The Effects of Color in Interior Decoration, Part One

Color creates an emotional response in the beholder. It can be used to create a room seem gay or restful, warm or cool. The emotional response to a given color depends upon the degree of brightness or dullness of that color. Color can be used to create an architectural illusions: it can make a larger room appear smaller, or a small room, larger. In industry, the proper use of color can contribute to the comfort, efficiency, and safety of workers.

Balance and Proportion

Numberless combinations and adaptations are possible when color is used—as it can be used—to create an impression of balance and proportion. Much of the knowledge that you need for an understanding of how to use color in this way can come only with practice. Your progress, however, will be more rapid if you first master a few principles that underlie the use of color.

Several mistakes are commonly made in the use of contrasting colors. One mistake is to forget that equal areas of contrasting color are not pleasing. For instance, a room with a red wainscot 4 feet high and upper walls of green would not be pleasing because the areas would be approximately equal. An all-green room with contrasting red accents would be more effective.

Furthermore, the size of a contrasting area will govern the intensity of the colors used. In an all-green bathroom, accessories of primary red would be acceptable. Primary red, however, would be too strong for the bath curtain; in an all-green bathroom the bath curtain might be a grayed red, possibly a salmon color. The smaller the contrasting area, the more brilliant the contrasting color may be; conversely, the larger the contrasting area, the less brilliant, or more neutral, the color should be.

Equal areas of the same value and intensity, even though they are of contrasting colors, are monotonous. A bedroom, for instance, with walls, curtains, spreads, and so forth carried out in light tints such as peach and turquoise would appear to lack something. Here a color of low value and high intensity would be needed to provide a counterbalancing punch. A dark plum-colored rug, for example, would supply the necessary balance and strength.

Equal areas of dark colors are also apt to become tiresome. A room painted in dark green, with the furnishings in deep reds and blues, would actually be depressing. Relief from the dark areas could be provided by white trim, blond furniture, and gay fabrics.

On the other hand, excessively figured areas produce undue excitement. If figured wall areas are used in decoration, they should be balanced by compensating areas of plain colors in the accessories. For the same reason, plain wall areas can be made more interesting by the use of figured accessories. It is always a good idea to repeat one or more of the basic colors of the plain areas in the accessories.

Color can be a means of changing the apparent proportions of a room. A high ceiling can be lowered in appearance by using light colors on the walls and a dark color on the ceiling. The darker the ceiling, the greater will be the illusion of lowness. The advancing colors, which are the warm colors, tend to lower a ceiling more than the receding or cool colors.

The ceiling may also be lowered in effect by lowering the apparent height of the side walls. You can accomplish this by the use of horizontal lines or bands of color. Sometimes a single band will achieve the desired effect.

A more difficult job than lowering the height of a ceiling is to give the illusion of height that is actually low. Painting the ceiling white and using vertical lines and warm colors on the side walls will help give the illusion of a higher ceiling.

If a room is extremely long in relation to its width, the length of the room may be apparently reduced by painting the two end walls in a warm color, fairly deep in value, and using a light tint of the same color on the side walls. Complementary colors can be used on the side walls if the rule for equal contrasting areas is not violated.

Generally, the warm, dark values of colors make a room appear smaller. Cool colors tend to make a room look larger. The maximum apparent size is obtained by using light tints.

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