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Warm and Cool Colors Mini Tutorial

Warm and Cool colors.  This is a post I wrote on a decorating forum a few years ago.  I get many emails asking about “the rules” of mixing warm and cool.  Thought this mini tutorial might help answer some of those questions.

Warm and Cool Colors

Warm and Cool Colors – in need of a Tutorial

posted by: funcolors on 04.04.2009 at 11:38 pm in Home Decorating Forum

Color temperature is tougher in decorating because you’re working with color in a three-dimensional realm. 99.9% of color information available does not address color from a three-dimensional scope. That presents many opportunities to deconstruct color and think about it more truthfully and accurately.

Q.  Someone suggested I start by selecting a “warm” or “cool” palette to help harmonize the rooms.

That’s one way to look at. Another is to use that level of contrast. Color is about relationships and to make believe that only the cool colors can play well with other cool colors and warm with warm is not the truth of how color works. It’s an easier approach, for sure, but it is by no means the only approach. It could be argued that the rule of thumb of cool with cool and warm with warm really isn’t a level of color “harmony” at all — it just matches.

It’s the very same with intensity. Keeping to all one intensity or chromatic value room to room isn’t THE way to do it. It’s just one way to color a house. Juxtaposing a clearer color next to a more muted color can indeed make site lines that are interesting and help define architecture — it’s a way to meet certain expectations.

Q.  How does dark, old woodwork factor into the warm/cool thing?

It’s a huge factor. Ya know, I’m always saying that paint does not have to be last, you don’t have to have an inspiration piece and *pulling a color* is just one way to look at a color challenge.

Paint color can never be “first”. Not possible.

This is where your woodwork comes into play. Like I said before, color is about relationships.   You can start building color relationships once you have permanent elements established.   The woodwork, the flooring, cabinetry, bookshelves, etc. From those non-transient factors, you can build a shell that will gracefully house whatever contents you want to throw in there.

Whatever transient elements you choose are going to “go with” the non transient elements of the room — the shell. You’re not going to choose a sofa that pales off once it’s set on your hardwoods. So logically, if you craft the wall color to harmonize with the known non-transient elements, you’re gonna be fine.

It’s not necessary to have everything in place to paint a room. Can if you want, but far too many people put off coloring their environment waiting for that last piece of fluff to be installed. It might be right around the corner — or it might be years off in the future. Waiting on a *thing* that may or may not ever materialize before you bring color into your experience is a waste of architecture and time. You can color for your now.

When it comes to paint color per se, you have to be aware of what “warm” and “cool” really means. Hue bias (primary and/or secondary) and color temperature are revealed when the color is juxtaposed to other colors and elements and exposed to the inherent light in the space. What makes a color “cool” or “warm” is determined when it’s experienced in the three-dimensional space it will reside. Outside of that experience, on its own, whether a color is labeled “warm” or “cool” by some other sets of eyeballs is irrelevant to you and your three-dimensional space.

Labeling a paint color as warm or cool can be useful but it’s not a fact. It’s just a temporary way to organize and categorize paint chips for the preliminary stages of coloring.

Q.  But the blue-greens, which I thought would give the rooms a sense of peacefulness, actually seem to do the opposite when placed up against the dark reddish wood. I’m guessing it’s because of the high contrast?

According to your tolerance, it would seem it’s the opposite of peacefulness. To someone else that playing of contrasts would be a spectacular way to set off, highlight, pay homage to the fabulous woodwork. For you, a calmer flavor of color harmony would be best. For someone else the amped up vibration of the blue-green to the reddish wood is fabulousness. So, to say that keeping an even keel of any level of color contrast is the best way to go about coloring environments would be correct in some instances, but not all.

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