Dawn's Interior Design Tip No.1 | Picking Colours

Dawn's Interior Design Tip No.1 | Picking Colours

This is an area which surprisingly can be a massive struggle, even for designers. Colour can ruin a design if used without caution and sometimes what you think will work ends up looking horrendous, and combinations that seem wrong in your head can look amazing! Even I struggle with colour a lot of the time. It’s probably one of the main areas in my design process which makes me second guess myself…… So…. What’s the trick

Colour Wheel

For colour combinations I find a useful little tool to be the colour wheel. You can get these off Color Wheel 9-1/4"-">AMAZON for a few pounds and they help me to understand what in the colour spectrum should technically work well together. I say technically very loosely because colour is not an exact science and the enormous variations make it very difficult to pin down. We all have a rough idea when presented with colour combinations of what works well, or in other words, what works in harmony together. This is what we strive for as designers…. Harmony. In colour, in form, in style… It is the basis of design for me. Combining different elements to make a harmonious interior. Most things are beautiful in their own right, however, bad combinations mean bad design. In design…. and in life come to think of it, you must have balance. Yin and Yang, light and dark, good and bad. You can’t have one without the other. Without the contrast of the other neither would exist. Balance is crucial!

I feel it necessary to give you a very brief over view / physics lesson on light before we get into colour combinations. What you need to know is that the colour wheel reflects the colour spectrum. This is the individual colours that make up the wave lengths of light. When light hits a triangular prism (as demonstrated by Sir Isaac Newton) the different colour wave lengths refract at different angles and so you get all the individual spectral colours of light form. This is the same with rainbows. We see a rainbow when sun light passes through rain. Light is refracted through the droplets of water giving you the colour spectrum. Light and colour are one and the same. Colour would not exist without light and light would not exist without colour. It’s poetic really.

Within the colour spectrum we have three primary colours from which all other colours are created. Red, Blue and yellow. They form the three corners of the spectrum and combined together they will make every other colour hue known to man. The addition of black will make a shade, the addition of white will make a tint and the addition of grey (black & white) will make a tone.

Personally, I’m not one for lots of bold colours in design. I prefer the subtleties by using tints, tones and shades, or using quite a neutral palate combined with a dash of stronger colour. We are all individual and often our personalities will gravitate towards different types of colour dependant on that. I like to think that I prefer a more muted palette or small amounts of bold colour because I’m quite a introverted person. I like a calming environment to match my personality. One of my favourite residential interior designers is Kelly Hoppen who’s very well known for her muted schemes with dashes of colour. She calls herself the Queen of Beige and her use of form, light, texture and small amounts of colour I think are beautiful and very much on par with what I like in my own home. Have a look at some of her books.

We react to colour in different ways which as an interior designer makes it very hard to design for someone else’s personality. I can ask someone what colours they like but unless I get them to actually point out what version of a colour they are talking about, I’m clueless. Two people might like blue but when presented with a million different tints, tones and shades of blue they are inevitably likely to pick completely different versions. You have to be a psychologist to match a personality to a colour and so it’s sometimes easier to just ask them to point out what colour they mean through the use of images. I find Pinterest very useful for this.

When designing a bar or a restaurant or any other type of public space you can be a bit more adventurous because you’re catering for a wider audiences taste and it’s unlikely to be a space that people are spending massive amounts of time in. Think about what sort of atmosphere you are wanting to achieve for that environment and that’s where we can think about the effects of individual colours a bit more in depth. Now… I could go on for hundreds of pages on the effect of colour but I don’t want to bore the pants off of you. So…. Here’s a generalised description.

Red – This is a stimulating colour. It’s associated with passion, aggression, love and the fight or flight response. It’s also the most eye catching of the colour spectrum hence why it’s often used in marketing and on traffic light signals. This colour would suit a stimulating environment.

Blue – This is a calming or depressive colour and is associated as the colour of intellect. The sea and sky are blue (reflected blue) and perhaps that is the reason for our association with intellect. The study of vast endless un-inhabital space. Just a musing…. Blue would be good in a space that is mean’t to be calm and tranquil or deep and brooding.

Yellow – Is said to represent emotion. I’ve been told that if you’re selling your house you should have some yellow flowers in there to create an emotional connection between the house and any prospective buyers. I have no idea if this works though.

Green – Green is a funny one because although it’s not a primary colour, it is said to be at the centre of the spectrum. It represent perfect balance and is meant to calm and reassure us which is fitting because, the foundation of life, nature, is green. This isn’t always true though as for some individuals pure green can be quite nauseating.

Complimentary colours as you will see on the colour wheel sit opposite to each other on the colour spectrum. They are mean’t to enhance and balance each other. I find this to be true in most instances but you have to be careful about how you use them. I wouldn’t tend to chuck large amounts of pure red and green together especially in a residential environment because for me that’s too harsh. Have a look at the images below and make your own judgement. I’ve picked images that are a bit more subtle to show how I feel complimentary colours can be used to good effect in interior design. The second image is from Candy & Candy, another London based design studio I very much admire for their bold yet subtle use of colour and materials. Also, don’t forget the underlying hues of background colour like the hue of a wood floor or of a cream tile. This may have a yellow, orange or red tint which still counts towards the atmosphere of a room.

You will see on your colour wheel that there are other combinations of colours that also work well together and they should be labelled as follows. Split complimentary, Triad and Tetrad. These are indicated by a series of triangles and squares in the centre. Below I’ve shown blue and yellow in the first image and yellow-orange with blue-green in the second image. I find colour combinations work especially well if you mix up the materials e.g. blue velvet with a yellow brass like in the first image.

Other combinations that also work are monochromatic which is using the tint, tone and shade of one colour. Using a tint tone and shade tends to mute a colour which I think is why I find it appealing. It removes the harshness of the colour so that it’s not so overwhelming to look at. The images below show a pale green and a soft blue monochromatic interior.

Analogous which is using colours adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. These designs are too bold for me. They would massively stress me out if they were in my home but they do show my point about the over use of bold block colour. The first image shows red and purple together and blue, green and yellow in the second. Horrible but the colours do technically work together! This is my least favourite type of colour combination but if you’re clever with the colours then it can work.

Now… I said earlier that I prefer the subtle use of colour in my schemes but that is only really in residential spaces and some might think that’s a bit boring but I disagree. I tend to gravitate more towards a calming monochromatic colour scheme of tints tones and shades, or, small dashes of colour in a neutral interior because I feel the home should be a space of comfort and tranquility. Life is so busy and hectic that in my opinion when you come home your environment should sooth you. Neutral doesn’t have to mean boring and I find the subtlest use of colour and contrast can be enhanced by the material you present it in. Whether that is wenge wood panelling, black blue marble, a waxed plastered wall or a copper pendant light fitting. I find the use of texture much more inviting than using lots of bold paint colours although these still have their place in the right project. Using contrasting materials all with their own hues and textures all contribute towards the atmosphere of a space giving it depth and life as opposed to using flat block colours. Have a look at the images below by Kelly Hoppen and see how she uses texture, light, form and an accent of colour to create balance in her design.

A useful colour app that you might want to take a look at is called Adobe Color. You can point the camera at something and it will give you the colour palette of that image. Awesome! If you’re out somewhere and there’s a painting on a wall that you particularly like the colours of or a plate of food, or an interior, you can point the camera at it and it will give you the colour combination. You can then email to yourself!

So then, I hope I’ve given you some useful tips and it wasn’t completely boring! This is my first post so I’m hoping I’ll improve with each one. My next post will be on lighting design so if that interests you then hang tight and have a read when I’m done!