Interior Design – Planning Colour Schemes

The colour wheel, which follows the colours of the spectrum, can help you to plan successful colour schemes. But remember that with colour there are no absolute rules for success.

Primary colours within the colour wheel are red, yellow and blue.

Secondary colours occur when primaries are mixed together. Thus red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green; blue and red make violet. Complementary colours lie opposite each other in the colour wheel. Red is complementary to green. Blue is complementary to orange. Violet is complementary to yellow. These colours are stimulating when used together. But constant stimulation is not necessarily. What you are aiming for when designing colour schemes. Colour harmonies occur where colours cross the spectrum and one colour grades into the other.

Colour discords, harsh to the eye, are caused by juxtaposition of colours on either side of the primary colours. For example, orange-red and violet-red.

Colour terminology

Every colour has three characteristics:

1. Hue — the name of a colour family, as well as colour at its purest and brightest.

2. Value. This is indicative of the amount of white or black in a colour. A shade is a hue to which black has been added to make it more subtle and of darker value. A tint is a hue to which white has been added to make it of lighter value.

3. Intensity (or chroma). This is the amount of brightness or dullness in a colour, measured in tones by the colour’s distance from grey.

A colour has these three characteristics in varying degree. For example, a deep wine colour would belong to the red hue family, be of dark value but have little intensity You can sharpen your colour perception by looking at colours around you and trying to assess them for these three characteristics. “Warm” colours are reds, yellows, oranges. “Cool” colours are blues and blue-greys.

Using the colour wheel

You can use the colour wheel to help you arrive at satisfactory schemes. The following arrangements of colours are found pleasing by most people:

1. Monochromatic, a scheme based on tones, tints and shades of the same hue.

2. Analogous. Use of adjacent colours on the colour wheel, as described above under colour harmonies.

3. Complementary. Here the scheme is based on opposite colours on the colour wheel, as mentioned above

4. Split complementary. A scheme based on one colour combined with the two colours adjoining its complement

5.Triad scheme based on three colours. Each a uniform number of steps removed from the other on the colour wheel_.

6. Tetrad scheme based on four colours.

Colour and light

Colours depend for their effect on the light we see them by. Coloured surfaces absorb light from those parts of the spectrum which they do not reflect. Example: a blue wall will absorb red rays but reflect outwards the blue ones.

All surfaces in a room work together at reflecting light. A light-coloured floor will throw light to the back of a room and, the lower the ceiling, the more the walls and floor act as light reflectors. A red wall opposite a white wall may result in the white wall seeming pink. This pinkish tinge will be reflected on to people, too, and the resultant rosy glow may be fairly flattering. But what about a yellow room, with all four walls painted yellow? Here the room will seem even more intensely yellow than the colour samples on the paint card, because the yellow walls will be reflecting yellow light on to each other — as well as on to the people in the room, which could result in a slightly jaundiced effect.

Room aspect

The aspect of your room is determined by the way the windows face (North, South, East or West). The orientation and size of the windows govern the amount and type of light your room receives, which will decide whether your room looks warm or cold to the eye.

South-facing rooms receive abundant sunlight.

West-facing rooms receive sunlight in the afternoon and early evening, and will probably seem warm for most of the day. You can augment this by using warm colours, such as reds and yellows, or offset it with cool colours.

East-facing rooms get the sun only in the morning. Therefore they seem “cold” for most of the day. So avoid using cold colours here, unless you add warming touches of red or orange in accessories. North-facing rooms rarely get any direct sunlight. Cool colours will aggravate the lack; warm colours offset it.

Psychological effects

Different colours affect people in different ways. Red, on the whole, stimulates and excites. This is why it is used so often for restaurants and public foyers. Orange, too, offers a degree of stimulation. Blues, on the other hand, are tranquil and soothing — good for studies and bedrooms in the home.

These are generalisations, for individuals differ in their response to colours. First, the optical apparatus for perceiving colour differs physiologically from person to person and many people are partially colour-blind without realising it. Secondly, people differ in their reactions to colour for a variety of personal reasons. Maybe they associate a colour they dislike with the environment in which an unpleasant experience took place or were forced to live with a colour for so long that they grew to hate it.

It is therefore important to involve the whole family in discussing colour schemes, particularly for rooms that everybody is going to use. Even young children can be involved in colour selection for their bedroom or playroom. If they are familiarised with colour possibilities from an early age, they will become more confident with colour in adult life.

Black and white

Black absorbs light totally. So any colour placed on a black background will appear the more brilliant. Coloured cushions on a black leather settee, for example, glow jewel-like. Black lines around a colour emphasise the colour. This is why black frames are effective for highly coloured prints.

White backgrounds reflect maximum light and make colours seem less brilliant. White-walled rooms can take touches of the brightest colours you care to add.

Black-and-white rooms with bright colour touches work well: black and white patterns mix well together.

Colour tricks

Make your colours work for you. Different colours play different tricks on the eye.

The warm colours — red, orange, yellow — appear to advance; that is, they make surfaces look closer than they really are. You can use this:

1. to lower the chilly effect of a high ceiling by painting it in a warm colour; or

2. to correct the proportions of a long narrow room or forbidding corridor by having the end wall in a warm colour so that it seems closer to the eye.

Conversely, cool colours — blues and blue-greys — appear to recede; that is they make surfaces look farther away than they really are. You can use this

1. to enlarge the apparent size of a small room;

2. to make a low ceiling seem less oppressive by giving it a cool colour— the effect will be greater if you paint the walls the same colour.

Other tricks:

1. Increase the apparent height of walls by painting the skirtings the same colour as the walls or in a colour that closely tones.

2. Minimise the effect of ugly radiators and pipes by painting them the same colour as their background.

3. Minimise the irregularities of badly positioned doors and windows by painting the woodwork the same colour as the walls

Working out a scheme

Here are some guidelines:

1 Work with actual colour samples of materials as far as possible. Keep these stapled to a card, in a file or in a stout envelope. Keep the samples carefully even after your initial decorating is complete. Before very long you will need to redecorate partially.

2 Make a list of those elements that the room “inherits-. Perhaps you have a settee already upholstered in a good cloth or a perfectly good carpet. The colour, pattern or texture of such items must influence your room scheme.

3 Add to your list floors, walls and working surfaces that do not need to be decorated. These have definite colours, cool or warm, of their own, and must be taken into account. Wood floors and panelling or cork tiles, for example, are likely to be warmish shades of brown or yellow.

4 View your samples in all types of light that will fall on them when they are in position in the room for which they are intended. Look at them in the evening by

artificial light as well as in the daytime. View samples from the same angle as you will finally see them: i.e. put samples of carpet down on the floor, place upholstery fabrics over the back of a settee, bunch up curtain fabrics to get some id of drape. This means that it is virtually essential to bring home from shop of showroom samples of new materials you favour before deciding to have them.

5 Colours will seem darker over large areas than they do in the form of small samples because they will absorb more light. On paint cards, colours seem brighter because they are usually set against white backgrounds.

A simple formula

Build your scheme around three main components:

1. a main colour; this will be used over one large area at least and will dominate the room:

2. a complementary contrast colour, chosen from opposite your main colour on the colour wheel and to be used with restraint for small enlivening accents:

3. a neutral colour, which will link your scheme and might be beige, cream, fawn or grey.

These three colour components may be used in as many related shades as you wish.

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