Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Understanding Color and Using Paint to Bring Life to Your Space

Painting is one of the easiest ways to transform the look of your home on a budget.  Working with a professional designer to help you select colors is one way to ensure that you won't have to paint over a mistake.  If you have painted before, you understand that the prep work is one of the most tedious - albeit most important - tasks of painting.  If you are on a budget, than DIY may be the way to go, but keep in mind the cost of additional materials that are needed to get the job done, such as extension rods, drop clothes, brushes and rollers.  Factor these items in to the total cost of the room.  In many cases, it is more cost-effective to hire a professional painter who can provide his own materials, and save you time in the process. 

To choose paint colors successfully, it is important to understand a few things about the basic color wheel.  One of the wheel's primary functions is to illustrate the relationship between cool colors and warm colors.  Cool colors such as blues, greens and violets are found on one side of the color wheel, and represent natural elements such as air and water.  In contrast, warm colors such as yellows, oranges and reds, signify the connection between the earth, sun and fire.  Using the color wheel can help to create harmonious palettes by pairing different shades.   Keep in mind, all of these colors are greatly affected by lighting and the proximity of surrounding hues.

Complementary colors - such as orange and blue - lie directly opposite one another on the color wheel.  When paired with one another, each color is intensified.  For the most successful use of complementary colors, it is best to use the colors in unequal proportions.  For example, a steel blue room receives a needed burst of warmth when paired with bright orange accents.

Analogous colors lie adjacent on the color wheel - yellow and orange, for example, or blue and purple.  These colors work in harmony with one another to create a low-contrast, soothing and serene color palette.   Baby blue accents will recede into the background when used to accent a violet room, while adding visual interest.  

Monochromatic colors are different shades of the same color.  Layering different shades of green in a room from light to dark will help to create a calm and peaceful setting.  When used with bold accessories, you can create a surprisingly dramatic room with just a single color. 

Since black and white are technically not colors - black is the absence of all color, while white is the presence of all color - they are not found on the color wheel.  But that does not diminish their importance, particularly in interior design.  Adding black and white to any palette is crucial to adding drama, definition and contrast.  Use black and white as an accent or as the foundation to some of the most stylish palettes.  

Now that you have passed Color 101.  It is time decide what color scheme you want for your room.  Here are a few helpful hints to consider from our friends at Benjamin Moore.
  • Where do you live?  To pull together a look that is consistent with your surroundings, take your cues from your environment.  A beachy theme will seem out of place in the middle of the desert, just as a Southwest theme may look inappropriate nestled in the heart of city skyscrapers.  This can help you determine whether to use more saturated hues or a more muted palette.
  • What is the look that you are trying to convey?  Are you going for a formal room or a casual retreat?  Deep bronze or copper can lend a formal feel while soothing greens and yellows can offer a casual and serene environment.  Of course, every color can work in a variety of contexts.  The look you convey will ultimately depend on your choice of furniture and accessories.
  • How will the color help to create a mood for the space?  It is proven that color has a direct physical impact.  For example, consider green for your office as it helps to boost concentration.  Blue is a popular choice for bedrooms as it lowers the heart rate and decreases blood pressure.  Red can be appropriate choice for a kitchen for its appetite-boosting properties.  Consider the function of the space and how the color will help to enhance it.
  • What is the architectural style of your home?  Pay close attention to the architecture of your space.  It can really speak as to which colors are most appropriate.  An open air-loft, downtown loft may yearn for the industrial look of muted grays or contemporary white.  In contrast, a period home may cry for a classic palette.  The historical colors offered by many paint dealers are a great option for period homes.
  • Would you like the color to draw attention to or detract from a particular flaw or architectural detail?  Theoretically, warm colors advance - thus dark colors pull the walls closer - while cool colors recede, making the space appear larger.  Painting a low ceiling a light color will give it an extra lift.  But these are guides - not rules.  A small half bathroom with low ceilings may benefit from painting the walls and ceilings in a single deep color.  This is especially true if the space lacks any architectural details such as crown moldings.  Air ducts can appear less conspicuous when camouflaged the same color as the wall.  Pay close attention to these details when choosing your colors.
  • What is the orientation of the room? Generally, cooler colors work best in south and west facing rooms.  Warmer colors tend to absorb more heat, making the room uncomfortably warm in the afternoon sun.  In contrast, warmer colors can bathe a north-facing room in warmth in the absence of sunlight.
  • What is the primary source of lighting in the room?  Fluorescent lighting lacks the warm colors of the spectrum and can make warm colors appear flat.  Incandescent bulbs emit a warm, yellow light so cool colors can appear dull and gray.  Natural lighting is the truest, and most balanced light, so consider selecting your colors in natural light and seeing it transform into the evening when you will most likely use some form of artificial light. 
  • What is the function of the space? Rooms primarily used in the evening such as dining rooms are popular choices for warmer tones.  The incandescent lighting, commonly used in dining rooms, emits a warm glow which is flattering to faces.  Likewise, vibrant colors such as bold blues or bright greens are a great choice for a children's playroom, which is used mostly throughout the day. 
Now that you have considered these details, it is time to start selecting.  I recommend purchasing at least three shades of the color in question - one lighter and one darker than the original color you have chosen.  Unless you are enlisting the expertise of a professional, buy the sample bottles of each shade and place the colors side by side on multiple walls of the room.  Yes, most paint stores offer the larger 10 x 10 swatches that can be hung on the wall, but you will never have the true read on the color until you have painted it on the walls.  The $20 extra dollars you will spend on the samples could save you hundreds in the end.  

Try to live with the sample colors for at least a couple days before you make a final selection.  This will allow you to observe the colors in the presence of both natural and artificial lighting.  This is step is critical - you will see how the color will virtually morph into another color when observed at dawn and again at dusk.  

If you are struggling with paint selection, one of the services that I provide through Decorating Den is professional paint selection.  Please give me a call, and together we can determine the most suitable color for your space.  I can bring the paint store directly to you with my professional kit of paint swatches from both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams.   I assure you will not be disappointed, and I can spare you the time and expense of making multiple trips to the paint store. 

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