Colour. Whether renovating a home or choosing an outfit, we all have our favourites. Working out how to use colour to create cosy, energetic or serene atmospheres is, however, definitely a technique that must be learnt.
Edward Bulmer said, "colour can only be seen in the presence of light". The different light hitting the walls in our homes throughout the day, whether morning, afternoon or early evening, is constantly changing, and it makes the task of choosing a colour evermore tricky. It's one of those design decisions that can make or break a room.
But when giving walls a much-needed spruce, it's so easy to get bogged down by the colour choices for each room. It's a difficult task, made no easier by the many handsome options on the market today.
So to help with the job, we've asked several brilliant interior designers and industry professionals for their advice on the subject!
When starting a project, how should someone consider the direction of the room and the light from the windows?
When planning your new home and furniture layouts, it’s really important to think about your everyday routine, particularly morning and evening, and what’s important to you. Where to throw out the yoga mat at sunrise, or where you’d like your first coffee in the morning, what could be the perfect spot for a G&T in the evening…. The layout can then be built up from there, considering the best light for each ‘moment’ that’s central to your daily patterns.
Often one hears people discussing north-facing rooms being that much darker, and especially if they are smaller spaces, this results in their going for a light, bright colour. It can however work well if one embraces the dark character of a space, uses deeper tones. Sometimes a small space should be celebrated as a small space, and we shouldn't always be prioritising making spaces feel bigger.
Colour can only be seen in the presence of light. So when the light changes what we see changes – this is known as the metameric effect. So if you have a dark room don’t use a colour that requires a lot of light. This will be one where a single pigment dominates.
This is why we usually use at least four pigments in our recipes so that the colour we perceive is produced by more than one wavelength of light and better adapts to metamerism. In other words, although the colour will change it will do so acceptably rather than changing from one colour to not a colour!
Do consider the ceiling colour – we never use bright white as it casts a blue-ish light over the walls rather use a paler version of the wall colour or just a nice ‘broken’ off-white that isn’t too yellow.
How does the direction of a room affect paint colour?
South facing aspects get the longest hours of daylight and will give the truest colour, but will likely be the rooms you want to be in most, so they are often treated in mid to light tones. These will be less metameric but will also adapt to the varying light levels of the changing seasons well.
Morning light is cooler so east facing rooms love gentle blue/green notes - think Pale Powder from Farrow & Ball
North facing is the trickiest with no directional light so err on warm tones or go dark, especially deep chocolate shades like London Clay.
South facing is a breeze and you can vary from cool to warm, light to dark depending on personal taste.
Evening light is warmer so think gentle warm shades, easy mid-neutrals or deeply cosy ochre tones such as India Yellow.
For me, most colours look better in a north-facing room. It’s an artist’s light. When it comes to bold wall colours, sensible advice is to work with and not against the temperature of light in a room - choose cool hues for northerly aspects and warm hues for southerly aspects.
The exception to this rule is with pale neutrals, where the opposite is true. When choosing a white, go with a warmer tone in a cool north-facing light. A cool white would just look austere. You can cheat for the sake of continuity around the home.
I recently painted the south-facing rooms of a house in Little Greene’s ‘Linen Wash’ and the north-facing rooms in Farrow and Ball’s ‘Slipper Satin’. Given the difference in light both colours came out identical. You have to experiment with samples.
South facing rooms are in many ways the easiest to choose colours for as the light is so lovely and warm. Try cooler blues and greens which will balance the intensity of the light and avoid colours which might feel too hot.
East & West-Facing Rooms
A light green or pale blue is beautiful in an east-facing room, not too cold but very painterly. And I also love a blush beige pink as its slightly more adventurous than a neutral, changing from pink to beige as the sun moves around. With a west facing room I go a bit colour confident as rooms tends to have more muted light in the morning and then light up towards evening.
East-facing rooms will have more natural light in the morning, and at certain times of the year you'll then need to turn on electric lighting for the afternoon and evening. The same goes for West facing rooms, but in reverse. Some paint colours respond completely differently to electric light, which often has a lot more warmth versus natural light. It's important therefore to choose colours that you will be happy with in both lighting conditions.
If time permits, I always advise living in a property for as long as possible (ideally a whole year) prior to making final decisions as to colours, so as to get a feel for the way in which the rooms are lit throughout the year, and at different times of day during the various seasons.
I’d say blow the budget on samples, stick them up on the walls, and watch how they behave throughout the day (including in the evenings with the lights on). Stick to monochrome or tight colour schemes in these rooms, and avoid bold patterns. The wonderful raking light and mellow shadows early and late in the day are best left to speak for themselves.
Typically East facing rooms are great in the morning – light, bright, perfect for a kitchen or workspace, somewhere to read the papers in the morning and have an early coffee in a window seat overlooking your garden. But, if entertaining is more important to you, you might want to consider your kitchen and dining facing West, to get the afternoon/evening sun – the perfect light for a glass of wine with friends.
Past midday, typically an East facing room will become cosier, so is perfect for a living room or bedroom. Particularly in Summer, as these rooms will typically stay cooler. You may even decorate in darker tones to really emphasize the cosiness. We love a green in an East facing bedroom to create your own calm haven.
West facing rooms have warmer light so do look at gentle warm blush shades or earthier pinks that really play with this direction.
How should the seasons be taken into consideration when designing a room?
To address the changes of the seasons I tend to swap cushions and throws in and out. I love to throw a vintage blanket on the back of a sofa, cushions become a bit more textured, the tufted rugs come out of hiding and have more quilts on the beds so it looks cosy.
I don’t think you should alter things too dramatically for the seasons when thinking of a room except if its perhaps an outdoor room so you think about how to keep people warm or cold depending on the time of year. Blankets and braziers will do for winter! I think its too expensive to keep changing things depending on the season, but changing them on your mood is perhaps a bit more life-enhancing and should last longer. But if I want to change things up I recover a chair or sofa and have a look at cushions, and change the pictures around…small things can really make a difference. Even reorganising the shelves, putting away things and editing can make a huge change!
A huge thank you to all the brilliant Interior Designers and Industry Professionals involved in the article!