With so many different colours to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start but it isn’t something you necessarily have to get right first time round and all successful colour schemes come about as a result of some trial and error.
As with most things in life it would be wise to start by playing it safe however once confidence is established, there is no reason why anyone can’t create a decorating scheme that has the WOW factor. Although we don’t always realise it, we all have a natural feel for colour and there are a few simple rules which may seem obvious but, nonetheless, are worth considering.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have the opportunity to start with a completely blank canvas and you’ll most likely have something to use as a point of reference. A dominant piece of furniture, an existing floor covering such as a rug or even something as simple as your child’s favourite toy can all be good starting points.
A point worth remembering if you’re decorating your kid’s room is this that children don’t always see colour the same way we do – they need to time to learn and will develop their own preferences as they grow. So try not to impose your own tastes – observing your child in everyday situations will give you plenty of cues.
Small spaces will benefit from receding colours like light greens and blues – these colours have the effect of moving away from the eye and making small spaces appear bigger. Advancing colours like deep reds and browns have the opposite effect and will make a room look smaller. It doesn’t mean you can’t use these colours in a small space – just that if you do it’s best to use strong colours as an accent or focal point rather than as an overall colour.
Warm & Cool Rooms
The aspect of the room – the direction it faces – should have a big influence on your basic colour choice. South-facing rooms blessed with plenty of natural daylight will benefit from light, cool colours. Warmer colours will work best in rooms facing away from the sun.
When we talk about cool colours we are referring to blues and violets which encompasses a wide range of shades. Warm colours are reds, oranges and yellows. Green is often referred to as a cool colour but is in fact fairly neutral – in as much as it can work well in either situation.
There are various ways to combine different colours. If you visualise colours arranged in a wheel as below you will understand what we mean when we talk about opposite and adjacent colours.
There are many ways a colour scheme can be put together but there are three basic methods of achieving this:
Tone – A tonal or monochrome colour scheme uses varying shades of one colour to create a subtle, understated effect. We tend to associate the word monochrome with shades of grey but it can apply to any colour really. Use the darker shades for woodwork and trim, with lighter shades for large areas of wall and ceiling. You can mix this up and maybe use the darker colour as a feature wall – it will work so long as you stick to one tone. Tonal schemes can be considered to be playing safe or, dare we say it – boring, but if you are not comfortable with choosing colours then it’s a method which is hard to get wrong.
Harmony – Harmonious schemes use adjacent colours of the colour wheel to create a balanced scheme. So shades of yellow with shades of green, shades of green with blue, shades of blue with violet, and so on… Experiment with different shades of each colour to get the best results, again using the subtler tones for large areas with stronger shades in small measure. Harmonious schemes can be very effective and are not as difficult as you might imagine – look at the colour wheel and how colours of the same shade merge into one another quite naturally.
Compliment – A ‘complimentary’ or ‘contrasting’ scheme uses opposite colours to produce an effect which is striking and stimulating. So yellow and blue, red and green, violet and green, etc.. are opposite colours which compliment each other. The safest way to get this right is to use one colour for the largest areas with one or two contrasting colours in small areas for accent. You can sometimes create a striking theme by doing the opposite but it’s not for the faint hearted.
- Blue – a cool colour but still very versatile and works well with white. Associated with clear skies and pure water sources, studies have shown that most people have a natural inclination to the colour blue.
- Purple – The colour purple, which includes shades of violet, evokes strong feelings – associated with creativity, sensitivity and variety – it’s a colour you either like or loathe and tends to be a popular choice with teenagers. Its palest form of lavender is calming and can promote restful sleep but deep tones can have the opposite effect and are best used in moderation.
- Red – a strong stimulating colour, adds warmth to a room. A colour in its purest form associated with movement and danger and best used in small measure as an accent or a feature wall. Lighter shades of pink, however, are always fashionable provided they are not over-used, when the effect can be insipid.
- Orange – a warm colour of many different shades including peach and apricot, fostering a sense of calm and well-being.
- Yellow – a bright warm, cheerful colour associated with sunshine, optimism and creativity. Often difficult to get exactly right but some experimentation can produce good results and it’s popular with young children.
- Green – neutral in terms of warmth but a receding colour that can make a space look bigger. Green is fresh, clean and restful – associated with nature, vitality and health. Works well with most other colours and is often overlooked.
When thinking about colours it’s often easy to discount neutrals although they have a bigger influence than we first think. Most people use white as a colour for ceilings, trim and woodwork almost without a thought because it sits so easily with other shades. White painted furniture is particularly suitable for for most rooms because it allows many changes of decor theme over the years without fear of clashing.
White is associated with minimalism but also includes shades such as ivory, pearl and cream which can be used as a foil for stronger schemes, adding tone and definition without the glaring effect that a pure white often has.
Grey is another neutral colour and although often thought of as uninspiring, can be used effectively to set-off stronger colours. Black is the colour most typically associated with teenagers and is easily over-done but when used as an accent or highlight it can be quite effective.
Although paint companies have made the choice of colour almost infinite, the trend these days is very much moving back towards natural, earthy tones – which coincides with the popularity of eco-friendly paints.
Brown, for instance, isn’t a colour you’d associate with a great colour scheme but consider how much brown there is in the furniture or flooring and how much influence it has on the look of the room. If you have a lot of wooden furniture or a natural floor then this will inevitably influence your choice of colour for the walls.
An over use of light, natural colours can result in blandness but this is easily avoided with a strategic use of black or vivid accents of sharp colour in the trim and accessories.
More Advice and Resources
There is no shortage of useful advice around about the subject of colour but it can be a little overwhelming – so here are a few resources we think are most useful.
- BBC Homes – Design – plenty of good information here about colour schemes in the home.
- Crown Colour Schemes – a collection of schemes and a useful visualisation tool that shows how your choice looks in a real room set.
- Dulux Colour Inspiration – lots of useful tips and ideas as well as a few tools you can use to create your own colour collections.
- Paint Quality Institute Decorative World – more colour advice and some useful tips about painting projects and decorative effects.
- Sico – It’s all about Colour – Sico is a Canadian paint company and their website has lots of useful articles about colour, colour schemes and the latest decorating trends.
- Terrence Conran Essential Colour – a handy little book explaining the basis of colour and how and why certain colours work together.
- Choosing Colours by Kevin McCloud – if you’re really stuck for inspiration then this book offers 60 tried and tested schemes with a combination of over 700 colours. There is very little in the way of advice but if you just want a fail-safe way of putting some colours together this book will get you started.