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Design Element 101 – Colour

Interior design is a highly subjective and extremely visual form of art. Most people I work with have a hard time visualizing their completed space or communicating what they like or dislike about a design. Our reactions tend to be guttural and emotional so we either like it or hate it, and we may or may not know why.

As an appreciator of almost every design period and style, I love interpreting my clients personalities, their likes and dislikes to then reinterpret them into a space that’s all their own. Since communicating something so visual is challenging to most, I pride myself on interpreting my clients’ visual and nonvisual cues to ensure the end result is a success. We often joke as designers that we are equally therapists and mind readers but how a client feels in a space is more important than how it looks and how it functions is crucial to how they feel.

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Colour has a huge impact on how someone feels about his or her home. Basic colour theory tells us that primary colours or hues (red, green & blue) combine to make secondary colours (yellow, purple & orange). Adding white creates a new tint or lighter variation of a colour, adding black creates a new shade or darker variation, while adding grey creates a new tone.

To further emphasize its importance, each colour evokes a unique emotional and physical response in people. Although not always consistent based on cultural or personal preferences, this explains why spas tend to use lighter more subdued and calming colours while higher energy environments use more intense and brighter hues. Restaurants tend to use a lot of red in their décor because it encourages appetite while blue has the opposite affect. Try eating food on a blue plate and see how hungry you are. Not only does food look better against almost any other colour, blue calms us as well as our appetites.

Whenever I start working with new clients I always meet them in their home to get an immediate feel on their style preferences but also their tendencies towards or away from colour. I’ve found over the years that people tend to fall into one of two camps. Some embrace colour and aspire to have it in their décor, whether it currently is or not, while others shy away from anything too bold.

As I’ve mentioned before looking at your wardrobe – be it what you’re currently wearing or ideally your entire closet – is a great way to get a sense of your feelings towards colour. To most purchasing colourful clothing is less of a commitment, so people who like colour tend to take risks with it in their wardrobes. Whether or not you are risky or risk adverse also has an impact but if you’re unsure look around you to determine you’re thoughts on colour. Location and climate also have an affect. Anyone who’s visited Newfoundland can appreciate the need for colourful homes given their all too often grey surroundings.

As with most things there are exceptions to every rule and some people who tend towards wearing all one colour, often black, for simplicity still prefer being surrounded by colour elsewhere. When in doubt I suggest using cost as a deciding factor. Anything 10% or less of the total budget can, and in many cases should, be bolder and more colourful, while anything more than 10% remains more subdued, classic and timeless to make the most of your investment.

Although visual cues are arguably more important, I also ask my clients a lot of questions – the simplest of which is whether they have or had a favourite colour. This helps me understand their tendency towards warmer (red, orange or yellow) versus cooler (blue, green or purple) hues. By asking their least favourite colour I get to know certain boundaries I may or may not push ever so slightly depending on the evolution of the design. When a client says black, white or grey (theoretically non colours) I know I need to play with texture and contrast in a space to ensure it’s visually interesting and not overly predictable or monochromatic.

Choosing the right paint colour, although an inexpensive thing to change, is something most of my clients struggle with. As a result I end up doing a lot of colour consultations, which I love. Thanks to so many different shades, tints and tones, the slightest variation in colour when combined with variations in natural and artificial light can make or break its success in your home. To minimize headaches, I recommend leveraging the expertise of a designer who can take the risk and worry out of choosing a colour while also preventing additional cost.

Since colour has such a strong impact on how we feel in a space, choosing the wrong colour may haunt and annoy you to no end, while choosing the right colour brings you one step closer to achieving the intended look and feel of your home.

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