Colour Scheming

14th May 2010

Whether you want to add drama to your living space, brighten up a dark room or simply give your home a fresh new look this year, finding the right colour scheme is key.

But where do you start? To help you source your ideal hues, Kevin McCloud – design guru and event ambassador for the recent Grand Designs Live at ExCel – tells Optima Magazine why colour is one of his personal passions and gives his top tips on choosing colours…

Why is colour so important?

Colours are what our brains interpret through some very scientific processes of perception. In the emotional world, in our heads, colours have very strong associations. My own passion for colour started when I was eight years old and watching a BBC2 film about how paint is made. That afternoon we went out into the garden and tried to make our own paint with water, glue and earth. Ever since then I have been utterly fascinated by it.

For me, the most amazing thing about paint is that you can look at a medieval building and what you are seeing is 20 or 40 ground-up minerals that have come from all over the world. How we have been able to produce these colours is magical. Nowadays we use chemiclas to create colours but historically it was minerals.

How should people select colours for their home?

There are an unbelievable amount of colours on the planet that we produce through dyes and it can seem difficult to choose the right one. I feel very strongly that we don’t just remember colours, we remember their relationship with each other. The palette we use is all taken from the real world, such as the colours of a building site, the Mediterrean, buildings in Morocco or Ancient Greece, perhaps things we’ve seen when on holiday, and we bring back these colour associations in memories of these relationships.

In terms of finding inspiration for a scheme, I tend to take photographs of random places, such as buildings, water or spaces, as you suddenly see an interesting combination of colours in the natural environment. Or it might be a favourite painting with an orange and green colour scheme and the room could be decorated to respond to these specific colours.

Are there particular colours that work for certain spaces?

Yes and no, because there is never a rule that can’t be contradicted. North-facing rooms are always harder to choose colours for as you are never going to get direct sunlight. We have the highest cloud cover in Europe and what the cloud does is give you blue light, so how do we respond to that? Well, we use colours that respond well to blues and greens. In a south-facing room with warm light, such as direct sunlight, any colour will do.

I also find it quite interesting when people use pink, and it is one of the colours that I have a soft spot for. A shade I particularly like is called Tyrian Rose, which is made with red oxide pigment but is quite bluish in tone. The lovely thing about it is that under a blue sky it is very cool, but under direct sunlight it warms up and at night it gets warmer still. The other colour is a blue/green/grey called Ultramarine Ashes. Under blue light and a cloudy sky in a north-facing room it looks quite cool, but under some lights it goes green, and at night it can go very grey. Three colours in one – bargain!

What are the common colour mistakes people make?

I do think people worry too much about the colour being too strong. Colour is an entirely personal choice, so there are no rules about it really. There are good ideas and then there are risky things too but, fundamentally, if a colour suits you and you are passionate about the way the colours are working together, go for it. Don’t ask your neighbours what they think! As with any design, have the courage to go with your convictions.

The second thing is that most people decide to paint their room a certain colour, and then go to buy curtains and furniture only to discover the designs they like don’t come in the right colourway. For that reason, choose upholstery first and finalise colours afterwards.

Kevin’s Five Top Tips:

1. Choose your accessories first:

To make a real difference to the feeling of your home, the key tactic is to choose your cushions, or rug first, then match your paint colours to it to complement the overall look and feel of the room.

2. Tonally matched colours:

What’s the most satisfying colour scheme of all? Those that place complimentary colours together in a subtle way, by toning for example. Why? Because these arrangements which exploit the sensitivity of the receptors in our eyes. Essentially, you can put any colour together providing it’s tonally matched ie. they are equally intense, or greyed, or tinted or dirtied.

3. Just a dash of colour:

Just a dash of colour can transform a room – A simple black and white room-set can seem the most brutal and unfriendly combination, or look dead. Better to mix a near black with an off white, beige, black or pink, or greenish grey. For example, add a chair or touch of green to a room-set and suddenly the room looks alive.

4. Bring the outside in:

Paint the inside wall green… Anthropologist Desmond Morris conducted some research which revealed that the most popular colour choice for the hallway was green. Try combining different shades of green with pale shades, sage and deep grey greens, to create a calming, natural entrance hall.

5. Combine strong colours:

Be adventurous by combining strong colours. Brown and purple, for example: using the brown in the form of wooden solid piece of furniture with a dusty grey purple as the wall colour, together, control each other’s strength in a room.

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