In grade school, children are taught that white light can be divided into a rainbow of six colours by shining the light through a prism. The prism effectively breaks the light up into it’s six different wavelengths which our eyes perceive as the different forms of colour – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet.
Light is a form of energy that is either reflected by a surface or absorbed by the surface. When we see colour, what we actually see is the light that is being reflected back from that surface into our eyes. For example, a red fabric absorbs all wavelengths of light except the red. The red light is reflected from the surface and bounces into our eyes, giving our brains the perception that the fabric is red.
While white light is the combination of all colours, black is actually the absence of colour. A black surface is absorbing all of the colour wavelengths and not allowing any light to bounce back into our eyes, thus producing a void of colour – black.
The term “neutral colour” is an oft misused term. True “neutral” colours are actually white, black, grey and brown. These colours are considered to be neutral because they can co-mingle happily with any other colour in the colour spectrum. Neutral colours are the Switzerland of the colour world. Using neutral colours as part of a colour scheme is critical to creating a balanced room. Neutral colours help provide support to a colour scheme by proving the contrast and the grounding of the other colours.
Colours are either viewed as “warm” colours or as “cool” colours. The warm colours, (reds, oranges, yellows) are so called because the conjure up images of things that we know to be hot, such as fire and sunshine. The cool colours, (greens, blues, violets) can conjure up images of ice, snow and cool grass. While some colours are obviously warm or cool, note that all colours will either be warm or cool when being compared to another of a similar hue. For example, blue is a cool colour. But when viewing two blues side by side, one will appear to be more warm or more cool than the other. Being able to see the perceived temperature of a colour will go a long way in helping to determine if colours work together. Warm-toned colours should always be placed with other warm-toned colours, and cool-toned colours should be placed with other cool-toned colours.
Colour will either appear as bright and intense or as dull and muddy. Intensity is the definition of how pure a colour is. The classic primary school colours, red, yellow and blue, are very bright, very intense colours. These are pure colours that have not been muddied by the addition of grey. The more grey that is added to a colour, the less intense it becomes. Low-intensity colours are generally very calming colours that add can add elegance and sophistication to a room, while high-intensity colours will add excitement and energy to a space. Knowing what type of feeling you are attempting to create in a room can help to determine whether a high-intensity or a low-intensity colour should be chosen.
Nadine Andrews D.I.D. DESIGN EVOLUTION
Commercial and Residential Interior Design