The colour atmosphere in decoration

Today, I leave my feng shui expertise behind and put on my interior decorator hat. Indeed, when we manage colours in decoration, we have more flexibility and freedom because we are not constrained by the cycle of the 5 elements. This is what I love about the turnkey Feng Shui services I offer, this challenge to respect the nature of the element in the area while proposing an aesthetic decorative project in line with the times.

Creating a colour atmosphere, choosing the colour of a wall, can be a real headache. You are afraid of making a mistake, of getting bored… As a result, the problem has been solved by many people: interiors remain white! As you know, I “militate” for the use of colour in our interiors, because I am convinced of their psychological power.  

The 3 colour categories

It is impossible to talk about colour in interior design without referring to Johannes Itten’s colour wheel. It allows colours to be ordered in a certain direction, which is none other than that of the colours of the rainbow.

According to this graphic representation, which is the “reference” today, there are 3 categories of colour:

the primary colours: magenta red, yellow and cyan blue.
They are not the result of a mixture of colours.
See the central triangle of the circle illustrated below.
Secondary colours: these are obtained by mixing 2 primary colours in equal parts.
Red + Yellow = Orange
Blue + Yellow = Green
Blue + Red = Violet
See the 3 triangles framing the central triangle.
Tertiary colours: obtained by mixing a primary colour with a secondary colour.

le cercle chromatique

Colours are said to be “complementary” when they are opposite each other on the colour wheel: Yellow and Violet, Blue and Orange, Green and Red…

Colour and its vocabulary

The vocabulary related to colour is quite rich. There is sometimes a tendency to mix up the concepts. Here are some definitions that are worth remembering.

The hue indicates the nature of the colour itself: it is a red, a blue, a green… In fact “colour” and “hue” are synonyms for us because we include in “colours” “hues” resulting from a mixture of colours, such as turquoise.

Saturation expresses the intensity, or purity, of the colour: the more pigments a colour contains, the more saturated it is and therefore the more vivid and intense it is. A completely desaturated colour will appear grey.

Clarity refers to the luminous intensity of a colour. It is also called “value”. Thus, the value of a colour refers to how light or dark it is. The lower and upper limits are black and white.

The shade is represented by the colour boundary between two colours on the colour wheel or by all the variations of a colour by mixing with its neighbour on the wheel. Thus, it is each of the different degrees of a single colour, of which there are obviously thousands: vermilion red, duck blue, aubergine violet, etc.

Tone refers to the modification of a colour in its value and/or saturation.
In the case of gradient tones, white is added to the colour (e.g. brown is graded to obtain beige).
In the case of faded tones, black or grey is added.
For broken tones, a proportion of its complementary colour is added to the colour.
The tone also expresses whether the colour belongs to the warm or cold range.
The so-called “warm” colours are: yellow, orange yellow, orange red, red and red violet. Cold colours are: yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet and violet.

chambre bleu jaune
Photo by Spacejoy on Unsplash

Colours and light

As we know, without light, there are no colours. But I’m not going to give you a rundown on wavelengths and visible and invisible electromagnetic waves.
In this paragraph, I wanted to talk about the importance of the light source in the perception of colour.
Broadly speaking, in our interiors we have two types of light: natural light and artificial light. As an interior designer, it is essential to deal with them differently, otherwise you won’t get the desired effect.

Natural light: this is the light that comes from the sun during the day and the moon in the evening. It is said to be “dynamic” because its light intensity and colour temperature change according to the time of day.
The morning sun tends to cool the colours, while the setting sun warms them. At the zenith, the sun crushes the colours and can make them dull and pale.
In addition to these generalities, there are also differences depending on the season: the sun is lower in winter, which means that its light penetrates the room more. But it also depends on the size and shape of your windows… 
This is why, to test a paint colour on a wall, it is advisable to do a test directly on the wall, by taping a piece of paper at least 60cm wide and long (wallpaper to be painted for example). Paint it with the desired colour and observe how it behaves throughout the day.
If you are afraid of making a mistake, you can place the colour on the wall surrounding the window, since this wall does not receive natural light (provided that the room does not have a through passage).

Artificial light: this comes from a light source from artificial lighting. No artificial light can replace the benefits of natural light. However, the colour temperature (expressed in kelvin) can be chosen so that the emotional impact is appropriate. 
For example, the lower the colour temperature, the warmer the effect. Warm colours should be used for a cosy atmosphere. These temperatures flatter the warm colours but make the cold colours darker. 

I let you read my article on “how to create a bright atmosphere” for more details.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Colours in space

Colours are fabulous tools to help structure space. Some colours (especially saturated colours) are so attractive that they catch the eye and can highlight an architectural detail in the room, or a beautiful pedestal table or piece of art.

Our eyes need to be stimulated, a monochrome environment can quickly become monotonous. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you turn your home into a rainbow and mix it up too much! It is important that the mix of colours is organised, coherent, so that our brain does not get tired and gets the expected benefits.
For example, we are used to the earth being darker than the sky and therefore feel reassured when the floor is darker than the ceiling. But we may also want to paint a very high ceiling a dark colour to lower it visually.

And yes, let’s not forget that colour can create optical illusions.
A wall painted in a different colour from the others will appear narrower. Similarly, it is often said that painting a room with a dark colour will make it “smaller”. This is not correct: a room with 4 dark walls will look more spacious than a room with contrasting wall colours, it is the colour contrast that matters.
The contrast between wall and background is another aspect to consider: it can be disturbing to have a furniture colour identical to the wall colour, it is preferable that the large furniture stands out from the background.
Optical illusions are due to differences in wavelength, and it is interesting to use them to correct or rebalance the proportions of a room.
On a white background, a dark colour “advances” more than a light colour, a warm colour “advances” more than a cold colour. The longer their wavelength, the more they advance. On a black background, the opposite is true. Colours also appear brighter on a black background than on a light background.

Creating a colourful harmony

It is clear that colour changes according to the light, according to the room, in short, according to the context. It also depends on neighbouring colours, hence the need to create a “harmony”, i.e. a combination of colours whose objective is to make a combination of colours pleasant.
If you are sensitive to the psychology of colours, you can refer to the 4 tonal harmonies defined by Angela Wright.
Otherwise, the idea is to play with the chromatic circle and associate primary, secondary or tertiary colours. Depending on the choices you make, you can talk about complementary or contrasting harmonies, gradations, cameos, etc.

Complementary harmonies are obtained by associating complementary colours on the chromatic circle: violet and yellow, orange red with bluish green, etc.
Cameos use a combination of colours that are very close on the circle. These harmonies create a rather restful atmosphere.
Monochrome is also called tone-on-tone because it is the variation of the same colour using a gradient of value and saturation. This harmony is very elegant.
Trichromatic harmony: three colours are combined, equally spaced on the colour wheel. The visual contrast is interesting.

The choice of colours must be in function of the nature of the room (I would say “yin” or “yang” but I said that today I was not a Feng Shui expert 😉 ) and in function of the habits of life: if we want a calm and relaxing atmosphere, we will rather choose cold colours which by bringing freshness also bring calm and appeasement; you will have understood it, the warm colours will on the contrary be rather energizing, dark, they participate in an intimate atmosphere.

The dominant colour is the one that covers the majority of the room’s wall surfaces.  It is the colour that gives the most structure to the space. The 3-color rule states that you need about 80% of the dominant colour, 15% for a second colour and 5% for the third. But rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?
If you have a favourite colour and you choose it for your room, why not start with a monochromatic harmony where only the variations in saturation of this one and only hue will intervene? In this case, be careful to play with the materials and finishes so as not to make monochrome rhyme with monotony…

To conclude

All the previous paragraphs are only principles that allow you to avoid making big mistakes. But if I had only one message it would be: listen to yourself, follow your intuition. Some people only choose neutral colours (white, beige, grey, black) or pastels, while the bohemian gipsy or vintage 70’s ambiences dare an accumulation of colours and patterns. Everything is possible, your interior must speak to you. What matters is not that it resembles the neighbour’s or an article in a decorating magazine. What matters is that it is in tune with your way of being and your needs.
This is why the interior decorator cannot begin his work before having carried out the client brief: he collects the needs, habits, constraints, tastes, desires… and determines the famous red thread, which will make it possible to define a personalized decorative concept.
Need help decorating a room? For 3D views that will allow you to project yourself? Please contact me!

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