Interior Design: Putting Colour Schemes Together
Putting Colour Schemes Together
Thinking up colour combinations for a particular style of room is one thing. Achieving the right balance is another. Preparing schemes for an entire home is the most intricate exercise of all.
There are several types of permutation you can use to achieve an interesting balance. One way is to keep most of the room in shades and variations of a single colour but to have a number of items in a harmonious secondary colour, while using objects of quite different colours for the purposes of accent. For example, you could use a warm but pale cream for walls, window shades and carpet, mix it with rose for the upholstery and curtains and add, as accent colours, white (chairs and frames), green (plants and a stencilled design on the walls) and burnt umber (a dried flower bouquet).
Another effective permutation is to keep walls, curtains, floor and furniture all in one colour, perhaps white, the interest being provided by the varying textures. Alternatively, to the same basically white room you could add green-and-white cushions or pillows as well as groups of plants.
Again, you could use a soft blue for walls, a slightly darker shade for dados or wainscoting, paint woodwork a crisp white, and have touches of pale lilac. Another variation on the same theme would be to have the colours as above but with the addition of chairs or even the carpet in olive green.
Planning the colour scheme for a whole house or apartment depends very much on its overall size. If a home or apartment is very large you can afford to have, if you wish, quite different schemes in every room, as long as you remember to pay attention to the meeting points of floor and wall finishes, and to make sure that differing colours, textures and patterns work well together between corridors and the rooms that they adjoin. If the space is small, however, then it is sensible to create a harmonious whole — to think up an overall palette of colours that can be used in differing proportions and combinations in the various rooms.
For example, suppose you were particularly happy with apricot, dark blue, burnt umber and green. In one room you could have apricot walls combined with white shutters, a dark polished wood floor, a golden Afghan floor rug, and upholstery in dark blue, cream and plain white, accented with green plants and old needlework cushions or pillows in shades of yellow and apricot and with blue paisley fabric at the windows and on chair seats. Another room could have apricot and off-white wallpaper used with plain deep blue upholstery, and a third room could be basically off-white with an apricot-and-blue border or stencilling, polished floorboards with a blue-and-apricot dhurrie rug, off-white shades with a double border of apricot-and-dark-blue grosgrain, and a mixture of blue, off-white and apricot upholstery, or blue or apricot bedspreads.
Each room would seem entirely different, but each would meld with the others to create an overall impression of harmony.
Manipulating Space and Colour
It can be seen from the above that in a small apartment or house the space can be made to seem much larger if more or less the same colours are used throughout, but in different juxtapositions — especially if they are rooted to the same general floor covering (or perhaps a polished wooden floor). Strong or warm colours like red and burnt orange will make walls appear to close in and the space seem smaller. Cool colours will appear to stretch space, to push the walls out, particularly if the floor, walls and ceiling all relate to each other. A long corridor will seem less so if the end wall is painted or covered in a warm colour, just as a small space will seem larger if all the surfaces are painted the same white colour and the walls are washed with light.
A high ceiling will seem less so if it is painted a darker colour than the walls. Another way of making a high ceiling look lower is to add a false wainscot at waist level around all the walls, painting it a darker shade than the walls above. A low ceiling will seem higher if it is painted a lighter shade than the walls, and higher still if you fix moulding around the perimeter of the ceiling and paint it a darker colour than the ceiling.
Colour, of course, has an immediate effect on the ‘feel’ of a room. Rooms painted in deep warm colours such as rust red seem warm and comfortable; such a scheme would be appropriate, for a home in a northern city, with long winter months. The same room painted white or pale yellow would seem light and airy in a hot climate, especially if it was filled with white wicker furniture.
A rather dark, rich room can be brightened by using accents of more intense colour and lightened by painting the woodwork white. A light, somewhat bland room can be given much more interest and character if you stain the floorboards a deep, very dark brown and add large plants in oversized baskets or terracotta pots. Large pieces of furniture will look smaller if their covering is the same colour as that of the walls; a smaller piece of furniture covered in an accent colour can then be used to balance the effect.
When you are on the verge of finalizing a colour scheme it helps to take samples of all the ingredients you plan to use in a room (flooring, curtains, window shades, wallcovering, paint, tablecloths, bedspreads, valances or ruffles, trims, tie-backs and so on) and put them on a table, if possible in the room itself. Then you should give them, as it were, a good squint with narrowed eyes. By squinting at all those assembled colours and textures you can see which really works with the others, and in what proportion; what stands out too harshly; and what patterns and textures contribute to the most harmonious whole.
That, of course, is to assume you have already selected your colours. Sometimes you may have in mind a colour for walls or a piece of furniture that you cannot find in any paint shop — and, indeed, cannot yourself precisely visualize. The best thing to do in such a situation is to browse through magazines (including the advertisements) and look at samples of coloured wrappings, bits of dress fabric and so on. As soon as you see the colour you desire — and if you do this you almost inevitably will — you have something to show what it is that you want. Take your ‘sample’ along to a paint shop to get the colour mixed, or show it to a painter, who might, if he or she is good, be able to achieve exactly the same subtle effect by tinting a glaze and overpainting a wall, by painting on different layers and rubbing the paint off until the desired effect is achieved, or by some other means.
Then again, you might find exactly the right colour for a curtain in a dress-fabric department. The fabric will be of a narrower width, and you may have more trouble working with repeats, yardage and seams, but it could all be well worth it to get the exact shade you want. Do not forget about antique textiles — and, indeed, old fabrics in general. Dyes vary over the generations, not to mention the centuries, and it is often possible to find beautiful old draperies and tablecloths in thrift stores as well as antique shops.
Finally, do not neglect chance or happy accidents, or think that once a room is done to your satisfaction it is finished. You might suddenly see a new (or old) fabric that seems to go perfectly with, if not match, an old rug. All you have to do is cover a cushion or pillow with the fabric, or use it to make an overcloth for a table, and again the room has a new dimension.
How Many Colours Can You Put Together?
This is a point that often worries people. Major areas (walls, floors, window treatments) should generally be restricted to three colours at most, but there is no real limit to the number of accent colours that can be used with pillows, mouldings, accessories, flowers and so on. For example, in a room with glazed yellow walls, the carpet could have a yellow-cream ground with odd touches of various blues and rosy terracotta. The curtains could be yellow-and-white stripes with the undercurtains or linings in creamy white. One sofa and an armchair could be cream, another sofa yellow, and a second armchair could pick up the blue in the carpet. Two other occasional chairs could have frames painted in soft terracotta and faded blue-green seats — again to pick up the carpet’s colour. A final colour could be provided by the greens of plants.
The main point is that you do not have to stick to matching colours exactly. After all, in nature colours are never perfectly matched.