Color Concepts

Defining color
The perception of color is a phenomenon of light – a form of energy with its own frequency and wavelength. Shine a light through a prism and you’ll see it divide into six color families: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. White light is the combination of all color, while black is the absence of all colors. We perceive color due to the pigments in a given object. A blue pillow appears blue to our eyes because the pigment in the pillow is absorbing all the colors of the light except for the color blue reflecting back to us.
Color and Light
Have you ever tried to match a color swatch in the store and only find it looks like completely different color when you bring it home? You’ve just experienced metamerism, the occurrence of colors seemingly changing when viewed under different light sources. Some colors are more prone to this phenomenon than others, including tans, taupes, grays, grayed-blues, mauves, lilacs, and grayed yellow-greens such as celadon. View color swatches in the actuall space and lighting conditions in which they are being used.
Color and Space
Space affects how we perceive color so keep proportion and scale in mind when making your color selections, along with whether you want the room to feel intimate or open. Conside elements such as ceiling height, visible wall, furnishins, and large pieces of artwork, along with the number of windows and doorways in a room.
How Colors Affect Other Colors
  Colors that surround a given color affect how we perceive that color. An off-white wall can appear pink when paired with a vibrant red carpet. Complementary colors, such as red and green, enhance each other’s color quality. Two squares of the identical shade of gray will appear to differ from one another when one is placed against a white background and the other against black.



  The type of light under which color is viewed impacts how we perceive a particular hue.


img-6Whether we perceive a color as warm or cool is relative to the particular color and its surrounding colors. Generally, reds, yellows, and oranges are warm colors, while blues, greens, and violets are considered cool. Warm colors tend to “advance” or “condense” a room, while cool colors “recede” or “expand” a room. Combining both warm and cool colors in a decorating scheme intensifies the temperature of the respective colors.


Intensity (or choma) refers to a color’s purity or brightness and, conversely, its dullness. The purer or less gray a color, the more intensity it has. Bright yellow and cherry red are high-intensity colors; ochre and brick are low-intensity colors. Try using intense colors as accents in your decore. Intense colors add energy to a room, while lower-intensity colors can give a room a calming effect.



img-7 Direct Sunlight
Considered the ideal light source, natural sunlight maintains a neutral balance between Both warm (yellow cast) and cool (blue cast) ends of the light spectrum. Northern Light is the coolest, while light from a southern exposure is most intense. Here, Direct sunlight provides the “truest” rendition of the colors in this room.
img-8  Indirect Sunlight
Natural sunlight is not consistent. It changes throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. The intense golden rays and subsequent distinct shadows of a sunny, late afternoon have a profound effect on the colors in this room.
img-9  Artificial Light
The color rendition appears warm under incandescent and halogen lights where reds yellow are enhanced, and blues and greens are dulled. Under the cool cast of fluorescent lights, blues and greens are enhanced, while reds and yellows are muted.


The Color Wheel
The standard color wheel includes high-intensity, pure colors. While you may not use these vibrant colors in your home as they appear on the wheel, the principles associated with this handy tool can help you create your desired effect. There are 12 colors in a standard color wheel that are divided into three designations: primary color (pure red, blue, and yellow);secondary colors, which are a combination of two primary colors and include orange (red and yellow), green (yellow and blue) and violet (blue and red); and tertiary colors, which are a combination of a primary and a secondary color. Tertiary colors are identified by the names of the colors used, such as blue-green, yellow-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

The language of Color
Some frequently used terms regarding color: Hue Another name for color, hue refers to the color family, such as red, blue or yellow. Shade A color or hue that is mixed with black or gray Tint A color or hue that is mixed with white. Value The relative lightness or darkness of a color.

Starting Points for Decorating a Room
  • Draw up a list and start writing down the basics- which key elements (couch, rug, flooring) will stay and which will go.
  • Determine a budget. Consider which changed make the most impact for your dollar, such as paint, slipcovers, and fresh accessories.
  • Generate ideas by creating a portfolio that appeals to you. Collect images from magazines, fabric, and paint swatches, pictures of favorite vacation spots, flowers from the garden- anything to which you’re drawn. Don’t worry about creating a theme or coordinating colors just yet.
Determining Your Color Preferences and Developing Your Color Palette

Take a look at your collection of items and consider the following:
  • How do you want to feel in the room? Calm? Energized?
  • Are you drawn to colors that are warm (reds, yellows),cool (blues greens), or neutral(whites, beiges, grays)?
  • Where do your colors fall on the color wheel? *Do you prefer many colors or various shades and tints of a single color?
  • How does your color selection work with existing elements in the room, such as the floor or large furnishings?

Begin grouping colors to see which ones appeal most to you.

Editing Your Collection of Ideas

  • View all samples together in the room to see how things will look with existing elements and actual lighting conditions.
  • Consider the size and scale of your room and its furnishings.
  • See the following pages to determine which color scheme (monochromatic, complementary, analogous, or triad) dominates your collection. You can use this scheme as a base concept for creating a color palette for your room.
  • Sample paint colors on the walls to see how they works with other decorative elements int eh space, and to determine the overall feel or mood of the room.
  • Keep the concepts of harmony and balance in mind when editing your ideas.

Your final choices should please your eye, feel balanced, and create the mood or feeling that you want.


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Color schemes that use tints and shade of the same color.

The effect of a monochromatic color scheme can be subtle and subdued when using a soft color, or dramatic and daring when opting for a rich hue like the deep violet we selected for this bedroom. To keep things interesting, the bedding incorporated slight shifts in color, from garden-fresh hyacinth to deep, rich eggplant. Dashes of crisp white in the pillows, lamps, window coverings, floor, and furnishings – even in the floral bouquet – add to the room’s dramatic feel.


Includes the two colors that oppose each other on the color wheel.

Opposites attract, so it’s no surprise that complementary colors are pleasing to the eye. The warm brick red and rich avocado hues in this dining room bring out the best in one another. Complementary colors enhance each other’s temperature, adding interest and energy to the décor – the perfect color foil for this room’s whimsical accessories.





Use consecutive colors on the color wheel. Create a pleasing palette by using one more prominently than the other two.

A variety of greens create an analogous color scheme that is both soothing and sensational. The tonal richness of these colors beautifully complements the contemporary furnishings of this living space. A refreshing blue-green covers the wall adjoining both the dining room and living room, maintaining the spaciousness of an open floor plan. The soft green wall in the living room helps to define the space, as it coordinates with the dining area, while the yellow-green floor that runs the length of both rooms serves to anchor the overall space.

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Includes any three colors equally spaces on the color wheel.Use colors in varied proportions.

A sophisticated twist to primary colors includes the smoky blue, russet red, and complex yellow used in this contemporary country room. These muted hues create a room that is colorful and livable, easily incorporating rustic furnishings with more modern accents. Note how easily the traditional glazed pottery works with the more contemporary handcrafted lamp.

One Room, Three Looks

Warm colors in a room create a welcoming and vivacious energy. We raised the “heat” of this space by painting the walls an earthy, brick hue that complements the natural stone surround of the fireplace, giving the room an intimate, yet animated feel. The rich wood floor has reddish undertones that work well with the walls. To balance out the strong color intensity of the room, accents were kept in softer tones, such as the chenille throw in a frothy, whipped mocha.
Cooler colors can create a space with an expansive feel and a restful atmosphere. Our serene palette was nature-inspired, in meditative tones or silvery mist, sea spray and smoke. Soft gray walls quietly frame the subtle oceanic hue of the fireplace which provides elemental interest with its juxtaposition of fire and water. A luxurious throw in dusky charcoal helps to anchor the room without disturbing its contemplative ambiance.
Neutral palettes are unerringly livable and beautifully balanced. Walls, the color of rich cream, allow the fireplace to take center stage without any competition. Accessories are deeper in tone as a counterpoint to the room’s ethereally pale walls. Grayed mid-tones introduce more saturated color while maintaining the space’s comfortable feel, as illustrated with our chenille throw in mellow sage and ottomans in velvety taupe.
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Colors and Paints
Color is a dynamic element in your home’s décor, tying together room furnishings and accessories, as well as creating just the right mood, whether restful, or revitalizing.

Sheen Selection
Paint comes in different sheen levels that impact both the aesthetic and functional aspects of a room. Sheen affects the amount of light reflected from the painted surface, hiding or highlighting imperfections and affecting color perception. Sheen levels can also affect the washability of a surface, so traffic and usage can play an important role in determining sheen choice. Paint usually offers five sheen levels: flat, matte, eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss. Generally, the higher the sheen level, the easier the surface is to clean. However, the proprietary formulation of paint allows for all of our finishes to be washable and remain beautiful in any room of your home. Some tips on sheen selection include:

  • A flat or matte provides excellent depth of color and is ideal for less-than-perfect surfaces and easy touch-ups. Flat is also the preferred sheen for ceilings due to its nonreflective qualities.
  • The subtle sheens of eggshell and satin reveal color with a softly polished glow and provide an easy- to-clean surface that is ideal for kitchens and baths.
  • Semi-gloss is particularly durable and stands up well to repeated cleanings – a must for moldings and trim. Its soft sheen provides a beautiful frame to a flat or matte wall, adding a subtle touch of reflective light to any room.
*Words and pictures by Benjamin Moore