Category: Article:

Color in the Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Gold?a golden glow is the most popular ambiance parading the covers of home and interior design publications, today. Almost everybody wants yellow walls right now, says Sherry Hayslip, A.S.I.D., IIDA, who is celebrating 25 years as Hayslip Design Associates. But is gold right for your home? Finding the color palette that truly fits each person?s individual comfort range and transcends cyclical trends in color fashion takes a lot of probing.

?Color is at the base of design in my opinion,? Hayslip said ?Color is fundamental to the ambiance of the room. But it isn?t the only thing that eventually contributes to the ambiance.? For instance, too little or too much furniture can cause a room to feel claustrophobic or seem barren and cold.

?Color, however, is the most complicated thing that we as designers do, or that any one doing any type of interior design does because there are so many factors that effect it,? said Hayslip. ?It doesn?t seem complicated. It just seems like you pick out a paint that looks nice.? But, it?s very hard because most paint colors are simple colors. The more beautiful colors in a painting, for example, are very complex colors with layers of glaze and transparent colors laid over under-colors. So, you?re really seeing more than you think. You get the impression of color. But it?s really a lot of colors interacting with the eye?to create that color. ?Therefore if you translate that into the practical thing of picking out your (home) colors, you either have a lot of experience, or you have to be willing to pay to repaint.?

Of course, color is very much fun. Unless you get into costly finishes, paint is about the most economical thing you can do to change, according to Hayslip. Still, in the area of color theory?developing the ambiance of a room?that?s where a designer can really help.

?And we reserve the right to be wrong,? Hayslip said. ?Even with the knowledge and experience that we have, it can still look different when it gets up. And it?s because even if you have a pretty large sample, when you get the entire wall done, the whole room done, those walls are now reflecting on that color in a whole new way. Then you hang the draperies and it changes the light one more time because of the natural light reflecting off the curtains. So, it?s very complicated. Yet it looks simple.?

Such complexity comes from the physical properties of color. First, there is the color you can touch, such as the skin of an orange or a painted surface. Then there?s the color you can?t touch?sunlight, rainbows, and the beam of light from a light bulb. In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton, using a prism, separated sunlight into its component parts, from which he developed a circle of color linking their relationships. Known as the color wheel, scientists and artists view the color wheel from different vantage points.

Artists use the subtractive color theory, which recognizes three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Mixing primary colors, for example, red and yellow to create orange, produces secondary colors that when mixed form tertiary colors and so forth until all colors mixed together produce black. Scientists use the additive color theory, which recognizes the properties of light waveforms and the primary colors?red, green, and blue. Mixing the primary colors produces the following secondary colors: red and green produce yellow, blue and green make cyan, and blue and red produce magenta. All colors mixed together produce white, the color of sunlight.

Sunlight, which we perceive as colorless, shines on surfaces such as a leaf, where the tissue absorbs a fraction of the waveforms and reflects the rest. Our eyes see only reflected color; we perceive objects that reflect all color wavelengths as white and objects that absorb all color waveforms as black.

Because heat is also absorbed with light, dark objects feel warmer than light colored objects. But our perception of temperature, based on color, per say, is less reliable. For instance, people tend to underestimate by 6 to 10 degrees the temperatures of rooms with ?cool? colors such as blue and green and overestimate the temperatures in rooms with ?warm? colors such as red and orange ( These findings suggest that other factors, by association, may influence our concept of temperature, for instance the idea of deep forests and water as cool and burning coals as red-hot.

?The closest thing we get to independence or uniqueness in our color preferences has to do with our own perception of color,? said Hayslip. But even our perception can be fooled. Optical color mixing, by which two colors are laid side by side, creates an altogether different color to our mind?s eye. This judgmental process takes place, not in the receptors of the eye as once thought, but in the brain, according to a study reported in 1997 by Romi Nijhawan and Beena Khurana at Cornell University (

?We are manipulated,? Hayslip said. ?I am affected by it. Everybody cannot escape. We can?t escape being manipulated in our color preferences, much as the same way we are about fashion.?

?White? is the safe way, according to Hayslip. White does not put off prospective buyers, and white shows off our objects. ?But we train ourselves from having lived in the neutral houses or apartments of thinking that?s the only palette.?

?Really, there?s a lot of variation. And there is also the factor of light. How much light you get in a room is very deeply affected by the colors within it,? Hayslip said. ?Sometimes people are more comfortable in a light room because a dark room is pressing in on them or absorbs too much light, and they feel they can?t get enough light. It?s safer to do a light pale room. But, some of the most stunning rooms are not.?

?I tend to be conservative when it comes to color,? Hayslip said. ?I see the color coming from, not just walls, but from all the objects in the room. And I always want the room to be a setting for the people instead of the people intruding into the room?interrupting the room.?

But color?I don?t think, if you?ve gotten to the base of what their deepest color preferences are?I don?t think that changes,? Hayslip said. ?But I do think they?re influenced by the styles of the moment.?

For self-help in discovering your color preferences, Hayslip recommends thinking about your favorite fashion colors because what you select to wear is what you really like. One more tip to consider when designing with color is to include a touch of a color?s complement in the room. For instance, if you have a russet dark autumn pear color in your walls, then add a blue porcelain bowl.

For more self-help, read Colors for Your Every Mood: Discover Your True Decorating Colors by Leatrice Eiseman, an interactive book that quizzes you about your feelings towards colors. The book delves into individual colors, giving historical perspective, and develops palettes that evoke particular color moods. Stunning pictures add to the joy of the book.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
For more information, see the about page
For my favorite music go here

Home - Email Webmaster - About - Links - Privacy Policy
1 1 1 hello