Colour has a significant impact on the way we feel about our surroundings and ourselves. In this article we look at how to inject colour into your home and give your life a boost.
Colour can affect our moods and can alter the way people feel when they enter a space, making them feel relaxed and welcomed, uneasy and uncomfortable – or stimulated and excited. It can affect our emotions but also our physical wellbeing.
There are long standing traditions associated with colour, giving it meaning and symbolism:
Purple was once a rare and difficult colour to create and so it became the colour of emperors and then of popes and bishops, conveying royalty and wealth.
Red has long been a sign of danger, a signal to stop and also evocative of energy, excitement and sex. It is a bridal colour in India. It means socialism in many European cultures yet stands for conservatism in North America.
White is for weddings and virginity in the west and for death in the east.
Black is sombre and death-like, but also seen as businesslike, sophisticated and elegant.
Orange conveys energy, but also has religious and political overtones – think of Dutch football or Northern Ireland Protestants.
Green is natural and has become synonymous with environmentalism. It also symbolizes action and is the signal to Go.
Blue is a sign of authority (police uniforms) and conveys a sense of calm and elegance. It is the symbol of sea and sky.
Yellow is the symbol of cowardice and jealousy, but also stands for joy and sunshine and hopefulness. Yellow ribbons are used to convey the hope that loved ones will return safely from war.
When working with colour it is important to choose what works for you Ultimately colour is all about personal preference and about creating the right mood in the available space.
When deciding on colour you need to think about the light conditions and the mood you want to create. When planning a room, you can find inspiration all around you:
- Get out your old holiday photos
- Wander around a beautiful garden
- Go to an art gallery
- Visit the fabrics floor of a department store
- Pick up a travel magazine
- Get hold of as many paint colour charts as you can
- Look through fashion magazines.
When making your choice it’s a careful balance between your personal taste, the mood you want to create, the lighting conditions you want to enhance, play down or reflect, whether you want to follow what is “on trend” or do your own thing, whether you need to accommodate existing furnishings, or whether you hit upon a fabric, a piece of furniture, an accessory or a painting that you want to feature.
Recently there’s been a tendency towards neutrals, the Kelly Hoppen style – all browns and beiges and creams, or greys and off whites: calm, subtle and understated.
It can tend to be boring and needs a lot of care to bring in contrast with textures and shapes and accent colour.
This colour scheme seems easy but is very difficult to achieve successfully if you want to avoid blandness.
White is a brave choice for a home interior and not to be entertained if you have children, lots of “traffic” or want a relaxed comfortable lifestyle.
The other big watch out with white is that it can be very cold. I once decorated a large north facing living room in white and never felt comfortable in it. It felt over-large, cold and a bit hostile.
White can be very effective when used with a strong contrasting accent colour. It can also work very well in bedrooms.
Red, pink and orange
Red is a high energy, exciting and rather dangerous colour. You can tire of it quickly if it’s used to excess.
It works best in a large proportioned room, or conversely in a small snug-like room, such as a study, if you are trying to create a cocoon-like warm space.
Red walls (like white ones) are great for showing off paintings – especially of the gilt-framed old master variety.
Red is great for creating warmth and for rooms such as formal dining rooms that tend to be used at night. Otherwise, red can work brilliantly as an accent colour, bringing a splash of drama to a neutral scheme, or contrasting and highlighting against white.
Pink has become ubiquitous as the colour of little girls’ bedrooms. As a result, it has recently lost favour in other areas of the house.
Pink can however work brilliantly as an accent colour, or mixed with reds or purples.
Pink also acts as a great complement to grey.
Orange also works well as an accent, particularly with black, in contrast with greens or in harmony with other earthy colours.
Blue, whilst the most popular colour, can make some rooms seem rather cold and uninviting. That coolness can be an advantage in a south facing room but can make a north room seem like a fridge.
Blue can look fresh and summery, when teamed with white, redolent of Matisse when paired with yellow, whilst duck egg blues look fabulous mixed with browns.
As illustrated here (I think this is from Yves St Laurent’s Morroccan garden) it is rich and dramatic, offsetting the lush greens of the garden setting.
Green is the pre-eminent symbol of the natural world and can bring freshness and light into a home.
I don’t know why but I always feel there are more subtle differences in shades of green than in any other colour and while they all mix and mingle brilliantly in nature they can seem very jarring in other contexts.
There is a vast difference between the bottle green beloved by the Victorians, the richness of emerald and the softness of an apple green. Greens go very well with neutral shades such as beiges and creams.
Test before you paint!
Whatever colour you choose for your scheme, make sure you try out paint colours in situ first.
Get some samples and make sure you look at them in different light conditions. If you want to use the same colour in different rooms, then paint a large piece of card and hold it against the walls in each room and under different lighting conditions and times of day. What looks great in daylight can be very different under artificial lighting.
The overall effect
It’s important to think about the overall effect you want to create before you start to decorate a room.
What furniture do you have? What existing colours will be retained? What kind of mood do you want to create? When will the room be used – mostly by day or night? How much light does it get? Which direction does it face? Are you changing the curtains or blinds? If not how will they fit in with the rest of your scheme? Do you have a feature you want to use as a theme for the room – for example a painting that might provide the accent colours for your room, or a rug, or a sofa and chairs? Remember you are the person who is going to live in the room and it is important that you love the end result and feel comfortable with it.
Don’t be intimidated by the style police into thinking there is a right way to do things or that certain colours are only right in specific rooms. The wonderful thing about interiors is that the same room can look dramatically different but appealing in a completely different way. You may want to create a feeling of Mediterranean sunshine, a dark and brooding boudoir or a fresh and spring-like airy space.
Your choice of colour may also be influenced by the period effect you want to achieve – the warm richness of a Victorian interior, the cool elegance of the Georgians, a neutral modernist approach or a vibrant sixties feel.
Using colour in other ways
Painting a room is a great way to breathe new life into your home. It’s an easy make and mend task. Yes it takes a bit of time, but it certainly isn’t difficult and compared with buying new furniture or furnishings it is a surprisingly low cost way to bring about a massive change.
If you can’t do a big painting job then you can always inject some accent colour into your room: How about some new cushions? These are so easy to make and you can buy remnant fabrics for very little – or even re-use an old duvet cover, tablecloth or buy some cheerful tea-towels and use these.
Another option is to collect some fabric samples (many designers will supply these for free on request) and put them together to make a patchwork cushion or throw.
Hang a picture Pictures can dramatically improve the atmosphere and ambience of a room. You don’t have to go to an art gallery and spend a fortune. Rummage around the charity shops. Try car boot sales. Buy a poster from a museum and put it in a charity shop frame. And you don’t even need a frame – you can always add a spot of colour and impact by making a collage of postcards on a wall.
The family home of one of my school friends had a kitchen that was decorated with a collage of travel posters. They were pasted onto the wall and varnished over back in the 1950s so the effect was like wallpaper. I visited her old house a few months ago and the collage is still going strong and looking very striking – fifty years after being done! I saw a New York bathroom in an interiors magazine the other day – again with a feature collage wall but this time made of fashion photographs. Very cheap. Very easy. Very colourful. Very stylish.
Colour without breaking the bank
Other ways to bring colour into your home are flowers, candles, vases and glassware. I have a very neutral living room – but there’s a big splash of rainbow colours from my collection of glassware – mostly picked up for next to nothing on eBay and from junk shops.
Or you can add a rug – car boot sales and charity shops are good hunting grounds for these.