(*North East West South)

You do not have to select trendy colors for your home.  They should be right for your environment, especially your lighting conditions.  And they should be right for you and your lifestyle.  The "Today's Home"™ show on May 8 featured a discussion about color, with guests Teresa Tullio and Nancy Alwin (both are certified color consultants).  We talked about the importance of color in our built environment, and why light and color are important, inseparable elements of our lives (listen to podcast).  

Awareness of colors' effects on us has been documented back to early Chinese and Egyptian civilizations; they were the first to use chromatherapy.  Johann Wolfgang Goethe connected colors and psychology in his 1810 book, "Theory of Colours". Faber Birren's book "Color Psychology and Color Therapy" was first published in 1950.  Both books are still used in art and interior design classes.  For this article, I'm using pigmented colors for reference. Pigmented colors are called "subtractive". Here are some guidelines to help you select color schemes for your home, based on the compass orientation of the interior rooms you want to paint:


►  North and East exposures:  Select warmer colors (i.e., red, yellow and orange) to balance the natural coolness of the daylight (blue). These colors include wood, because most wood is brown (achieved by mixing yellow and red, with a touch of green).  It's okay (and recommended) to use cool colors for accents.

Warm colors evoke psychological responses ranging from positive energy and comfort to anger and hostility.  Warm, dark colors will make a room appear smaller, because they seem to advance.

►  South and West exposures:  Select cooler colors (i.e., blue, purple and green) to balance the natural warmth of the daylight (yellow-orange).  If you're using a lot of wood, avoid yellow or orange wood (maple, birch, bamboo, teak), and try to select cooler and darker wood colors (mahogany and cherry).  It's okay to use warm colors for accents, but they should be used very sparingly.

Cool colors are often described as calming, but can evoke psychological responses of sadness or indifference.  Cool, light colors will make a room appear larger (or a ceiling higher), because they seem to recede.


Dark colors absorb light, while light colors reflect light.  The colors you choose could easily affect how much energy you use to light your home.   When choosing paint, look at the light reflectance value (LRV).  A room where you intend to cook, read, sew, use power tools, or use a computer should have a higher LRV than a sleeping room.

EXAMPLE:  An amateur photographer got permission to create a dark room in the basement of his parents' home. The parents hired a contractor (who was not a photographer) to create the room, including cabinets and a sink.  He did, indeed, create a dark room; the walls, countertop, cabinets, and floor were black! A single 100-watt lamp would light objects no further than two inches away!

Be careful about using pure colors (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and purple) for walls, ceilings, floors, furniture, or large accessories, because they will dominate the room.  Most paint colors are mixes of multiple pigments to achieve a "livable" look. Dramatic colors should be used only in powder rooms or dining rooms.  It's been popular to paint one interior wall a totally different color, but this should be done carefully to avoid creating an artificial focal point, or accentuating a room's proportions.

EXAMPLE:  Many years ago, an acquaintance repainted her long, slender living+dining room.  The two narrow walls and one of the long walls were a pale warm white, and the remaining long wall was a "cinnabar" color (deep reddish-orange), which made the room feel narrower than  it was.  It was not a comfortable room!

Complementary colors (red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple) should not be used equally.  If both of the colors are pure (saturated), and similar in intensity (value), they will appear to vibrate. When complementary pigments are mixed, the colors cancel each other out to achieve gray or black.


EXAMPLE:  Recently, I was in a home that had beautiful, pale buttercream yellow walls in the kitchen, on the north side of the home.  The adjoining living room had faux-finished walls, a broad dry-brush criss-cross pattern of pale lavendar over the yellow, which made the lavendar translucent. The pale purple over the pale yellow "grayed" the lavendar enough so the two colors didn't vibrate, and created a beautiful background for the furnishings.  If the lavendar had been more intense, the results would have been garish.
Example from Johannes Itten's "Elements of Color": If you stare at one of the complementary colors for several seconds, then look at a white piece of paper, you'll see the same image, but in opposite complementary color! Have you ever wondered why surgical drapes and scrubs are typically pale green? The green gives the surgical team's eyes a rest, prevents negative imaging and eye strain! 

Some people have been blessed with perfect pitch.  I was blessed with color memory, which used to drive my mother crazy when we went shopping. "Can we get this sweater, ple-e-e-ase?  It will go with my [color] skirt."  Sure enough, if she bought the sweater, it would be an exact match, or blended beautifully with the skirt.  The same thing would happen when she was decorating a room. No, she never asked my advice, but I'd give it anyway, especially if she was making a mistake.  Neither of us understood why my recommendations were correct until I started attending interior design school.  I had a natural talent, but had to learn the theories to become an expert.  Anyone can have an opinion or give advice, but if the opinion or advice comes from a professional, it should be supported with reasons, based on education, training, and experience.

Get more information about color in an article on the D. P. Design website.

If you would like to get more information about updating or remodeling your home office, kitchen, bathroom, or color palette, I'm offering a FREE 45-minute phone consultation to help you.

© 2011 Diane Plesset – All Rights Reserved


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