Does everyone see the same colors? When you and I look at the same apple, do we see the red? These questions are impossible to answer. Each person’s perception of color is entirely his or her own. Science – which is based on analyzing observable phenomena – has no means to determine whether people’s color experiences are the same.
Of course, we both say the apple is “red” but how do we know we mean the same thing by that word? We each know what we see. We each have learned that the word “red” is applied to that color. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we are having the same experience. It is interesting to note that some people who are color blind or color deficient have learned these social convention so well that they are not aware that they aren’t seeing all the colors everyone else sees.
Do people in all cultures see the same colors? Again, there is no way to know for sure about the private perceptual experiences of other people. In 1969, anthropologist Brent Berlin and linguist Paul Kay published Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution (University of California at Berkeley). Their research showed that people across cultures use language that makes the same color distinctions found in Western cultures. Other studies show that people throughout the world put colors together in the same groups. However, the aesthetic or emotional connotation of color does change with culture. Western culture, for example, associates the color black with death. But in Japan, death is associated with white. This is an important distinction. It will be helpful to be aware of your client’s background in order to choose colors that will be meaningful and appropriate to their home or workspace.
Colors can convey a sense of temperature and are referred to as “warm” or “cool.” Warm colors appear to advance (move toward the viewer) and cool colors appear to recede (move away from the viewer).
The use of color in a room conveys a sense of personality. While some of these color personalities vary from country to country, in general the following applies:
ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECT OF COLOR
Since we all recognize subconsciously that natural light is the source of all life, the first rule of developing a color scheme is to use as much natural light as possible. When helping your customer design a color scheme, be sure to ask how much natural light is available in the room. Consider what the room will be used for, how much natural light the room has and how they want to feel in the room.
Color can be used to change the effect of an environment. For example, a cool room with little natural light can be made to seem warmer and bright through the use of warm colors like reds, yellows and oranges. A warm room can be cooled down with blues and greens.
Colors have different meanings in different cultures, so no rule of color symbolism will work across all cultures. We talked about black in the West and white in Japan as the color of death. In China, red is the most widely used color and means happiness and joy. Yellow, gold and purple are used by the Chinese royal family and indicate wealth, power and majesty.
The following list gives a very general idea of what colors mean in Asia and in Western cultures. But bear in mind that these meanings are not exact and vary from culture to culture.
|Red||Happiness, marriage, prosperity||Power|
|Pink||Marriage, trust (Korea)||Feminity|
|Yellow||Protection against evil, blessings||Happiness|
|Green||Eternity, family, harmony, health peace, posterity||Environment, nature, calm|
|Blue||Self cultivation, wealth||Honesty, trustworthiness|
|White||Children, helpful people, marriage mourning, peace, purity, travel||Purity, marriage, goodness|
|Gold||Strength, wealth||Wealth, endurance, best|
|Gray||Helpful people, travel||Solid, sensible, gloom|
|Black||Career, evil influences, knowledge, mourning, penance, self-cultivation||Mourning, evil, sophistication|
|In the West, combinations of colors also have meaning. For instance, in the United States, red on its own (in a necktie or a woman’s suit) means power. But put red with white and green, and its Christmas! Red with orange, yellow and brown means autumn. And red with white and blue means patriotism.|
MAIN & ACCENT COLORS
To maintain balance, color schemes benefit when you choose one main color and one or two accent colors. The accent colors can be painted (on trim or a feature wall, for instance) or be included in the furniture, drapery and knick-knacks in the room. When you consider color schemes, think about maintaing balance and which will be the main color and which will be the accent colors.
DEFINING A COLOR SCHEME
Color is very complex, and means different things to different people, so there are no universal rules or guidelines that will guarantee success. But by using the simple procedure that follows, and with the skills you are learning, you will be able to guide your customer to a color scheme that he or she will be satisfied with.
Defining a color scheme can seem intimidating to a beginner. But there is actually a clear process that can be followed to come up with an effective color scheme for your client.
BASIC COLOR SCHEMES
There are eight types of basic color schemes to choose from:
We’ll discuss the most common and relevant of these schemes in more detail later on. They are monochromatic, complementary, split complementary, analogous and triad. Next we’ll discuss some of the characteristics of color. These characteristics will affect your client’s response to different colors as well as their ultimate decision.
COMPLEMENTARY COLOR SCHEMES
The complementary scheme uses colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:
Working with complementary colors can be tricky. Be sure to vary shades and saturation levels. Complementary colors of the same intensity can look like they are vibrating when placed next to each other. This can be disconcerting, to say the least.
SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY COLOR SCHEMES
This color scheme uses three colors: A color and two other colors that are directly adjacent to the first color’s complement on the color wheel. This provides the visual interest of a complementary color scheme but without the vibration. It also allows the use of more color. Examples include:
TRIAD COLOR SCHEME
This color scheme makes use of three colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:
MONOCHROMATIC COLOR SCHEME
This color scheme uses two or three colors from the same color family on the color wheel. Examples include:
ANALOGOUS COLOR SCHEME
This scheme uses one color along with the colors on either side of it on the color wheel. Examples include:
COLOR SCHEMES AND MOOD
While there are rules to follow governing how to select particular color schemes, things become less clear when we start to talk about “mood.” Harmonious color schemes and dynamic ones define the two extremes of mood that can be created through the use of color. Between those two is an almost infinite number of options.
HARMONIOUS COLOR SCHEMES
Harmonious color schemes are based on balance and are used in places that need to feel restful, such as hospitals or meditation centers. Harmonious color schemes are often inspired by nature. They tend to use a gentle, natural and often neutral color palette. Nature can provide guidance. Think about a forest, desert, beach or mountain. The colors you choose should be in the same chromatic range. Any of the color schemes mentioned above can be used to create a harmonious color scheme. The key ingredient is balance.
Monochromatic scheme in shades of Blue
Monochromatic scheme in shades of Green
Muted Yellow with Muted Red
Yellow, Yellow Orange and Orange—all in muted tones
DYNAMIC COLOR SCHEMES
In contrast to harmonious color schemes, dynamic color schemes create a stimulating, energetic environment. Dynamic color schemes are used when you want the room to make people feel awake and energized. They can be found in kindergartens, shopping malls, athletic clubs or many different kinds of businesses. Any of the color scheme types can be used to create a dynamic color scheme. The key ingredient is energy.
Examples of dynamic color schemes include:
Bright Yellow, Bright Red and Bright Blue
Bright Red and Bright Green
Orange, Yellow and Blue
DIRECTION OF NATURAL LIGHT
The direction of the natural light source in a room should be considered when choosing colors. If you live in the northern hemisphere and your room faces north, the light it receives will be less direct and more diffuse. Cool colors such as blue or green could make the room feel too cold. Likewise, reds and oranges might be too warm for a south-facing room.
With different color schemes in different rooms, people often wonder how to create a sense of flow throughout the whole house. One possibility is to use complementary colors. The colors from your “cool room” can be used as accents in your “warm room” and vice versa. This helps maintain balance and continuity in your overall design.
If your client is drawn to strong colors but doesn’t feel confident painting an entire room that way, a feature wall provides the best of both worlds. Within the room to be designed, choose one wall (preferably without doors or windows) and paint it the brightest color in your chosen palette. The color should then be picked up as an accent color throughout the rest of the room. A bright feature wall looks bold and contemporary without being overpowering. A pale feature wall—just slightly different from the other walls—brings some variety to a harmonious color scheme.
APPEARANCE OF DISTANCE
Color can be used to compensate for uncomfortable distances in a room. Warm, deep colors appear closer; cool, pastel or off-white colors appear farther away. Many people don’t think of painting their ceilings. But color on the ceiling can have a wonderful effect on a room. A warm color will make a high ceiling appear lower. And a low-ceiling will look higher in a cool, pastel color or off-white. A narrow passage can seem larger if it’s painted a light, cool color. A hallway that seems too wide can be made more cosy with a darker or warmer color. A long passage will seem shorter if it’s painted a light color, but with a warm color at the end.
Public spaces must serve specific functions and also suit the many different people that will be using them. In a public space, such as an office building or shopping mall, be sure to consider questions of size, direction, and balance.
COLOR AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Color can actually save money as well as have a positive effect on the environment. Light colors reflect heat, while dark colors absorb it. So in addition to the mood you want to create, think about what physical effect color will have on your environment.
We all know from experience that this is true for the outside of buildings and cars. But what about the interior of buildings? The simple answer is “yes.” Lighting is one of the major consumers of energy in a home or office. Dark colors absorb more light, making a room look darker. Light colors reflect light, making a room look lighter and brighter. You can use the LRV (light reflectance value) to determine how much light a color will reflect compared to another color. The higher the LRV the more light is reflected.