A LESSON IN COLOR SCHEMES
Nico Springman, Director of Interior Decoration Classes at
Inchbald School of Design explains the
color theory he lectures to design students
"Interior designers and decorators have strong reactions to color schemes.
They will have spent time mixing up combinations and using their
knowledge of color theory before they start putting together a color
scheme. They will have understood this theory and then interpret it in
a way that gives the effect they are after.
They must consider the quality of light that is available in the room,
as the eye finds it difficult to read colors properly in inadequate light.
Therefore, the direction the room faces and the amount of daylight it
receives and the source of artificial light are all important.
Understanding that one artificial source of light burns at a lower or
higher temperature than another one is also important. Candlelight
burns at a lower temperature than most electric lamps; the light given
off is warmer (more orange) than most lamps, so it can destroy the
purity of any cooler hues such as violets, greens or blues.
Understanding colors and how they relate to each other is the most
crucial aspect of color scheming. More comfortable schemes rely on the
use of harmonious combinations, where the color schemes sit beside each other
on the color wheel. Exciting schemes, for where someone visits the space
for a short time, might be complementary: colors on the opposite side of
the color wheel which provide strong contrast. In equal quantities, this
might be uncomfortable, but an elegant solution can still be found where
just a tiny amount of the complementary color is used. A monochromatic
color scheme is made of the pure hue, and its associated tints and shades.
It can be quite dull, so variation in the patterns and textures is what will give
it interest. If you start with an Ultramarine blue, it can be tempting to add
something based on a Cerulean blue, but then the scheme ceases to be
a monochromatic one and becomes harmonious instead.
Designers and decorators do not often use unadulterated primary color schemes
(red, blue or yellow) or secondary hues (violet, green or orange). They tend
to build schemes on the tertiary colors that are found between the
primary and secondary colors. They will also experiment with colours that
are not at full intensity; most of them will have been altered by the addition
of white (to make a tint), black (to make a shade) or greyed - the addition
of a small amount of the opposite color, which kills the intensity or purity
of the original one.
Browns and beiges are not neutral - grey is the only one. Found by mixing
equal quantities of colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, the result
will support both of the original colors at full intensity. White is total
reflection of light, black is total absorption of light, so they are referred to
as having no chroma. There are additional schemes based on triadic
colors (equally spaced at 120 degrees from each other on the color
wheel) which would be the three primary colors or the three secondary
ones. Split complementary schemes are not so hard on the eye as a full
complementary one. If a complementary color scheme is using yellow and
violet, a split complementary one will put yellow with a red violet and
a blue violet, where those two hues on either side of the complementary
colour are used.
Examine the hue of the color scheme; if a given item has a yellow hue to it, it
could be seen as warm or hot, but if it seems to have a blue hue to it, it will
seem cool or cold. A warm red (strawberry, flame or scarlet) will look more
comfortable with a warm off-white; both will have a tiny amount of yellow in
them. A colder red (raspberry, crimson or burgundy) will look better with a
more brilliant white.
If, for example, you have an avocado bath suite, towels in ivory, egg yolk
or mustard yellows, pale aqua or teal blues and flame or coral pinks will
look better than white, lemon, sky or navy blues or crimson, rose pink or
burgundy. This is because the colors have been adjusted in the same way
as the green of the sanitaryware. If you are starting with a Wenge wood, the
color of bitter chocolate, and you want to use a red with it, crimson or
a very pale, iced rose pink, might be the most comfortable red to put with
it. Other reds will look good to start with but after a bit, might trouble your
eye in some way.
The fixed points always have to come first - white sanitaryware in the
bathroom or the towels available in the store are givens. Match fabric and
paints to them. If the given item - furniture or flooring - is a warm hued
wood, warm hued colors therefore look better with it. If it has some black
in it, use hues that are shades, and if the given item seems to be a tint then
use tints of hues with it for the majority of the scheme. It will appear more
restful. Then inject a small amount of the opposite to provide some
zest in the scheme."