Increase Your Color Confidence in 5 Minutes

published Oct 30, 2014
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(Image credit: Rebecca Bond)

Today’s assignment is a quick one. Five minutes of reading and you’re done, but the color concepts you’ll learn will start you thinking in the right direction when it comes to color for your room. It’s time to gain some confidence for your upcoming design choices – you can do this AND you’ll do it well – but it’s important to feel prepared. Let’s use some of Maxwell’s super-straightforward, clear and concise color lessons to get you feeling on top of the topic…

Today’s Assignment:

Maxwell says that In order to make good choices with color you only need to know a few things: the concepts behind Warm and Cool colors and the 80/20 rule. Here are his lessons on both. Read through and get color confident!


    1. There Are Warm and Cool Colors

    The interior palette is roughly divided between these two groups of color and they are pretty self explanatory. Reds, yellows, oranges and beige or creamy colors are WARM. Blues, greens and grays are COOL. If you look at the color wheel (which you may remember from elementary school ) the warm colors are on one side of the wheel and the cools on the other. Where they meet, they mix forming some hybrids. Green and Purple are the hybrids, and they can be warmer or cooler depending on their mix. For example a lime green has a lot of yellow in it and is warm, whereas a Kelly green has more blue in it and runs cool.

    2. Warm Colors are Stimulating

    The reds, oranges, yellows and all the off whites that tend to this direction possess all the qualities of warmth in that they are hot, stimulating and soothing to our EMOTIONS, which crave warmth. This is the reason red is the most successful color in our consumer society and found in such icon products as Coca-Cola, Ferrari, and red lipstick.

    Warm colors therefore work really well in the social rooms of your house, such as the living room, dining room and kitchen. They are also ideal for restaurants and bars, where socializing, eating and drinking are paramount.

    3. Cool Colors are Calming

    The blue side of the spectrum along with cool browns and grays and the cool off whites possess all of the qualities of coolness in that they are calming, focusing and soothing to our INTELLECT, which craves a cooler atmosphere. These colors quiet the emotions and sharpen our thoughts, allowing our mind to do its best work.

    This is why the cool blues are the most popular color for business suits and shirts, as well as police uniforms; why the old time bank teller wore a green visor and banks are often cool inside, and why the Yankees are considered gentlemen in their blue pinstripes, whereas the Red Sox are savages (and why this match up is such a classic).

    Cool colors are therefore best in private rooms where concentration, calmness and rest are most important, such as the bedroom, office, and nursery.

    4. A Short Note on Black and White

    Though both black and white do not count as proper colors (black is all colors and white is the absence of color), they do have warm and cool properties, which are sometimes surprising to people, but are very important to know when using them:

    White is cool.
    Black is warm.

    Therefore, remember that when you paint a room straight white, it is going to tend to be cold, and will need a lot of color or other warm elements to make it physically comfortable, whereas black is instantly warm and needs to be used sparingly so that it doesn’t overwhelm. A little black will go a long way.

    5. A Short Note on Neutral Colors

    Neutral colors are like mutts; they are mixes where no strong color is evident. Since all colors tend to make brown, neutrals cover a dizzyingly vast landscape of browns that run from the warm, red brown of milk chocolate, to the cooler taupes and stone colors, to the light beige off whites. Neutrals are rarely exciting in their own right, but they become very exciting and sophisticated with put together with one another and with a starring color in their midst. I recommend getting to love the wide array of neutral colors and using them liberally as a base for any room.

    6. Putting Color to Use – Be Consistent To Start With!

    Keeping all of this in mind, you should get started by deciding in advance what kind of an effect you want in the room, and whether it is going to be predominantly warm (social) or cool (private). Build a palette that works with one color set and then stick to your guns. If you do, you will find you avoid most of the pitfalls that beset jarring color combinations.

THE 80/20 RULE

Use strong colors sparingly. Allow them to punctuate a room, not define it. In any room, go for 80 percent neutral and 20 percent strong colors. Small batches of color have a tremendous effect on the whole and will bring out the neutral colors around them.

One example: A living room with off-white walls (warm/neutral) with rich brown couches (warm/neutral). Add a deep red rug (warm/color) and table lamps in black, silver or red (warm/color).

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