From temperature, to intensity, to hue – there’s more to colour than meets the eye. Our experts share some top tips for understanding colour and using it to create mood in your home.
Temperature: Warm vs cool
Reds, yellows, and oranges or any colour with undertones of these colours, like cream or beige, are warm colours. They’re full of energy, inviting and make us feel comfortable. In strong tones they also grab the eye and form prominent focal points. If you want a room to feel cosy, especially a south-facing room that does not benefit from loads of sun, a colour with warm undertones is the one to go for.
Cool colours, like blues and greens, are the opposite. They’re calming and soothing and can recede, creating a larger perception of space. But there’s a big ‘but’ here… not all cool colours actually ‘read’ cool. For instance a green with a warm yellow undertone going into the lime or olive space, or a blue with a warm yellow undertone going into the turquoise space will feel much warmer. So if you are attracted to colours in the cooler spectrum but you don’t want it to feel ‘cold’, go for something with warmer undertones.
Tone refers to the intensity of a colour, how light or dark it is. The lighter the colour, the fresher and airier it makes a room feel. It also makes spaces feel larger. The darker the colour, the more dramatic and opulent it feels. Very dark colours also draw the walls in, making rooms feel more intimate. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller and darker the room, the lighter and brighter your colour choices should be.
Whites and pale neutrals
Whether your home is a classic Victorian or a seriously pared back modern one, few things beat the fresh and airy beauty of whites and pale neutrals like cream, beige and taupe. Because they’re so timeless and unobtrusive, these colours are the ideal choice for shared living spaces like lounges and kitchens. There are literally thousands of white and pale neutrals shades. So which one to choose? North-facing rooms with large windows and lots of natural light can handle pure whites or whites and neutrals in the cooler colour spectrum. For darker rooms or rooms facing south, whites and neutrals with warm undertones work best.
From palest cool sage green to warm olive, greens are natural and soothing. They bring a sense of the outdoors in and work particularly well with other earthy organic elements like wood, wicker and baskets. Contrast green with pure white and your room will feel sophisticated, crisp and contemporary.
From light grey-blues and ice blues to deep and rich jewel-toned sapphire, nothing beats blue for its calm tranquility. It almost acts as a neutral as it forms a great backdrop for furniture, fabrics and art. Pale blues are especially good for master bedrooms where they introduce a restful airiness. Darker blues are great as accent walls in living rooms where they’ll draw the eye without being overly dominant or clashing with other décor elements.
Grey has been the ‘in’ colour for years and it’s still with us. From light grey to dark, there’s a myriad of greys with either warm undertones or cool ones. Paler greys are brilliant for living areas as they really open up a space. They are calm and sophisticated and go very well with natural elements like pale wood and seagrass. Greys also excel at bringing together other colours, from orange, to pink, yellows to blues and greens. Contrast your pale grey with crisp white for a cool coastal look that’s fresh and modern. Much darker shades like charcoal work really well in bedrooms where they create a comforting feeling of being cocooned.
Browns were all the rage in the 70s and 80s before they fell out of favour. But they’re back in a big way! From deep chocolate to caramel, coffee and tan, brown brings an earthy, grounding quality to rooms. It’s great as a neutral backdrop for art and décor elements and works well with metallic accents, making it a good choice for living rooms. A word of caution though – browns need to be balanced with crisp white to feel modern and fresh. Add cream as a contrast trim colour to toffee brown walls for instance and it will feel like it’s 1980 all over again!
Reds and oranges
When it comes to bringing energy to a room, nothing beats reds and oranges. These are real look-at-me colours and can easily overwhelm a room, but at the same time they can give an interior a lively edge. Rather than paint a whole room red or orange, think of playing with it as an accent colour. Monochromatic colour schemes – where different hues of the same colour are used (think a burgundy through to a lilac pink through to a peachy pink) – help to calm these intense colours and lend a very contemporary note to rooms.