How light affects paint colours

Sep 1, 2017

How to choose the perfect colour scheme for any light

If you’re about to embark on painting a room, before you get your brushes out, stop and read this post. There could be a factor, other than that gorgeous colour you’ve got in mind, that you haven’t considered. The light.

Colour schemes and light go hand in hand, but they have a tricky relationship.  Light is never consistent – it changes from room to room and throughout the day, so your paint colour will look different depending on the light it’s exposed to.

Paint interior design colour TH2

My first and best piece of advice on this is never choose your colour based on what it looks like in the shop, no matter how good the lighting. It simply won’t look the same in your home.

Always take away sample pots and try it out at home. Once you’re there, here are the two main factors to bear in mind:

1. The direction the room faces

First consider whether your room faces north, south, east or west. If you’re not sure you can use Google Earth to check.

North facing: As light from the north is cooler and harsher north facing rooms can be challenging to decorate because achieving a sense of light and space can be tricky.

In a small space with very little natural light, such as a bathroom, don’t try and fight nature to make the room look lighter by painting it a light colour. Instead use a strong, dark colour scheme to achieve an intimate feel.

In a larger space, if you use lighter colours compensate for the coolness with warm colors. Yellow based colours will help bounce light around the room. Avoid green or grey based colours, and whites will tend to look dingy and dull.

South facing

South facing rooms are full of warm light all day, so most colours will work. Make the most of the feeling of light and space by choosing pale tones. However because colours are intensified if you don’t want the room feel too energetic, offset those warm rays by going with softer, cooler hues.

East or west facing

If you have rooms that face east or west think about when you use them and tailor the colour scheme accordingly.

East facing rooms are bright in the morning, and cooler later on so if you plan on using that room later in the day or evening, choose a warmer colour scheme to offset the lack of natural light.

While they can be on the dull side in the mornings, west facing rooms will be bathed with a warm glow later in the day. So if that’s when you use that room you might want to consider cooler colours to tone down the intensity.

Farrow and Ball paint colour light interior design

2. Your lighting

Artificial lighting can also affect how colours look because different types of light bulbs have different hues of light.

The yellowish light of halogen and incandescent bulbs makes colours appear warmer. This may not sit well with the urban look created by greys and blues but is perfect for yellow-based colours.

LED lighting is bluer and more suited to contemporary interiors. Bulbs that emit a white light are as close as possible to daylight, so you will see the truest impression of the colour.

Lighting paint colour interior design

My last tip: Once you’ve got that sample pot at home, use it to paint a piece of A3 paper or card. Move the card around the room so you can see how the colour looks at different times of the day, and under different lighting.

Sources: Paint


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