Color and Interior Design

Have you ever woken up in the morning and had a strong urge to wear a certain color? Maybe you looked at your closet and that bright red shirt called out to you. What was it about that color that made you crave it for that day? The colors that surround us have an incredibly strong influence on our daily lives and moods. The colors that you bring into your home do the same by creating a mood and an environment that will have an impact on your feelings and lifestyle. Color can be used to accent a beautiful architectural detail, or for that matter, disguise a not so great one. It can inspire creativity in your home office, or softly lull you to sleep in your bedroom at night. Color can bring on an appetite in the kitchen and dining room, and it can welcome someone into your home through the foyer. Whether you go bold or neutral, color is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to your interior design. In these sections, you will find a variety of ways to learn about and incorporate color into your interior.

ABOUT COLOR What is color? Color is the vibration and speed of an electromagnetic wave. Depending on how fast this wavelength vibrates, will result in what color we see.
When you open up a can of red paint or put on a yellow shirt you may not be thinking of the science behind these colors, however, just like when you turn on the radio, we generally take for granted how the sound is traveling to us. Color is something that has an energy that we can feel and that we strongly respond to. If you look at a very bright white or yellow, you may get a headache or your eyes begin to hurt, whereas if you look at a soft pale green or blue, you may feel more relaxed and calm. This is due to the vibration that each of these colors is giving off.
Since color is related to light, our bodies are affected by color as well. Many people who study color therapy can actually feel colors, and are able to differentiate between them without using sight. This is because of their strong vibrations and energy that color is composed of. Color surrounds us constantly which has a large impact on our lives.
Because color affects us so directly, when used in our interiors, each color can stimulate a different feeling in us. Have you ever noticed that restaurants tend to use warmer colors like reds and oranges in their decor? Or at your doctors office you may often find blues or greens in the waiting room. This is because the warmer colors stimulate the appetite which is what a restaurant wants, and cooler colors like blues and greens stimulate a sense of relaxation which is what your doctor’s office would want. Think about which colors relax you, annoy you or make you work hard. This will be helpful when designing your interior space.

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR COLOR SCHEME In order to choose your color scheme, you must think about the type of interior that would reflect you best as well as what type of feeling you want to evoke in your home or a particular area. Here are two types of colors to select in order to begin forming your color scheme. Those two colors are:

  • an overall background color
  • an accent or complimentary color

The overall background color that you select should be something that fits the function of the room and that you can see living with for long period of time. If you are someone who wears a lot of neutral colors and may be afraid of a color that is too bold, you should find a calming, pleasing background color like a soft green, a warm yellow, or a variety of neutral taupe colors. You can combine your accent color into the room in a minimal way through accessories and smaller items that can be changed from time to time. The more you interject your complimentary colors, the more energy the room will have.
If you are creating a space where you want a lot of energy and bold color like a red or a bright blue, then your accent color can be the softer color like khaki green or burnt orange. Again, the more you combine your background and complimentary colors, the bolder and more vibrant the room will become. Below are examples of complimentary colors.

  • Green compliments Red Insert: (009900) (FF0000)
  • Blue compliments Orange Insert: (0000FF) (FF6600)
  • Yellow compliments Purple Insert (FFFF00) (993366)

Each of the above colors has a variety of different shades and variations of itself. Shades of green can vary from a bright grass green which is combined with yellow through to a dark hunter green that has blue and red mixed into it. In order to decide which of these color combinations is right for you, try going to your local hardware or home decor store and collecting their free paint sample charts. This way, you can see the variety of shades that each color offers.
The function of the room will also dictate what color scheme you may want to use. What is the purpose of the space? Do you want to be alert and focused in your office or relaxed and calm in your bedroom? Then think about what colors make you feel that way. Here are some general color relations that people tend towards. Remember, each culture has their own interpretation of color associations and because color is such a personal element, people’s opinions may vary.

Color Associations:
RED is associated with vitality, energy and strength. Because red is such a bold and vibrant color, too much of it may cause a feeling of anger or stress. Shades of red combined with browns and oranges are good colors for areas where eating takes place like dining rooms or kitchens. Lighter shades of red become Pink which is a more calming and

YELLOW is associated with warmth and happiness. It is a positive color that inspires constructive thinking. Lighter shades of yellow are still cheery, but more relaxing. A light and cheery yellow is a good color for a sitting room or an activity room. It is an awakening and intellectually stimulating color.

BLUE is associated with relaxation and security. Dark blues can be very comforting when used in the right proportion. Too much can be associated with depression. Light shades of blue are calming and can be nice in a bedroom or a waiting room. Anywhere that one might want to alleviate anxiety.

ORANGE is associated with energy and joy. It is a great color that exudes self confidence. Lighter shades of orange are still joy inspiring and help waken the spirit. Deep shades of oranges and reds are good for a study or library.

GREEN is associated with cool relaxation. It is an elevating color with many positive associations like freedom and harmony and nature. Lighter greens are energizing and awakening, while greens with too much yellow are associated with sickness. Varying shades of khaki greens are nice for living room areas or a screened in porch.

BROWN is associated with the earth and warmth. It is a nurturing and comforting color. Browns are great colors for flooring since it is grounding and stabilizing. Earthy browns, oranges and terracotta colors are great for kitchen areas as well.

WHITE is associated with purity and cleanliness. Too much white can be perceived as emptiness. White is used a lot in bathrooms due to the clean and pristine look of it. White may seem like one of the simplest colors to use, however there are many variations to white ranging from very warm whites to very cool whites. Cool whites tend to be cold, hard and uncomfortable, whereas a warm white can evoke a more comfortable, inviting feeling.

BLACK is associated with mystery and the unknown. It can be a protective color, but like brown, too much of it may be restrictive. Black is a good color to combine with warm, neutral colors in order to create a more comfortable and secure feeling. It can also be combined with reds or whites for a more dramatic and energizing feel.
The key to using colors in interior design is balance. No one color to the extreme will produce the desired effect unless other shades or compliments are introduced.

So now that you have selected some colors for your interior color scheme, where do they each go? Let’s begin with the interior architecture. The most basic interiors have walls, ceilings and floors. Of course, in a lot of interiors, there are other architectural elements as well such as crown or base moldings, wainscots, vaulted ceilings and more. Each element in a room should have a color that adds to the overall feeling of the room.
The color that you select for your walls will set the tone for the room. Walls are generally a large element in a space and whatever color you select for them will become a large part of the décor. For a room that is gentle and calm, your walls should be colors that are next to each other on the color wheel or on a paint companies fan deck. For example if you want your living room to be welcoming and cheery yet not too bright, you can use shades of warm yellows in your background like mustard and sand colors. These colors have a yellow base which is cheery and energizing, yet because it is mixed with a bit of red-orange, it will be warm and welcoming as well.
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If your wall has architectural details like wainscoting and moldings, these too become part of your overall room tone. You can play up or tone down these elements depending on the look you want to achieve. For a softer overall look, these architectural elements should blend with the wall by using colors that are next to each other on the color wheel or next to each other in a paint company’s color chart. On the other hand, for a more vibrant and energetic room you can select colors that are complimentary to each other.
Soft Scheme: Wall (insert square of FFCC99) Wall Detail
(Insert square of (CC9966) Vibrant Scheme: Wall (insert square of 6699CC) Wall Detail
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TIP: The shade of the color will also dictate how vibrant your interior color scheme will be. If you select a very bright shade of blue and orange you will have a very strong and intense feeling to your space, however if you select softer shades of the same colors, your room will take on a softer and gentler feel while still having a vibrant energy.
Try using a pattern that incorporates a large amount of your background wall color as well as a small amount of your complimentary color. This will bring energy into the room. A good way to find these shades is to look at a paint companies samples and select about three colors that are next to each other in the family. Another option is to find a wall covering that combines your pleasing background color while including a bit of your complimentary color throughout it as well. You can decide on the intensity of these compliments to be either soft and barely noticeable for a more calming effect, or strong and defined in order to bring in a stronger energy to the room. ,/P>
WALLS: SPECIAL AREAS Pay attention to any interesting angled walls or details that you may want to call out with a different color. For example if you have a wall with a fireplace that is on its own angle or that comes out from the rest of the wall, you may want to use a complimentary color or a deep shade of your background wall color in order to enhance this area and increase the energy in the room. (gen_color_fireplacecolor)
Generally ceilings are a shade or two lighter then your overall wall color. The ceiling represents the sky and the above so people feel more comfortable when it is lighter. I find this is true most of the time unless a special faux painting or pattern is being applied. Regardless of how you treat your ceiling, darker colors will make the ceiling feel lower whereas lighter colors will open up the space. If you have a ceiling under 8’6”, using a lighter color is recommended for an airy open feeling. If, however you are painting a home theater, a dark color is recommended for the ceiling for optimal viewing. Again, the function of the room should ultimately dictate in which direction the shades and colors should be.
FLOORS: The floors in your space are representative of the ground and earth below. Although it is possible to have any color from white to black on your floors, people generally feel more comfortable with an earthier color which grounds them in the space. Of course, since interior design can push any limits and boundaries, this is not a rule. However the further away you go from a deep or earthy color, the more the room will take on a less cozy, surreal feel to it.
ROOM DETAILS: No matter how simple a room may look to you at first glance, there are details and small areas where color still needs to be specified. For example, if there is a door or a window in the room, you will need to make sure that you specify which color begins and ends in which location. Two common areas that people forget to specify are the inside of the door and window frames as well as the trim or casing surrounding them. This can be an issue for example, if you are using different colors on the walls and trims, or if you are staining wood trims and painting walls. Your painter may not know which color or technique to carry through here. Make sure you have a walk through with your painter in order to review all the areas in question.

Connecting different spaces or rooms through color creates a complete look through your interior. Using similar colors or colors that balance well with each other throughout these different rooms or areas will create a flow to your entire space. Even if each room has a different style or function, your home will feel unified which will makes the entire space feel much larger. Stand in each area or room and see what other areas you can see from there. How will the room across the hall look if the door is open? Closed? TIP: Using different tints and shades of the same overall color will help to unify these different areas. This way, you will not be repeating the exact same colors, but visually your home will be balanced and coordinated.
Varying similar textures throughout these spaces will also add to the unity and interest of the interior. If you are using a lot of textures and patterns, keeping the color scheme simple and similar will create a less busy and overwhelming appearance to a space.
In some interiors, spaces are united visually by the architecture. For example, if a home has a great room or living room with a large, double height ceiling , this area will be seen from the second level or a catwalk hallway above. These spaces form one united space since they will share a ceiling, and since there is little visual separation between them. It is important in this case to relate and harmonize the colors from the downstairs through to the upstairs. This also brings on an entirely different way of laying out color since the architectural details throughout the house, like crown moldings, will connect these different spaces and rooms. Make sure you follow each line of molding or each ‘eyebrow’ in the ceiling to see where it ends and how the use of each color will connect or interfere with each space it travels through.

COLOR IN FURNITURE AND ACCESSORIES The color that furniture and accessories will bring into your interior design scheme is important. These items are another layer to the space which can be used to define, enhance, contrast or blend into the surroundings. The furnishings you select once again add another perspective to the room.
A very large interior with high ceilings and large windows will need some richer colors in the furniture in order to ground the space. A large printed rug that blends your background colors as well as contrasting color interjected into it will also help anchor the room. You can enhance the feeling of a small and intimate room by using furniture, pillows or window treatments with deep colors and patterns. However if you are using a lot of texture and pattern then a more muted or monochrome color palette will prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. Balancing these two combinations will create an interesting and enjoyable interior space.
Finding a fabric that your color scheme will be based upon can help you define your color palette for most other accessories and furniture in the room. For example, if you use a sofa fabric that has a monochrome color scheme with an accent of contrasting, rich color interjected throughout it, that accent color can be brought into other areas of the room. By pulling that richer color to use either on the walls or maybe as the main color of your window shades or drapery, you will add more energy to the room. This color will also work well for accent pillow on your sofa.
There are also some colors that you may like, however they may be overwhelming or uncomfortable in a large amount. Putting those colors on a wall, floor or other large area in a room will be unsettling. For those colors, try bringing them into the room in a smaller area like for a chair or a pillow. This way you can enjoy the color and not be overwhelmed by in.
Color impacts our interiors more then any other decorative element. Whether your style is using minimal or maximum color applications, the way you develop and balance your color schemes are very important in your interior and exterior space.