March 13, 2016
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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).

  • Hot: Fully saturated red
  • Warm: All colors containing red
  • Cool: All colors containing blue
  • Cold: Fully saturated blue



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:

  • RED: Excitement
  • PINK: Sensitive or feminine
  • YELLOW: Happy, playful, energetic
  • BLUE: Calm
  • GREEN: Generous
  • BROWN: Down to earth, solid
  • ORANGE: Outgoing, fun




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
Purple Wealth Royalty
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.



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.



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.

  1. Clearly define what the consumer wants and expects to achieve with their color scheme. Help your customer narrow down what they want by asking the following questions. Note that these are open-ended questions; they can’t be answered “yes” or “no.”
  • Why do you want to change the color in your house?
  • How does the current color in your house make you feel?
  • What mood are you trying to create?
  • What is the style of your furniture?
  • Do you have a special piece of furniture that you want to highlight/coordinate with?
  • Do you have a special piece of fabric that you want to highlight/coordinate with?
  • What is the function of the room/building that you want to paint?
  • How much natural light does the room receive?
  • Which direction does your house/window/building face?


  1. It’s important to figure out how different customers want to be approached.
  • Does the customer want your help, or do they prefer to choose their color without assistance? If the customer wants help, ask the questions from step 1. If not, give them a few idea cards for inspiration and leave them to it.
  • Is the customer in a hurry and has already chosen a color? If so, use idea cards to provide a quick look at concepts (without going into too much detail) for the room the customer plans to decorate. Let the customer know that you are available to help if required and then step away.
  • Does the customer want to give some input and then have you recommend a color? If so, ask the questions from step 1. Take your time to understand what the customer really needs (which might be a little different from what they think they need). Involve the customer in the selection process so that they will be happy with the color that is chosen.


  1. When you, as a salesperson, have a better idea of what the customer is trying to achieve, you will be in a good position to recommend the right color key paletter.
  • In some cases the customer won’t be interested in hearing the theory behind the color program. They will pick out a few chips and leave. However, if you can get the customer’s attention, explain the program.
  • Explain the difference between warm and cool colors. Take out a blue chip from the cool palette and place it beside colors in the warm palette. This demonstrates the difference in undertones.
  • Explain the difference between clean and muted colors by taking a muted color and showing it next to a clean color.
  • If a customer is hesitant about choosing a color palette, have them bring in color samples from their home, such as a throw pillow or an area rug. We can also show various options using our I-color software. Looking at many possibilities will give the customer more confidence about their choice.
  • The answers to the step 1 questions will give you guidance about which colors to recommend. Later on, we’ll go into more detail about how to use color to create certain environments.


  1. It is important to talk about color and what the customer would like to achieve with it rather than just pricing and function. We’ll talk more about this in the role play section of the training program. The key point to remember is that at first, customers will probably be nervous about color and fearful that they don’t necessarily know enough or have enough experience to understand it. Once the customer is comfortable with the price and function, and has decided which paint to use, follow up with these questions about color:
  • “Now that you have chosen the paint, did you know that the right colors will help you create a wonderful new environment—one that reflects your style?”
  • “Have you considered letting us guide you through the simple process of using color to change the style of your apartment?”
  • “Did you know that we have excellent tools to help you choose a color scheme for your house that easily matches your furnishings”
  • When you have the customer’s interest you can ask them the questions about moodThe next step is to choose a main color that reflects the requirements of your project. Then you will select a basic color scheme based on that main color choice. Finally, you’ll refine your color scheme to meet your client’s requirements.



There are eight types of basic color schemes to choose from:

  • Complementary: Complementary or opposite colors from the color wheel
  • Split Complementary: Three colors—the main color and colors from either side of its complement
  • Triad: Three colors from equidistant points on the color wheel
  • Monochromatic: Different shades and depths of a single color
  • Analogous: The main color and the colors from either side of it on the color wheel
  • Neutral: Uses a color that has been reduced by adding black
  • Achromatic: No color—just blacks, whites and greys
  • Secondary: Green, purple and orange used together

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.



The complementary scheme uses colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Red and Green
  • Red-Orange and Blue-Green
  • Orange and Blue
  • Violet and Yellow

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.

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:

  • Red, Yellow-Green and Blue-Green
  • Yellow, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet
  • Green, Red-Violet and Red-Orange



This color scheme makes use of three colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Red,Yellow and Blue
  • Yellow, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet
  • Green, Violet and Orange



This color scheme uses two or three colors from the same color family on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Dark Blue and Light Blue
  • Dark Green, Grass Green and Light Green
  • Purple and Lavender



This scheme uses one color along with the colors on either side of it on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Green, Blue-Green and Yellow-Green
  • Yellow, Yellow-Green and Green
  • Yellow, Yellow-Green and Yellow-Orange


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 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.

For example:

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



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



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.

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

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 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.