Warm colors and cool colors, we've all heard the terms used.

But what do they mean?

You've probably tried a number of optical 'tricks', such as staring at a red dot for some time, and then looking away at a plain white wall or piece of paper. You then 'see' a green dot.

This is an illusion known as 'after-image'. The after-image is always the complementary color of the color you first stared at.

What this demonstrates is that the brain reacts to color. So color isn't just a passive thing - it can actually have an effect on us.

The after-image can be used to relieve certain situations. For example, if you have a blue color scheme, you can relieve the intensity by bringing in a version of orange, the complementary color of blue. To disguise the obvious primary effect, you could use burnt orange or apricot, colors close on the color wheel to orange.

If you use two complementary colors of equal intensity in a room you can create an uncomfortable effect. The eye doesn't know which one to concentrate on. The solution here is to tone down one of the colors. You could tint it (make it lighter) or shade it (make it darker).


Warm Colors and Cool Colors

Colors based on the red/ orange/ yellow area of the color wheel appear (to most of us) as warm colors and inviting. They seem to 'come into' the room, and are termed advancing colors. They are often used to make a room appear more intimate.

On the other hand, violet-blue/ blue/ green-blue appear to recede from us and are know as receding colors. They are useful if you want to make a room appear larger than it really is.


warm colors drapes

The combination of gold, yellow and rust red creates a warm, inviting feel to this room.

Take care!

However, take care when applying these ideas to decorating. They are broad guidelines, not infallible laws.

It's a mistake to look at every blue and declare it to be cold, or judge all reds to be warm.

For example, modern paints have subtle variations, and have pigments mixed in with them. These modifications can change the normal perceptions of how the colors affect us.

Many blue variations, for example, when painted on your walls can appear as warm and advancing, and certain pinks look cold and receding.

Don't forget the light!

Colors are also affected by the quality of the light in which they're seen. Have you ever liked a sample of fabric or paint in a showroom, taken it home, and wondered if you've brought the right one back? It can look totally different.

This is because different lights make colors look different. Color exists because of the way light is reflected and absorbed by different surfaces. Change the light and you change how you perceive the colors.

(And never, ever, choose anything in fluorescent light! Unless, that is, you intend using it in a room lit by fluorescent light).


Which colors work best? There's an easy way to find out which ones will suite your room. (Only for residents in the USA and Canada.)

The Shortcut to Perfect Paint Colors - Paint Color Cheat Sheets


cool colors blue curtains

This photo of a curtain showroom demonstrates the techniques and embelishments used by interior designers.

The use of blue with light touches of green in the fabrics and wallpaper shows why blue is considered to be a cold and receeding color. However, this is not a reason to avoid it. Many attractive color schemes can be created using colors on the cold side of the spectrum.


Daylight and artificial light

Imagine your room lit by daylight from a single window. The wall opposite the window will look lighter than the window wall itself (assuming all the walls are the same color). Some area of the room will be well lit, and some in deep shadow.

Now think of it at night. You have a couple of table lamps giving light, and maybe an overhead light or some wall lights. Now the walls near the lights are brighter, and the corners of the room are almost dark. Different objects are accentuated than in daylight.

Next time you sit in your room, have a good look at it. You'll start to notice how colors change in different lights. You'll know what to look out for when you start to play with colors. You'll be able to tell if you're using warm colors or cool colors, and how they affect the room.


Go to the next page to learn about color similarities - how colors go in groups




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