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Module 1: Colour in Interior Design

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Colour psychology
Certain colours have common “meanings” in art and design. You need to bear these in mind, when choosing colour:-
White: White is associated with cleanliness, religiosity, purity, new beginnings and clinical procedures. True, or “brilliant”, white is striking, reflecting a great deal of light and adding a sense of space to the surrounding environment. A white space feels fresh and uplifting, but some people can find it rather impersonal.
Cream: Cream is often used as a softer alternative to white. For example, a client may like the idea of using white in a nursery in order to produce a soothing, neutral atmosphere, but find that it looks a little too cool. A shade of cream would be a good choice in this scenario, providing all the benefits of a neutral colour, whilst retaining some warmth.
Yellow: Most people associate yellow with sunshine and by extension, energy, happiness and optimism. It is well-suited for high-traffic spaces within the home – it is considered an upbeat, sociable colour.
Blue: Blue is generally perceived to be a calming colour, with grounding properties that promote psychological strength and stability. It has long been seen as a masculine colour in popular culture and is therefore regarded as the most suitable choice for a boy’s room. However, blue can have a positive effect on people of all genders. It is a popular choice for bathrooms, as it carries connotations with cleanliness, water and the sea. Warmer blues can also be pleasing in bedrooms. As a colour with close ties to nature, it encourages the mind to settle.
Red: Red is associated with excitement, stimulation and even danger. It can quickly become overpowering if used inappropriately, but in skilled hands it can produce lively spaces in which people feel creative and inspired. For instance, red can be a good choice for a feature wall. It is also linked with passionate love and leadership, so can be useful in decorating both bedrooms and office spaces.
Green: Green is widely found in the natural world and research has demonstrated that merely being in the presence of the colour green results in feelings of wellbeing. At the same time, we often associate green with new life, such as plants budding in the spring. This means that green also has energetic connotations. It is therefore a good choice in rooms that need to encourage calmness and productivity, such as offices. Just like blue, it is a popular option for bedrooms.
Purple: Strong purples are associated with boldness, creativity and psychological energy. They can be very effective in large rooms that can accommodate its shrinking effect, i.e. the tendency of strong colours to make rooms appear smaller. Studios and other areas in which people produce creative works often benefit from a purple-dominated colour scheme. Pale purples and fuchsias are often linked with femininity and so are popular choices for female’s bedrooms.
Orange: For many people, orange is synonymous with brightness, optimism and activity. It encourages the inhabitants of a space to set goals and work towards achieving their objectives. Orange, especially in bright tones, can be rather overwhelming, particularly in small spaces. A softer orange, broken up by neutral colours, may be a more appropriate way of incorporating this colour into an interior. Alternatively, a darker or “burnt” orange, such as terracotta, maintains the overall energising effect, without causing overstimulation.
Pink: Pink has long been seen as a “girly” colour and for this reason, is often chosen for girls’ nurseries and bedrooms. It carries connotations of romance, daintiness and an old-fashioned gentleness. It is a good choice for interiors that need to be soothing, without appearing too sterile or cold.
Grey: Grey is a neutral colour that can be used with almost any other colour, or with any other neutral tone. Used in large quantities, it can create a sophisticated atmosphere, but can appear too “cool” or industrial if unaccompanied by brighter colours. A light grey can lift a room by making it appear larger, but a dark grey can rapidly cause a space to “shrink”. However, dark greys can be useful in creating cosy spaces.
Black: As a general rule, copious amounts of black should be avoided. Although black is associated with wealth and sophistication, it can also appear morbid. Black is also linked with gothic subcultures and death in popular culture and so is unlikely to have an uplifting effect for people using the space. Black is perhaps best used in a limited way, for example, as a feature wall or within a few well-chosen accessories. It can be effective, if used with white.
Brown: Brown, especially in lighter shades such as beige, is sometimes considered to be a neutral colour. However, some browns are deep and striking, so are used in much the same way as other colours. For example, a rich chocolate colour would be used to add a sense of warmth to a room. Brown, being the colour of earth, is a soothing colour that reminds most people of the great outdoors. It is therefore a good addition to restful rooms.
Activity: The Colours in Your Home
(Time: 5+ Minutes)
Go through the rooms in your home and make a note of the main colours used on the walls, floors and ceilings. Are the colours complementary, harmonious, or tonal? Now think about how they make you feel – calm, stimulated, happy, cold? If you could choose any kind of colour scheme for the room, what would it be and why?
Keep in mind that colour preferences and associations are primarily shaped by cultural conditioning and personal experience. For example, whilst people in the West associate white with cleanliness and purity, it carries associations of death and mourning in some Eastern countries. Do not assume that a client shares your perspective on a particular colour or shade. It is worth asking not only whether they like a colour, but whether they have any associations that render it appealing or distasteful. Keep in mind too that some people are colour blind and this may mean that they “see” colour in a way that is at odds with your own perceptions.
Primary, secondary and tertiary colours
Designers and artists often refer to three main types of colour – primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary colours consist of yellow, blue and red. Their defining characteristic is that they cannot be made from any other colour. Secondary colours can be made by combining equal proportions of primary colours. Blue and yellow mixed together results in green, red and blue together produces purple and red combined with yellow yields orange. When a primary colour is mixed with a secondary colour in a particular ratio, the result is referred to as a tertiary colour. The mixing ratio is 2:1, meaning that twice as much primary colour is used. For example, mixing blue with green will result in a turquoise colour.
There are a few pieces of colour-related terminology you need to learn. When reading about colour, you will come across the term “hue”. This can be used interchangeably with “colour”. When you mix black with any colour on the colour wheel (see below), the result is referred to as a “shade”. The more black you add, the darker the resulting shade will be. You will also learn about “tints”. A tint is simply a mixture of white, plus one of the colours on the colour wheel. The more white you add, the paler the tint will be. Tints are also known as “pastels”.
If you were to add both black and white to a colour, the resulting mixture would be a “tone”. This term describes the intensity of a hue. Since white and black produce grey when combined, the process of adding both is known as “greying down”. Tones are used in most everyday interiors. “Value” refers to a colour’s darkness or lightness, whereas “saturation” describes a colour’s intensity. This is because the more pigment a colour contains, the more intense the final result.
Using a colour as an accent
Sometimes, a designer will use a small amount of a particular colour to add a focal point or overall “lift” to an interior. An accent colour will work well as part of a simple colour scheme, which may include neutral colours. Ideally, it should be a bold, striking colour, which is complementary to the key colours used in the overall colour scheme.
Neutral colours
Neutrals are sometimes referred to “non-colours”, as they do not appear on the well-known colour wheel (see below). They include white, black, all shades of grey and some people also include browns and beiges in this category. Neutrals are easy to work with, as none of them will clash. On the other hand, they can be perceived as “boring” or “impersonal”. New buildings and those designated as rental properties are often decorated in neutral tones, because they rarely leave a bad impression. Those looking to use the space often find it easy to visualise their own furniture and colour scheme, which can make a property more appealing.
Making use of the colour wheel in interior design
A colour wheel is a useful tool that provides you with a quick and easy way in which to ascertain in advance how well particular colours will fit together. When you are considering whether to put two colours in close proximity, you need to decide whether the end result will be complementary, harmonious, or toning. Complementary colours are positioned opposite one another on the colour wheel. If you choose to use complementary colours, the outcome will usually be a look that is eye-catching and dramatic, without appearing garish. For example, red and green are complementary colours, as are purple and yellow. Intuitively, it may seem as though these pairs would not be aesthetically pleasing, but consider what is usually seen in nature – apples are rendered in red and green, whereas flowers often feature “clashing” colours.
When working to create a complementary colour scheme, begin by selecting your favourite or dominant colour on the wheel. Next, locate the opposite colour – now you have a first and second colour. It is unwise to try and use both colours “equally”, because doing this will only result in two colours that are both unable to command a person’s complete attention. It isn’t a good idea to try and use more than three colours, as the final effect is likely to be overpowering. If you or your client dislike the idea of using a particular complementary scheme on the walls of a room, begin by experimenting with using the colours in accessories such as cushions, rugs and wall art. You should introduce a couple of neutral colours, to provide a sense of balance. Using lots of strong colour can induce a feeling of sensory overload and make it hard to focus on other design elements such as lighting and furniture. If you find two clashing colours that you find aesthetically pleasing, it may be possible to make them work by using colours that are of similar strength. If one is of a significantly stronger or weaker tone than another, it can quickly become “drowned out” and the overall effect will become unbalanced. If a client likes the idea of a complementary colour scheme, but is afraid to use a bold colour scheme, using complementary colours at a more subtle level – for example, via the use of contrasting accessories against the backdrop of neutral walls – can be a good alternative.
You can create a harmonious colour scheme by using two colours that are next to one another on the wheel. For example, blues and purples are positioned next to one another and they can easily be used as the basis of a harmonious scheme. To maintain the overall balance within a space, it is best to use colours of a similar intensity. To return to the example of blues and purples, a deep blue next to a pale purple would theoretically be a harmonious pairing, but would give a visually striking result that may not be quite the restful, easy to live with environment the client or designer had in mind.   
Finally, a toning colour scheme is created by choosing two or more shades (or “tones”) from within the same colour. For example, in the wheel above, you can see that each colour is represented by two distinct tones. In reality, there are dozens of potential shades of a single colour – the diagram is simply communicating the overall concept. Choosing several tones of the same colour is a good way to create interest and depth, without deviating from an appearance that is neutral overall.
Fact: Dulux sells hundreds of paints, including 100 shades of cream.
Source: Dulux UK
Other considerations when choosing colours for interior design
Activity: What to Remember when Choosing Colours
(Time: 10 Minutes)
Aside from the issue of complementary versus harmonious colours, what other factors should you think about when deciding on a colour scheme for an interior space?
Colours can look different, depending on the time of day. You will need to consider the main sources of light within a room and how they interact with the intended colour scheme. Remember to think about both natural and artificial lighting. With regards to the latter, the colour and style of the bulb used can make an appreciable difference. For example, a bright light bulb can make a clean, neutral colour seem stark, or even clinical.
The “traffic” passing through a space can determine how much of a risk a client or designer is willing to take, when experimenting with a daring or bold colour scheme. An adventurous design may be too overpowering for an open-place space that receives a lot of daily use, such as an open-plan family room, but it may be effective in a relatively quieter area such as a hallway or downstairs cloakroom.
The visual temperature is another factor. The colour wheel is usually divided into “hot” and “cold” colours. The left side is made up of colours that heat up a room, such as oranges and yellows. The right side consists of hues that provide a more tranquil atmosphere. These include blues and cool purples.
There is no absolute set of rules that must be followed when choosing a colour scheme – it depends on a client’s preferences and how the space is to be used. For example, a bathroom is likely to be painted in greens and blues, because these are arguably more soothing and fresh than bright orange.
It is also worth taking into account the “cleanliness” of certain colours. For instance, white is notoriously hard to keep in pristine condition, particularly on furniture and walls. If a client has children or pets, white isn’t usually a good choice. Stains and scratches detract from the effect of a white wall to a much greater degree than on a surface painted in a green or brown hue.
Finally, it is important to remember that whilst you or your client may be keen to try a recent colour trend, most clients will not have the time or money to update their interiors on a frequent basis. Before following a trend, make sure that it is truly compatible with a client’s preferences, personality and lifestyle. Always take advantage of the tester pots offered by DIY stores and paint suppliers – even designers with great imaginations need to test how a hue will appear on a wall. If in doubt, it is better to err on the side of classic and timeless style.
Fact: Professional decorators charge their clients approximately £350 per large room painted.
Source: Which Local UK