21 Mar 2011
One item that I can almost always guarantee that will be brought up in design meetings is paint and material color. For some reason, choosing a color scheme for a project cripples even the most vocal of clients. This may sound incredibly mean but there are times when I think if it weren’t for most homeowners debilitating fear of choosing paint color, half of the interior decorators out there would run out of work. Now, I know that is a low blow and a cheap shot – but shoot me, I still think it’s true. You can hate on me in the comment section if you like but I will take the high road and ignore any names that get thrown my way – unless they rhyme with “you are right” and they’re spelled the exact same way.
Moving on, color theory is only as complicated as you let it be – there are rules and if you choose to follow them, your odds of putting together a working color scheme improve dramatically. Before we get to that though, it’ll help to define some terms. Individual colors are described as having hue, value, chroma, shade, tone and tint. Put simply:
Hue is artist-speak for the actual color
Value is a description of how light or dark a color is
Chroma is how bright a color is
Shade describes the addition of black
Tone describes the addition of gray
Tint describes the addition of white
Black, gray and white are true neutrals. Brown, tan and their derivatives are called near-neutrals. Adding darker pigments to a primary color like blue or a secondary color like green is another way to add the feel of a color without adding the weight of a color.
This is the humble color wheel – you can find them much larger but for our purposes, this is an adequate size wheel to have our conversation.
In the center are the primary colors - Red, Yellow, and Blue. From these, all others are made.
In the inner ring are secondary colors - orange, green, violet, made by mixing equal amounts of primary colors. Mix red and yellow for orange, mix red and blue for violet, and mix blue and yellow for green.
In the outer ring are the tertiary colors - achieved by mixing varying amounts of one primary color with the adjacent primary. Mix a large amount of red with a small amount of blue and you will get a red-violet color. Do the opposite for blue-violet. Increase or decrease amounts form many hues in between.
In this diagram, I have highlighted the “warm colors” of the color wheel. Color Theory will tell you that warm colors tend to “advance” in a space but that just means that they make the room feel smaller.
In this diagram, I have highlighted the “cool colors” of the color wheel. Color Theory tells us that cool colors tend to “recede” in a space … or make the room feel larger.
A monochromatic color scheme uses tints and shades on the same color. Using a particular color on your walls, a darker shade of of that same color on your trim, and a lighter tint of that same color on the ceiling is a good example of a monochromatic color scheme. As boring as this color scheme may sound, we tend to use it quite a bit becuase it generally allows other items in the space to become the focus.
Selecting two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel would be a complimentary color scheme. Since I don’t have to work around the colors of somebody’s high school alma mater, I tend so stay away from complimentary color schemes.
Finally there is the analogous color scheme which uses consecutive colors on the color wheel. This sort of color scheme tends to manifest itself in a combination like room color, couch or chair fabrics, window treatments, etc. Since we rarely have that level of control in a space, this is not a scheme method that I get to use very often (if at all).
I am going to end this here for now because I don’t want your head to explode because you came here looking for something funny and I got all edumacational on you by surprise. Color theory can sound really complicated but it’s really not for most people’s purposes. In a while, when you are least expecting it, I will follow up this post with a explanition on how to use a paint fan deck, and I’ll talk about gloss (Flat, Satin, Eg-shel, Semi-gloss, and Gloss) and when you should use which. You will be AMAZED at how interesting and exciting that post will be - I need to go lie down just thinking about it …