Brave with colour – using bigger colours with confidence

Did you know the human brain can distinguish around 17 million different colours?

Colour exists everywhere and in everything. People generally respond to colour in three ways: personally, culturally and psychologically. Understanding how you respond can help you to discover the colours that work best for you.

Personal: we often associate colour with a specific life experience. How many people do you know, for example, who have a negative association with their school uniform colours? I have a strong personal association with dusty orange, it brings me joy as it reminds me of Marrakech, my favourite city.

Cultural: colour is also symbolic, playing a part in a country’s traditions. Cultural associations can influence our feelings towards a particular colour. In China, for instance, red represents luck, but in Ireland, it’s the colour green. Have you been impacted by any colour associations in your culture? I had a strong dislike for pink for many years because it felt frivolous and weak. Pink is symbolic of young girls and femininty in Western culture. Once I recognised the symbolic association I learned to love pink.

Psychological: Colour also represents emotion, which impacts mood, and mood, in turn, impacts behaviour. This is the basis of colour psychology. In interior design, colour is the single most powerful element, having the ability to entirely change the mood in a space. Adding certain colours to your home is thus a tangible way to improve mood and wellbeing. The key is to find shades that resonate with you. Are you, for instance, drawn to bright cheerful colours, or soft muted tones, to deep earthy warm shades or bright monochromatic colours?

Finding the right colours: Look around to see what colours you feel a connection with. For clues, look in your wardrobe. The colours you enjoy wearing are often the ones you feel comfortable with. Look inwards to your own feelings about colour; try not to be distracted by glossy magazines and colour trends, but instead to identify the colours that uplift you or make you feel at ease.

Adding colour effectively: If you are starting to use colour in your home for the first time, you don’t have to go all out and paint all the walls. You might start with one or two rooms that you feel could most do with a refresh. There are many ways to approach the redecoration; here are a few options that bring in colour without overwhelming the room.

One: pick out the doors and trim in a shade that tonally complements the walls.

Two: for a slightly bolder statement, paint half of the walls. In Victorian homes with dado or chair rails, for example, the bottom part of the wall was often painted a different colour to the upper part. Painting a wall like this with no rail looks really fresh and contemporary.

Three: feature walls, where one wall is picked out and painted a different colour, is a trend that should remain firmly in the last century! However, there is an exception. Feature walls can be effective where there is actually a different aspect to highlight, an architectural feature, for example, or the location of the wall. The wall behind a bedhead, for example, can be a good place to make a real statement with a splash of colour.

Whether you’re redecorating one room or the whole house, think about how colour will be layered throughout the space. Start with the walls and move through the furniture and soft furnishings, considering the proportion and balance of colours. You can create completely different looks by contrasting or tonally harmonising colours.

Top tip: buy a tester pot before committing to colour on your walls. Paint a large piece of lining paper and observe the colour in the space and how the light changes throughout the day.

The delight of colour: Finally, and most importantly, colour in your home should bring you joy. Everyone is capable of learning to see hues and tones in a new way, so start to discover what you love and open your eyes to inspiration.