Color Bud, Lynne Whiteside, left this comment on a previous post:

“Please point me in the direction of affects of natural light on wall color. North, South, East, and West all have their own reflective color and I need more information. Thanks a million.”

Here’s my answer to Lynne:

The popular cut-n-paste on the web goes something like this:

  • North = Blue
  • South = Yellow
  • East = Green
  • West = Orange

Seen this interpretation or some rendition of it repeated many times on many paint and color websites – just in general across the web, and even a few books if I remember right. Doesn’t mean it’s correct information though.

We can to an extent predict certain color affects and color characteristics based on fenestration – but only to an extent.  I have been known to speak to directional light in somewhat the same manner, i.e. north light spills in, it doesn’t beam directly in and because of that fact its dim qualities can read bluish. But that’s not the whole story.

We have to remember properties of inherent light will affect surface colors and produce effects sometimes foreseen, sometimes not. However, surface colors can not affect the properties of inherent light.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances like über strong or day-glo-esque wall colors adding robust reflection to the atmosphere.  (insert small pause to think about that one)

Masquerading Suns

When it comes to wall color as you’ve inquired, our objective is not necessarily to assign the cardinal and intermediate directions a mask of hue. And then attempt some kind of unnatural mental color mixing gymnastics. An example of mental color mixing might go something like this: If north light is blue and I use a yellow wall color, the room will look green. It simply does not work that way.

Because, hypothetically, we’re taking an additive color quality, blue light, and saying it will defy the laws of physics and *mix* together with a subtractive surface color, yellow paint, and literally out of thin air reveal itself as green. That’s ridiculous. Or, another example: In order to alter perceived blueness of north light, use the complement of blue which would be an orange paint color to counter it.

Natural Light and Paint Color

What does work is paying attention, focusing, and finding the right wall color to partner with the quality and quantity of light you have to work with.  Here is what’s key.  It’s about a color’s nuance syncing up with the beams, the wavelengths of light in the space. When the nuance and light make a good pairing, they can dance on forever. Even as the sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the day, and the quantity and quality of said inherent light also changes, they will find a way to gracefully waltz through every hour, every minute, every second of every day.

Color and light are exclusive partners.  And often as designers we screw up that relationship by trying to force a wall color on a room because of a rug or some other “inspiration” piece or pulling a color from a favorite pair of sweat pants, or someone’s hair color, or some other thing.

If primary focus was placed on fitting the room with color instead of how well the sweat pants fit, I have to wonder what would happen.