Using Colour in Interiors
Colour can have a profound impact.
Not only on our psyche and mood but on our behaviour. It also impacts not only our mental but physiological and physical health.
The introduction of biophilic elements such as green paint, greenery, or a room with a view was proven by Ulrich’s 1984 study to improve patient recovery times and reliance on pain medication – needing less overall to recuperate.
This is both fascinating and concerning: we can dramatically affect our well-being by making uninformed colour choices.
The beginners guide to hues, tints, tones & shades
Let’s start at the beginning to iron out the technical terms.
- The colour itself is known as the Hue, i.e. Blue.
- Tints are where the Hue is mixed with a white (i.e. baby blue)
- Shades are where the Hue is mixed with black (i.e. navy)
- Tones are where the Hue is mixed with grey (i.e. denim grey-blue)
Warm and cool
This one is an interesting one if you’re not already au-fait.
When my daughter studied colour theory in Year 2, it was explained that certain colours were either warm (i.e. red, orange, yellow) or cool (green, blue, purple).
That’s far too simplistic a view and based mostly on colour wavelengths (red, orange and yellow have longer wavelengths whereas green, blue and purple have shorter wavelengths).
In fact, each hue will have almost infinite variations, some of which will be cool and some warm – for example, a warm blue and a cool red.
Sometimes it’s good to mix a cool element into a warm scheme and vice versa.
Interestingly, research has shown that people suffering from dementia struggle with schemes that are either all cool-toned, or all-warm-toned.
They find them quite disturbing apparently.
Adding a little contrast in by mixing them up is therefore always a good move.
When researching colour psychology, each colour has both positive and negative aspects, so it’s not just as simple as picking red, for example.
We all have natural subconscious and conscious biases towards different colours.
There may be colours which we love to wear, however, which might not be suitable for our homes.
I love to wear bright red, for example, and do use it for elements of my home.
These pieces are chosen carefully, however for certain rooms to help create desired behaviours.
Pride & Prejudice
Our family backgrounds, cultures, religions, ethnicity and childhoods, among other things, will most likely have a bearing on your opinions about different colours.
Colours can have different meanings to people from different countries, for example, which can prejudice you.
These unconscious biases are interesting to get to the bottom of.
Especially if this could inhibit your use of a colour palette that could be beneficial to you and the desired behaviours you’d like to see.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m not a fan of trends.
Best case – they create a space that just doesn’t feel congruent to you and your style.
Like living in a posh hotel – lovely at first but then after a while, you just get home sick and want to get back to normality.
Worst case – they create mass consumerism – people feeling like they have to constantly buy and replace items.
Whether when they go “out of fashion”, worse still, when they break due to poor design and/or construction, or even worse (don’t get me started!) built-in obsolescence!
The art deco “white cube” style home was softened on the interior using muted colours and luxurious fabrics.
Unless you are styling an art gallery, the minimalist white cube is not a good thing for our homes.
Sterile and barren, too much white can create decision paralysis.
You can however achieve this look by taking a leaf out of the Danish Hygge’s style sheet.
Here tints and tones of white combine with varying textures to create further tints and tones.
This brings a softness rather than starkness to the space.
Not for me – personally, I’d at least add a plethora of green to bring a biophilic, human-friendly effect.
I bamboozled my partner by painting 30 different shades of white onto A3 card when choosing the colour for our home renovation.
He thought I’d lost my mind until we sat with them in different rooms at different times of the day.
Once in situ, he understood though.
Even he got quite good at picking out the dominant hue within the white – some green, some blue, some grey, some pinkish.
It’s helpful if you know the aspect (North, South, East, West) and rough time of day which you’re likely to use the space.
The lighting conditions under which you look at colour dramatically affect their appearance.
The time of day, type of light source(s) you use, and how warm or cool they are will all have an effect.
If it’s daylight, then what time of the day, what season, and what part of the world you are in all affect colour.
Paint used in a North facing room will always appear different than the same paint in a West facing room.
Too much of any colour can overload your senses and push the negative aspect to the fore.
It’s rare, outside gallery spaces, for your space to be all one colour.
The way you combine colour, the hierarchy and patterns used will all have visual impact.
The frequencies of the different colour wavelengths will vibrate with and against each other.
This can create harmony or discord, depending on the combinations.
Much is down to personal taste, but any interior designer worth their salt should be able to pull together a colour palette that works beautifully together.
Colour scheme types
- Monochromatic (any shade, tint or tone of one hue – i.e. baby blue, navy and cobalt)
- Complementary (2 opposites – i.e. blue and orange)
- Triadic (3 equally spaced hues, i.e. blue, yellow and red)
- Harmonious/Analogous (colours next to each other on the colour wheel, i.e. blue and green)
Colour for behaviour
Dining rooms, living spaces, workplaces, and bedrooms all have very different requirements and desired behaviours.
For example, you may want your bedroom to be a calm, relaxing space, or you may have more up-tempo plans in mind!
Workspaces generally are calm but upbeat. They can include more social areas or be aimed at focused tasks.
A busy sales office would suit a completely different colour scheme than a science lab.
Dining spaces are generally social spaces, where you would want to relax and linger.
Fast-food restaurants. however, will deliberately create more jarring environments to make sure you eat up and ship out as soon as possible!
There is no right or wrong colour scheme.
Colour psychology can be used to maximise the space, improving desired behaviours and creating the look and feel you want from each space.
It’s best to decide on an overarching scheme which you can then flex for each individual space as required.
That way your space will flow beautifully as you move around your home.
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