What Makes Color Work?

Use of Near Complements
Use of Near Complements

We looked at this home yesterday and I promised to discuss what makes the color scheme work.  I’ve used several bold colors but none overwhelm.

I’ve listed, below, the main elements I use when selecting a color palette for a client.

Energy Level & Taking Advantage of Light Exposure
Views Through Rooms & Whole House Composition
The Strategy of Near Complements
The Importance of Transitions
Accenting Good Architecture
Considering Your Furniture & Artwork

Look at these additional images of the home (click on image to view larger).    Each demonstrates one or more of the elements of color composition.   After the images, is a fuller explanation of each element.  In other articles, I’ll talk about the same elements using dramatically different color palettes.

Energy Level & Taking Advantage of Light Exposure
Some of want to be in an energizing environment and some of want our homes to be a serene refuge.  This is the most critical decision in the selection of a palette.  Obviously the owners of this home sought energy and vibrancy but not so much that it would overwhelm their living.  While many of us have learned that greens and blues are cool colors and reds and oranges of warm colors, it’s not as easy as that — in part because the colors are additive and relative.  The soft pumpkin color of the living room is calming compared to the brightness of the breakfast room.  The kitchen itself is quite calming even with yellow tiles — in part because they have a hint of green and because it is calmed by the blue in the countertop.  Similarly, the blue of the countertop and green of the walls helps calm the red and oranges.  The wood tones — while golden — are calming not energetic.

The other important factor to consider when seeking an energy level is the outside light exposure.  The southern sun is hot with primarily warm tones.  It can light up a highly saturated color.  Northern and eastern exposures are cool without much direct sunlight but with reflected light instead.  A highly saturated color in a northern exposure — or a more northern climate will look harsh.  This is one of the reasons you see such saturated colors in more tropical climates — the intensity of the sun will wash out less saturated colors.

So in this home, the brighter red and orange were only used near the patio door on the south side of the home.  On the north and east side of the home, I only used less saturated tones.

The Strategy of Near Complements
The color wheel is a basic map that shows the relationships among colors.  Primary colors — red, blue & yellow — are pure.  They can’t be mixed with other colors.  All other colors on the color wheel are created by mixing primary colors.  Secondary colors are equal mixtures of the primary colors — orange, green & purple.  Tertiary colors are equal mixtures of one primary and one secondary color.  Rarely, do we use the primary or secondary colors in decorating — they are too saturated and not very complex.  But the color wheel can be very helpful is helping us think about what colors work well together.  Analogous color schemes are built from hues that sit near each on the color wheel — green, green/blue and Aqua — or tangerine, orange & gold.  These are the schemes that many people use because almost by definition the colors go together.  I find, though, that colors have more impact — and to me feel better — when juxtaposed with a “near” complement.  The compliment to red is green — I find I like red better when it is paired with a green/yellow or a green/blue.  You see this approach throughout this house.  In the back entry (near the breakfast room), the blue/red of the column is a near complement to the creamy green of the wall; the indigo of the countertop is a near complement to the orange of the dropped ceiling.  In the kitchen proper, the green/yellow of the tile is a near complement to the indigo of the countertop.  And in the Dining Room, below, the green of the walls is a near compliment to the light violet of the vaulted ceiling.

Views Through Rooms & Whole House Composition

It is also important to consider each room in relationship to the whole house.  We never see rooms in isolation — and as we move toward more open-plan homes this is even more true.  You can see that I’ve paid attention to this throughout this home.

The Importance of Transitions
When I can, I like to create transitions at entryways and stairways. In the image, below, we can see how the lowered, orange ceiling creates a sense of entry into the home.  The red column also marks the entryway as an important feature.  In the photo of the stairway, you can see that the stairway wall is a darker and more intense color than the living room — again marking the transition as significant.  Tomorrow, I’ll show you a completely different color treatment of transitions.

Accenting Good Architecture
This is the image we started with yesterday about accenting architecture — where the white of the wainscoting, the orange of the dropped ceiling, the red of the column and the green of the walls creates a composition where these elements are called into bright contrast.

Considering Your Artwork & Furniture

As a final note, I’ll mention that while I definitely consider artwork and furniture, it’s less important than some of the other concepts we’ve spoken about.  If the pieces are important to you, they often reflect the same aesthetic that you create in your home.  The palette for this home combines beautifully with the Mexican pottery collection of the owner.  However, the source for both is the same enjoyment of color and energy — we didn’t set out to match the pottery.  Others are afraid that artwork only looks good on white walls — not true.  In fact, galleries use white because it will go with everything.  But each individual piece usually looks better against a more intense color.  In the picture, above, notice how nicely the green walls set off the black and white pictures.  In the photo of the living room fireplace, notice how the light tangerine color complements the off-white of the parchment and the black of the image.

All images courtesy of Braitman Design/Build



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