Decorating: Creating a Colour Scheme
Good colour schemes don’t just happen. They have to be planned, and, as nobody can ‘carry colour’ successfully in their eye, this means doing some accurate colour-matching. The best way to do this is to take samples of decorating materials home and look at them in the room in which you intend to use them, under both daylight and artificial light.
Working with what you’ve got
In an ideal world, you would be able to create a colour scheme with absolutely no constraints at all. But in reality, most of us have to work a new colour scheme around an existing item such as a bathroom suite, kitchen units or a sofa.
All rooms have existing features that could be used as the starting-off point for a colour scheme.
Architectural style – this can suggest an overall style for the room, and any interesting features should be enhanced. An attractive fireplace is worth emphasizing, so the chimney breast can be coloured a rich dark tone to ‘bring forward’ a light-coloured fire surround, or painted a pale colour to contrast with a dark surround. If the room has beautiful windows, give them a very simple treatment to enhance their natural shape.
The orientation of the room and the daylight it gets. For rooms without much morning light, choose colours from the warmer side of the colour spectrum. For those bathed in morning sunlight, which are cooler and darker in the evening, try to work with the paler ‘sunshine’ tones. Rooms that are bright and warm from midday onwards work best with cooler, receding colours.
Room size – small rooms can feel claustrophobic if strong colours are used.
It is usually better to use pale, cool colours — blues, greens, lilacs — or neutral schemes to suggest a larger space. It also helps to include some shiny textures and mirrors to reflect the light and make the room seem bigger. If you are dealing with a very large space, use strong, contrasting colours and even bold pattern, to create a more cosy effect.
Balancing colours and patterns
It is important to relate the strength of colours and size of pattern to the scale on which they will be used. Bright colours and bold, jazzy patterns will look at least twice as strong on a large expanse of floor or wall, so always try to see as large a sample as possible. If you plan to paint a wall, do a test on a length of lining paper and pin it up in the room for a few days.
Small patterns produce a quite different effect when seen on a large scale, so don’t judge them from a small swatch. Some mini-prints lose all definition and give the impression of a texture, rather than a distinct pattern when applied to the whole wall.
Combining patterns is one of the trickiest schemes to pull off successfully. Use a sample board to experiment with different effects. It is often too broad a colour range that makes pattern mixes look messy, so study carefully the colours that make up each design and aim for patterns that share a common palette.
Don’t overlook the important part neutrals play in the balance of an overall scheme. Even a rich, colourful scheme will rely on white or cream for contrast, to emphasize the brilliance of the other colours and to avoid sensory overload.
‘Good colour schemes don’t just happen – they have to be planned’
Sample board success
Creating a sample board is an excellent way to plan your colour scheme and avoid costly mistakes. Collect samples of the materials you plan to use and see how they look when laid out next to each other on a board. Include colours from paint charts, swatches of furnishing and curtain fabrics, pieces of wall-coverings and samples of carpets.
Make sure that the materials are more or less in the correct proportion (for example, wall and floor samples will be larger than the upholstery or curtain fabric).
How it’s done
The starting point for this board is the rug (15). This is striped in golds, greens, yellows and terracottas and will be placed on a wooden floor in a sitting room. It is the centrepiece around which the rest of the sample board is put together.
The scheme begins to take shape
Wallcoverings – the main wallcovering is soft yellow-green, with a bolder texture and deeper colour on a grasscloth for the chimney breast to enhance the modern fireplace. A paler yellow-green paint has been selected for the ceiling.
Soft window treatments – a silky, textured fabric for curtains is added in a darker tone than the walls, but of a similar colour, to enrich without distracting.
Additional window treatment – rattan blinds have been chosen to go under the curtains, providing privacy and filtering the light.
Upholstery upholstery fabrics – in contrasting textures in green, gold and terracotta complete the theme. The tweedy texture for the sofa cover contains some turquoise, which could be used, with terracotta, for extra accessories.
Decorative elements – paintings or prints can be introduced at the final stage to pull together all the elements of the design, including any accent colours.
Elements of a Sample Board
2 main wallcovering
3 wallcovering for chimney breast
4 ceiling paint
5 curtain fabric
6 blinds: wood type
7 blinds: overall look
8 sofa 1 fabric
9 sofa 2 fabric
10 single chair fabric
11 wood sample for shelving
12 tub chair 1
13 tub chair 2
14 wood flooring sample
15 rug sample
16 contemporary fireplace
17 cushion fabric