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Publication Date: 2016-02-09

Design Insights

How Light Affects Colour

So you’re at that vital point of choosing a new colour for a room, or even a scheme for your whole house. Where to start? You may have seen a colour that you liked elsewhere, perhaps at a friend’s house or in a magazine, however it’s important to remember that the appearance of your chosen colour(s) may change depending on the light available in the room. The direction and type of light are both important factors. In fact, colour is light!


1. Natural Light

Colour varies according to both the quality and type of natural light and the same colour can often appear quite different from room to room, at different times of the day and even depending on the time of year.

Wall in Railings by Farrow & Ball

North Facing Rooms

North facing rooms can be challenging to decorate. As light from the north is cooler and harsher, it can be difficult to create the feeling of light and space we so often desire. In small spaces with little natural light the best advice is not to fight nature, instead embrace the darkness and create a dramatic and cocooning interior. Strong colours like Brinjal, Railings or Down Pipe will all create a sense of intimacy in a dark space. Northern light tends to bring out the cooler tones within a colour, so if you’re using a lighter tone, avoid anything with a green or grey base. Yellow based colours like Yellow Ground, New White and White Tie will help to bounce as much light around the room as possible, as will hanging a mirror to reflect the light you do have in the space.

Wall in Dimpse by Farrow & Ball

South Facing Rooms

South facing rooms are a joy to decorate – they are full of warm light all day, so all colours will look good! You can really maximise the feeling of light and space in south facing rooms by choosing pale tones. Soft blues like Pavilion Blue or Borrowed Light will create a wonderfully watery seaside look, while red-based neutrals like Joa’s White will create a warmer feel. For a contemporary edge, try Dimpse which has cool blue undertones. Use a fairly bright white on the woodwork in south facing rooms for a crisp, fresh look.

Walls in All White

2. West & East Facing Rooms

It is useful to consider whether you’ll use an east or west facing room more in the morning or the afternoon, so that you can tailor your colour choice to the type of light you will most often experience. Light in west-facing spaces is cooler in the morning then filled with dramatic light in the afternoon, while east facing rooms are bright in the morning and cooler in the afternoon.

West Facing Rooms

White walls are natural light reflectors and will flatter any colour of furnishing which is often why we choose neutrals for our homes, but white will really enhance both natural and artificial light in West facing rooms. Try Wimborne White or Pointing for an airy feel. Even the greyer neutrals such as Slipper Satin and Ammonite should retain a feeling of light – although the colour will change from morning to evening – cooler earlier and warmer later.

Walls in Green Blue by Farrow & Ball

East Facing Rooms

The light in east facing rooms can appear to be a little blue so it is best to work with this and choose greens or blues. To create as much light as possible but still retain some warmth, look at pale duck egg colours like Pale Powder or Teresa’s Green which will really come alive in the morning sunlight. Because the light will change so dramatically through the day it is often good to team these with a darker tone on woodwork or furniture such as Chappell Green or Dix Blue so that the walls appear lighter in contrast. If you want to use a white, choose one with a green or blue base such as James White.

3. Artificial Light

Artificial lighting will also affect how colours can appear in a room as different bulbs have different hues of light. Halogen and incandescent bulbs emit a yellow light that will make colours appear warmer. This is perfect if your scheme uses pretty yellow-based neutrals like White Tie and New White, but may counter the urban look created by greys like Blackened and Dimpse with their bluer undertones. LED lighting emits a bluer light and is more suited to contemporary interiors. Choosing a bulb which emits a white light will make colours appear as close as possible to daylight, so you will see the truest impression of the colour.

This article originally appeared on the Farrow & Ball website as part of ‘Beginning Your Project

Article by Rob Murray


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