Interior design is an art and a science — and just like them, it can be learned and mastered. So, let’s start with the basics. First things first: colour.
When it comes to putting a place together, artwork and accessories come last, soft furnishings come third, heavy-duty furniture comes second, and colour always comes first. Before you even begin thinking about anything else, you need to have the colour scheme set up. Otherwise, you risk bringing chaos and imbalance into your space from the get-go.
A well-balanced colour palette can do wonders. The right colours can transform your cramped and dark living room into a spacious, bright salon, or your drafty attic — into a cosy loft.
With this in mind, let’s dive into the fundamentals of colour theory.
The Colour Wheel
Step one: get yourself a colour wheel. A colour wheel is a circular diagram that serves as a handy visual aid illustrating the relationships between different colours. This little device will become your most trusted helper when creating a colour scheme.
The first colour wheel in recorded history was created in 1666 by none other than Sir Isaac Newton himself. The most common type is the red-yellow-blue (RYB) model, which features a total of twelve colours.
Primary Colours: Red, Yellow, and Blue
Red, yellow, and blue serve as the basis of most colour wheels for a reason. They are primary colours, which means that they cannot be made by combining any other two or more colours.
In interior design, unadulterated primary colours often work best as accent hues or bright pops of colour. Alternatively, you may use their pastel or deeper versions as background colours in larger areas.
Secondary Colours: Green, Purple, and Orange
Secondary colours are created by combining equal parts of primary colours. Thus, blue and yellow make green, red and blue make purple, and red and yellow make orange.
Tertiary Colours: Everything Else
A tertiary colour is a mix of a primary and secondary colour in a ratio of 2:1. That is how you get colours such as blue-green or red-orange.
Colour wheels arrange primary, secondary, and tertiary colours in a way that allows you to see how they complement, juxtapose, and flow into one another. That should help you to combine different hues better and create a balanced palette.
Cool vs. Warm Colours
Colours are further subdivided into cool and warm. Any space should feature a mix of both in order to bring in contrast and balance. However, depending on the room type, you may pick either cool or warm colours to be the dominant ones.
Cool colours are commonly associated with the sky, water, and the night, so they tend to calm people down. They are a great choice for any place of rest or reflection, such as a bedroom, a library, or a meditation room. Cool colours also help visually enlarge any space, which makes them a perfect fit for smaller rooms.
Warm colours bring fire, heat, and sunsets to mind. In contrast to cool colours, they have an energizing effect and can make larger spaces feel more intimate.
Warm colours work best in kitchens, living rooms, and work areas, but should be avoided in the bedroom.
Some Words of Caution
While most people tend to think of red, yellow, and orange as warm, and of blue, purple, and green as cool, they are, in fact, mistaken. The truth of the matter is that all primary, secondary, and tertiary colours can be both cool and warm.
This is due to the fact that there is no such thing as a pure colour. Even primary colours are always biased and carry undertones of other colours within them.
Thus, red with blue undertones is cool, while red with yellow undertones is warm. You may not be able to see the undertones, but they are there and affect how we perceive different colours and how they relate to each other.
With this in mind, always make sure that you understand the undertones of any colours you work with.
If you inspect a typical colour wheel, you may notice that several key colours are missing: white, black, grey, brown, and beige.
These colours are the so-called neutrals or non-colours. The reason they do not appear on the colour wheel is that they do not dominate each other or any other colour. Therefore, you can combine them with anything without worrying that they would clash.
In interior design, as in fashion, neutral colours are always a safe bet. They are elegant and classy, not to mention able to blend in effortlessly with any decorative style. They also make for a great backdrop to more colourful accents.
Tints, Shades, and Tones
Every colour, whether primary or tertiary, cool or warm, can be adjusted by changing its tint, shade, or tone.
The tint of a colour is determined based on how much white is added to it. The more heavily tinted the colours, such as pastels and pales, the more soothing their effect.
In contrast, shades are achieved by mixing black into the colour, resulting in a deeper and more intense effect.
Tones are adjusted by adding or removing grey from colours. Higher grey ratios make for rich, subtle, and complex hues that can instantly improve the appearance of any room.
Light and Colour
The quality and amount of light in any room has a great impact on how you perceive its colour palette. The type of light bulbs, the direction of the room, the time of day and year, and even the current weather conditions can completely change the way you see the colour scheme.
East-facing rooms are the first to welcome natural light and the first to bid it farewell during the day.
In the morning, when the rising sun hits the windows, these rooms are lit up by warm, yellow light. Later in the afternoon, the light quickly turns to a cool blue with the approach of the sunset.
To make the most of natural light in east-facing rooms, consider using warm reds, oranges, and yellows. The early sun will set them aglow in the morning, and their warmth will continue to brighten up the room late into the evening. Make sure to also throw in some cooler hues to balance everything out.
Similarly, west-facing rooms are dull and full of shadows in the morning but brightly lit in the late afternoon and early evening. Therefore, look for a suitable combination of both warm and cool colours that makes the most of the natural light throughout the day.
North-facing rooms tend to get somewhat cool and bluish light. That calls for bold and bright colours to lighten the atmosphere.
Without a doubt, south-facing rooms are in a privileged position. They get the best natural light from high up in the sky throughout the day. Thus, dark, light, cool, and warm colours all work just fine here.
Finally, always make sure that the light from your bulbs complements the colour schemes of your rooms. Bulbs with yellow light will make reds, oranges, and yellows pop, whereas cool light will highlight greens and blues.
How to Work with Colours
Now that we have got the theory covered, let’s move on to its practical application. There are two main approaches to bringing your chosen colour scheme to life in any living space: creating a colour flow and colour layering.
To better grasp the concept of colour flow, think of your colour palette as a river. That river should flow effortlessly and almost imperceptibly as you walk from room to room and through any transitional spaces, such as corridors, staircases, or hallways. This approach could help you bring esthetic unity and colour harmony throughout your home.
The wellspring, or starting point, for your river could be the largest and most central room. Start there and work your way out. Alternatively, you may pick an area where you know you want to introduce a bold colour accent, and start from there.
To enhance the colour flow, opt for neutral and subdued colours in connecting spaces, and consider using the same or similar colours for neighbouring rooms and walls.
Another key approach to working with colour schemes is layering. Use art pieces, accessories, curtains, carpets, walls, and soft furnishings to mix and match colours and nuances.
Furthermore, pay close attention to textures and how both artificial and natural light fall onto different objects, as all that can greatly affect how we perceive colours.
In any case, always seek harmony and balance, and avoid having too many objects, colours, or accents in one space.
Whether we realise it or not, the colours in our living space can greatly affect our mood, emotions, and sense of well-being. However, that shouldn’t make you anxious about transforming the colour scheme of your home or office.
You don’t have to be a professional; all you need are some tips and tricks from the professional interior designer’s toolbox. Use them wisely, and you could completely transform any room to perfectly suit your taste, style, and personality.