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Colour Theory 

Everyone perceives colour differently

Using colour in interior design doesn’t always guarantee that everyone sees and feel exactly the same.  For example, certain colours can evoke memories or feelings but it's different for each of us.   This Youtube video identifies the wide ranging differences in just one example of how we see colours differently.

Bold primary schemes

Red is considered a strong colour, often associated with physical aptitude.  Good for getting attention as it seems closer to the observer, no accident it is used for traffic lights  

Positive thinking is associated with yellow, but it needs careful usage.  Blue is calming,  but it can be have negativity: cold, isolating and emotional unavailability.

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Red room

Red gives a resonant and  stimulating aspect, but the colour often indicates threat, it can increase heart rate, but a warmer shade can feel very good. A room with a lot of red can increase the level of passion. Like orange, red is known to increase appetite and thus is widely used in kitchens.

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Yellow room

Yellow is perceived as being a bright and optimistic colour, but the effects  vary with nuances. Pale yellow can bring a little sunshine in while a darker yellow can be overpowering.  Yellow is also great for highlighting small amounts of yellow accessories, flowers or pictures.


Blue room

Blue creates a cool, clear look, good for an atmosphere of work and meditation. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Enlarge a room with a light shade,  or  cool a room with too much sun. In the kitchen, blue is said to decrease appetite and good for losing weight.

Neutral schemes are incredibly flexible

Personalise your space. A neutral scheme is superb as acting as a backdrop, you can add interest, texture, colour and character so easily. Changing with the seasons with a few cushions or throws or keeping up with new trends and replacing a few accessories.

Neutral schemes works as a blank canvas in which you can start to tell your story, making the space unique to you, not just a look-alike High Street store room set. But how can you start adding some interest and personality?

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Brown tonal

Composed of black, yellow, grey, green, red or orange and even purple, brown is neutral, Found in nature, it can give us a sense of security and stability. think of chocolate, coffee and cake.  It can add depth and warmth to interiors, e.g. unpolished wood or textiles in natural shades create a pleasant rustic effect.

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White and pink scheme

White has the psychological effect of being refreshing, invigorating and clean as well creating an airy, pure look. It can create optical illusions making rooms look  bigger or higher.  Flexible  enough to use with other neutrals, black, brown, grey or with vibrant accessories.

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Grey living room

A beautiful shade of grey, in combination with a muted  bright white, can create a clean and refreshing appearance. But if there are too many grey areas it will become predominant and create a boring environment.

Warm or cool?

The terminology – warm and cool – is emotional and psychological, but unlike other colour definitions warm and cool is not related to colour properties or light absorption, it refers precisely to where the colour falls on the colour wheel.

Warm colours are reminiscent of the sun or fire. Reds, oranges, yellows and pink.  The actual division on the wheel is yellow to red-purple.


How do you see it?

It is believed that the evolution of the warm and cool colours wheel was created by David Briggs, “The Dimensions of Colour”.

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Warm living room

Red based interior displaying

warm colour scheme, creates warmth and positivity.

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Cool living room

Blue and grey based Interior displaying cool colours, creates calm, quiet, peace.

Tints, tones, shades

Lightening the 12 basic colours produces tints, sometimes called pastels, going from extremely pale, nearly white to a barely tinted pure hue.   Tints are soft, youthful and soothing.  A tone is softer than the original colour, for appealing colour combinations, e.g. adding black to white to make grey. 

A colour “greyed” out is considered a tone.  Tones are more pleasing to the eye as they can be more complex, subtle and sophisticated.  Colours are made darker adding black.   Shades are considered deep, powerful and mysterious, but can be overpowering and best used as accents. 


Tints, tones and shades

Every colour on the colour wheel can be altered in by tinting, toning and shading. 


One colour room

Room scheme using tints, tones and shades of green

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Different tones

Room scheme using red, orange and yellow, but all colours have the same tone

Complementary colour schemes

Complementary colours are opposite on the colour wheel, mixing warm and cool colours together. Orange warms up a chilly blue scheme or a fresh green cuts through an intense red scheme as used below. 

Knowing which colors complement one another can help make good color decisions. Also  complementaries make each other appear brighter, or blended together for shadows  They definitely create dynamic colour schemes. 

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Opposite red and green

Mixing one cool color and one warm color, creates a simultaneous contrast,  This is due to a natural illusion.  When two complementary colors are placed next to each other, both colors appear brighter. 

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Accent with yellow and purple

This image uses the first set of complementary colours on the colour wheel, yellow and purple - grey has been added to balance the vibrant room scheme.

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Contrast colour 

Splitting bright orange with another colour like grey is eye-catching as they use simultaneous contrast.

Harmonious colour schemes

Harmonious colours sit next to one another on the colour wheel, e.g. red is near rust and terracotta. Harmonious and dynamic color schemes can define the two extremes of mood through use of color. Using colours of similar density gives balance, so one doesn't overpower another.  

Harmonious color schemes are often inspired by nature. Using a gentle, natural and often neutral color palette. Think about a forest, desert, beach or mountain. The colors chosen should be in the same chromatic range. The key ingredient is balance.

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Layering red and pink

Three or four colurs from the same primary colour makes the scheme bolder with deeper, more intense shades.  The effect is striking, e.g. red and pink as shown in this scheme.

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Forest green and wood

On the other extreme, harmonious color schemes are based on balance and commonly used in places that need to feel restful, such as healthcare or  hospitals. 

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Consider the light!

The natural light source is vital when choosing color schemes. In a north facing room, the light is more diffuse. Cool colors such as blue or green can make the room feel cold. Reds and oranges might be too warm for a south-facing room.

Monochromatic colour schemes

A monochromatic scheme uses a single hue which forms the base of the scheme, with  colors being derivatives of that hue.  In the image below, a green  monochromatic scheme is used with a  single base color, for the foundation of the scheme. 

Use various shades, tints, and tones of that hue to provide the other colors. Experts recommend picking at least two options off the base color—one lighter, one darker. As is true of any color scheme, you’ll need to determine where and how each variation will be used in the overall design

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Monochrome Black

A white background is commonly used  in a room with a monochromatic scheme, illustrated in the image above.

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Pantone ultra-violet

Taking one colour and picking lighter and darker variations  used on accent walls, or accessories..  Paint systems usually supply colour variations built around different base colors as in the Pantone example above. 

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Too blurred and vague

.It's important, though, to make sure colors are different enough to provide some contrast. Colors that are too close create an imprecise feeling in the room design as in the image above.  

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