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Laura Hunt

Your First Home

Lighten Up, Brighten Up with Color

Copyright Deborah Marks 2004

Colors influence us and how we feel. They evoke feelings of contentment and well-being. They even may make us feel uneasy.

Studies have shown that red in a restaurant makes us feel relaxed, wanting to stay longer in the welcoming environment. Orange, as used in fast-food restaurants, does the opposite: we want to leave as quickly as possible. A greenish yellow may cause us to feel unwell.

We are affected by the color in itself and also by its intensity. A room in which the ceiling and walls are painted light gray, for example, is open, airy, and inviting. On the other hand, a room in dark gray can be oppressive and gloomy.

We respond individually to color as well---some we like; some we don't. These preferences are influenced by the country or region in which we grew up or in which we live, by our social background, and even by our gender. For example, women tend to favor purple more than men do.

We want color; we need color; we are affected by color. How then do we go about selecting and combining colors for a Contemporary Light environment so as to please our senses and well-being and, at the same time, create an environment of aesthetic beauty?

Three basic color schemes work well with a Contemporary Light environment. They are monochromatic (tone-in-tone), contrast, and three colors.


Monochromatic means that a room is painted and furnished in one color, using varying intensities. A monochromatic interior tends to calm us since there are not multiple colors competing for our visual attention. In order to make a monochromatic room interesting as well as to add depth, woods or rattan, multiple textured fabrics, and even glass and chrome can be used.

Frequently used colors for such settings are brown tones and whites. Rooms, and even whole interiors, in shades of brown are popular today.

 For example, the floors can be finished with a beige carpet or done in hardwood with a beige area rug, with or without a pattern. The sofas and armchairs can be in fabric or leather of a beige/brown/taupe or caramel tone and the walls off-white or beige.

Using wenge wood would lend vibrancy to the setting; using a maple or beech wood would be more soothing.

Monochromatic white rooms need extra care. If you like white, and you also have to accommodate young children, use white in your bedroom or in the kitchen and bath. If you want to have a living room in white, use slipcovers and leather on the upholstered pieces.

Besides using varying textures in the materials, add plants or framed pictures for interest. White provides a wonderful background for seasonal decorating. Just imagine Christmas decorations in an all-white interior! Contrary to popular opinion, a room in white is not boring or sterile! There are many shades of white; just spend some time in such a room, and you will see a wonderful "play of colors."


Create contrast by using two colors. When one color is more dominant, the room usually will be very striking and bold. When the contrast is created by using two colors of similar intensity, the room tends to be more relaxing.

A classic contrast is black and white. Black was used quite extensively in the 1980s and still makes for a contemporary look today. An example would be a room with hardwood flooring, white or off-white walls, sheer white curtains, and upholstered pieces in white and black. To make the room come alive, add a full color like red in pillows, throws, or other accessories.

Another example of a bold contrast is white with red. The picture illustrates the effectiveness of this contrast. The carpet, walls, and sheers are in white. Red has been added through the lamp and colors in the painting.

A favorite contrast combination is white with blue. If the blue is more intense, the result is more invigorating. Light blue used with white can be very comforting and pleasing in a bedroom setting. A full treatment might include white flooring, blue and white striped wallpaper, a pastel blue tone in an upholstered chair, a white bedspread on the bed, and white sheers at the window moving gently in a summer breeze. The morning light flowing into such a room adds to its sheer beauty.

Just as blue can be combined with white, so can yellow, mango, seafoam, or turquoise. Using pastel tones creates tranquility in a room; using more intense colors adds more vibrancy.

Not as common but also appealing is the combination of brown tones with blue. Both colors in intense varying shades create a bold statement. The effect of beige and light blue is softer but just as interesting. This holds true for other two-color combinations: beige with red, orange with yellow, yellow with blue, and blue with green.

Three Colors

Combining three colors---or perhaps even four---takes more skill but can be done. Colors with more intensity can create a playful and cheerful environment. More subdued colors create an elegant setting. For example, combine red, yellow, and green to create a refreshing look.

As in the picture, each color is repeated in several elements in the room. The large area of red in the painting is seen again in the fabric of the pillows and even the book on the cocktail table. The green of the upholstered chair is reinforced in the painting and again in the greenery in the vase.

The yellow of the upholstered chair is in the painting and the bananas---until they are eaten, of course! An area rug using one of the colors, with perhaps a sprinkling of a second color, can unite the theme.

The living room, which was highlighted and pictured in my introductory column, used the primary colors red, blue, and yellow, in a white-walled room. Each color was featured in furniture and accessories. Don't be afraid to use the primary colors. They're not exclusively for children's rooms! They have been used historically with great success and can be used today in contemporary settings as well.

Light grays, light purple, and red bring elegance and warmth to a living room or bedroom. The red could be used in accessories in a more saturated tone to make the interior come alive. Just as a restaurant in red makes us relax and want to stay, so would a room in this three-color combination.

Careful consideration is required when you use three or more colors. The effect will be totally different if the colors are of equal intensity and are evenly distributed within the room, or if one of the colors is clearly more dominant in its tone and its presence in the room.

Before you start with one room, it is important to consider the color scheme throughout the house. The chosen colors need to be repeated in varying combinations and tones to create a feeling of unity. An example using three colors for the complete house would be to do the living room, the more formal room, in a monochromatic scheme; the family room and children's room in a three-color scheme with more saturated colors; and the master bedroom in a contrasting or monochromatic light-colored scheme.

Once you have decided on the color or colors for a room and how they will be distributed among the different elements, be sure to try out fabrics, leathers, and woods with swatches, cuttings, or samples before purchasing furniture and floor coverings. It's important to see the color in the room and observe it at different times of the day. Colors in the showroom under store lighting will look very different than they do in your home.

Take into account that the natural light flowing into a room affects the color in that area. Rooms facing the north have less light than the ones to the south. The light they do receive is of a more bluish nature; the rooms to the south receive a light which is more yellow to almost white. Depending on the number and size of the windows, the height of the ceilings, whether there are eaves or not, and whether skylights are present, some rooms will receive more light exposure than others.

If the room faces the south and has many windows, you may want to add sheers to filter out some of the light so that it doesn't wash out the colors in the room. If the room faces north, you may want to add more cheerful colors, as there will be less light----especially in the wintertime.

Artificial lighting in the home renders colors differently. Incandescent lighting will lend more richness and warmth to the colors. Halogen lighting makes the colors more true.

In Contemporary Light settings, the background walls, ceilings, and floors usually are kept light so as to provide a neutral backdrop for other colors in the room and also to give the impression of spaciousness. The number of colors used in a room or through the house must be limited. Rooms in Contemporary Light settings are not busy, over-furnished, or filled with many items of color. Whimsical or floral patterns generally are not used, or are used sparingly.

Color in a home is so important! It's the element in interior design which makes your home come alive and also reflects your individual personality. Choose and combine your colors carefully, experiment, and have fun!

Picture 4 courtesy of Sch├Âner Wohnen Magazine

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