet/blue/green section of the colour wheel, ‘recede’, opening up the area increasing the feeling of spaciousness, so are ideal for smaller rooms.

So by choosing to decorate a room with a dark or light colour tone, you will immediately create a particular effect. Before making your choice consider the purpose of the room you are decorating. Is this a space where you wish to create a quiet, introspective atmosphereor one that is more stimulating and lively, appropriate for entertaining.

If you stick to using warm colours in north-facing rooms, which tend to receive little or no direct sunlight, and Cool colours for south facing-rooms, which usually get lots of light, you are likely to get good results.

In contemporary homes, many rooms are used for more than one purpose. If you are decorating a bedroom for example, is the room also going to function as a play area for a child, or a study area for a teenager?

Colour and Light
Because colour is light, changes in light bring about immediate changes in the colour of any object or surface. Conversely, the atmosphere of a room can be altered dramatically by the introduction of a new colour because that colour will alter the quality of light in the room. In creating a successful scheme in any room, it is essential to bear the intimate relationship between colour and light in mind. Which way does the room face? How much sunlight does it receive, an at what time of day? When is the room most likely to be used? To what extent does the quality of natural light in the room change from season to season? When illuminated by artificial light, how does the interplay between light and colour alter? And how do you, as the architect of the room, wish it to alter?

Light alone can transform a room without any other changes being necessary. It can make spaces seem larger or smaller, more functional or more intimate. By making the most of natural light, and by using artificial light not only for illumination but also for particular effect, you can make the same living space extraordinarily versatile. I you use your kitchen as a dining room, for example, you will need to consider how you can explore the many different ways of using light to change the mood of the room at different times of day.

Colour and Contrast
Because of the interplay of colour and light, contrasting textures can create many pleasingly subtle effects when you are working either with the same colour or with different ones. Contrasts such as rough-smooth, pointed-blunt, light-dark, hard-soft, heavy-light can all enrich the colour treatment of an interior space.

Natural Colours
’Natural’ is the term used to describe any colour in which white has been used as a tint to dilute the impact of that colour. The natural colours most often used in interior design are grey-based or brown-based. The notion of a natural red or a natural blue sounds contradictory, but if these or any other colours are predominantly white, then they can be regarded as natural too.  See our range of natural curtain fabrics.

The Function of Naturals
In many ways, naturals are the designer’s best friend. Used exclusively, they create a restful, calm and undemanding ambience. As a base colour on floors, walls and ceilings, they provide a foil for the impact of more dramatic soft furnishing fabrics. Naturals can also be combined with stronger colours such as reds and oranges in patterned rugs and carpets, to bridge the contrast between a solid foreground colour, such as a red sofa, and a neutral base colour, such as dove grey walls.

Natural colours lend a sense of space to small rooms. They can be dreary in basements or north-facing rooms, but wherever there is plenty of natural light, the dominance of white in naturals will enhance that light. Naturals will also be a good choice in any well-lit room where you want an atmosphere of spaciousness, simplicity and calm. They are excellent colours for hallways and corridors, as they will both link and punctuate the overall colour scheme in a home.

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